How a growing number of Muslims are making Japan their home

Migrant workers and local converts are swelling the ranks of the country’s small but significant Muslim community

There were “hardly any Arabs in the country” says Mohamed Shokeir about the first time he travelled to Japan in 1981 to visit his sister.

She was a student studying Japanese at Cairo University when she met a Japanese man, an Arabist and Muslim convert studying at Al-Azhar University. The pair married and moved to Tokyo in Japan.

Shokeir’s visit to see her was the first act in a journey that would end up defining his life; a trip that left the then-flight attendant enamoured by the country and its people.

“It was fascinating, I fell in love. The people, their attitude, their behaviour, how efficient everything was,” Shokeir says.

“And there was also a mystery about it all as I didn’t understand the language.”

Shokeir's sister Azza (far right) led the way for Shokeir (second right) to later follow her to Japan and meet his wife Yoko (centre) (Credit: Mohamed Shokeir)
Shokeir’s sister Azza (far right) led the way for Shokeir (second right) to follow her to Japan and meet his wife Yoko (centre), seen here in 1984 (Credit: Mohamed Shokeir) 

On his third visit to the country in 1983, he decided to stay and found a place close to his sister in Fujimidai, in north east Tokyo. He enrolled in a Japanese language course by day and worked for a translation company that produced instruction manuals for Japanese electrical appliances in the afternoons.

That same year, he met his future wife Yoko on a Tokyo train in the evening rush hour.

“I had taken the train in the wrong direction, I’d only been in the country a few months and my Japanese then wasn’t that good. I asked the girl who was holding the same handlebar as me how to get to my stop. She told me in good English how to get where I needed to be.”

Shokeir asked for Yoko’s number as he was impressed by her language skills and keen to make more Japanese friends. “She didn’t have a pen, and nor did I, but a fellow passenger overheard and offered his pen, so I got her number.” Five years later she became his wife.


3 thoughts on “How a growing number of Muslims are making Japan their home

  1. This was a great introduction to what must be a longer saga. Are most of the muslims in Japan, as is so in Taiwan, from Indonesia? What has brought them there? Is it domestic labor and care of the elderly? You have whetted my curiosity. Where can I go to learn more?

    • Hi, Dave: it is interesting, isn’t it? Let me dig around a bit to see what I can find. I just happened to find this on google.

      I would guess Indonesia or Malaysia or the Philippines.

  2. Hi, Dave: while not an academic study, I believe this article anseers your question well. Anecdotally, Lynne and a British friend did a Bible study in Oman for Japanese and Korean women, most there with expat husbands. One, however, was a divorced wife of an Omani who had converted to Islam. That isn’t all that rare as Gulf Arabs become involved in global business ventures. She, btw, became a believing Christian through this Bible study. I baptized her bdfore we left. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s