Back in 2020, I was back in Bangladesh, dreaming of walking through the streets of Tokyo with flowers gently wafting in the wind during sakura season. I had even packed my flower-printed shirt to match the sakura while I went for hanami with my friends. However, that’s exactly when COVID hit, and my plans to come to Japan for my degree had to be delayed for two more years due to border restrictions.
I finally came to Japan in early 2022, so I can say a few things about practicing patience. By the time I came, sakura season had just ended. I had missed it by a month.
Only now, in 2023, did I finally experience my dream of walking through the streets of Tokyo (specifically, Nakameguro) while experiencing the wondrous cherry blossoms falling onto the ground and drifting gently in the wind. The weather was perfectly pleasant, and the scene was nothing short of magical. After waiting for three long years, I experienced my first ever sakura. It was my best experience in Japan after living here for almost a year.
Below are some of my other experiences as a Bangladesh Muslim living in Japan.
A Bangladeshi’s Culture Shock
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Coming from one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Tokyo’s crowds didn’t hold a candle to Dhaka’s. However, what was surprising was the silence in trains despite the crowds. As someone who gets overstimulated quickly, this silence was a Godsend for me. After getting over the initial culture shock of everyone intently looking down into their phones or books on the trains for hours, I started to appreciate it and even see its beauty, despite thinking it was initially depressing.
In Japan, you quickly understand that being on time is being late, and being early is being on time. As a Bangladeshi, I know that if someone tells me they’ll be here at 7:30, they’re coming at 8:00. Events starting on time, trains arriving like clockwork, and meetings with Japanese people always sticking to a strict schedule – I was shocked but also extremely grateful. I myself have become a far more punctual person while living in Japan.
A Muslim’s Advantages and Disadvantages
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Coming from a Muslim-majority country, I can walk into any restaurant back home and know that everything on the menu is halal. As Muslims, we don’t eat pork; we eat other meats, such as chicken, beef, fish, lamb, etc., that have been slaughtered humanely in the name of God and have not been subjected to extra pain than what’s strictly necessary. Since every animal humans eat requires a life to be taken, we show respect to it by ensuring its death happens as painlessly as possible.
In Japan, finding halal food has been the biggest struggle. Most products will have meat extracts or emulsifiers derived from pork fat. Restaurants will use the same utensils for the pork and vegetarian dishes while cooking, and sometimes even use the same oil to fry everything. Moreover, some sushi restaurants add mirin to their rice, which is alcoholic and cannot be consumed by Muslims.
However, I am glad that many halal restaurants have popped up all over Japan in recent years, with many in Tokyo. Some fantastic resources such as Halal Food in Japan have helped me navigate my dietary restrictions and find amazing restaurants in my area. There are also many Muslim content creators on social media who are constantly posting about halal restaurants all across Japan.
As a non-religious society, Japan is entrenched with tradition and culture rather than religion. While Shintoism and Buddhism are the top religions, they do not encompass all aspects of their followers’ lives. As such, the religiosity levels in the country are low, and there is a certain level of apathy toward other religions. Most people approach religion with curiosity or indifference rather than disdain – a wonderful approach that differentiates Japan from the West, particularly America and Europe.
This is not to say that no one in Japan shares the Orientalist view that Muslims are dangerous. Those who consume Western media may conflate the two billion Muslim population with the extremist groups that most people, including Muslims, abhor. Many think all Muslims are the same and share a monolithic identity, ignoring the diversity of cultures, practices and beliefs even within the Muslim world. Despite this, being Muslim in Japan is much easier and safer than in most Western countries, especially for someone who wears the hijab and is visibly Muslim, like me.
My time in Japan has been pleasant and full of wonderful experiences. As a Bangladeshi Muslim, I had the opportunity to explore a very different culture and meet people who have changed me for the better. Most importantly, I got to fulfill my dream of experiencing the majestic cherry blossoms of Japan.
- Life as a Muslim in Japan
- Navigating Halal Food as an International Student in Japan
- Essential Life Tips For International Students in Japan
- Staying Organized the Japanese Way
- Remnants of Seppuku Resurface Amidst Demographic Crisis in Japan
- Moving Procedures in Japan: 3 Essential Tips to Ease the Process
Featured image credit:Canva