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.”
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.