Thursday, 22 July 2010

Eat Halaal in Shin-Okubo

Shin-Okubo, famous for its Korea Town and small Thai and Chinese restaurants, also happens to be famous for "Halaal" food among Arabs & Muslims living in Tokyo. Today I jump on the Yamanote Line for Shin-Okubo.

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Shop owners not always Muslim, must have recognized a niche market that needs catering for. "I came from Nepal to Tokyo three years ago" one shop owner tells me, "I am not Muslim myself but of course, everything is Halaal", he then asks me if I am a student. Shin-Okubo, located not so far away from Waseda University and other Japanese language schools, sees many Indonesian, Pakistani and other Arab and Muslim students that visit the area regularly for Halaal products and eateries.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Al-Jomaa Prayers in Hiroo

Living in an Arab country you "feel" Friday. When you hear the call for prayer from your house even if the mosque is blocks away from where you live or when you see your father and brother hogging the bathrooms to perform Wudu before leaving for the just know it's Friday or "Al-Jomaa" (in Arabic).

It's different in Japan. To start with, Friday is not a weekend. I personally have never had the chance to attend Friday prayers in Tokyo because I'd always have a class or a meeting or some other errands to run at the same time. This week, however, for this blog and wanting to "feel" Friday, I go to the Arabic Islamic Institute in Tokyo for the first time.

I get off at Azabu-juban, and after more than 30 minutes of walking and asking for directions in this very hot summer day, I spot an Arab looking gentleman and decide to take my chances and ask him if he knows of the place. To my luck he says he's heading there as well and hopes to make it before the Friday Khutba (speech) is over. I tag along and he immediately guesses I am from Egypt. I was a little shocked and surprised to be honest. Living in Japan for a year and a half, no one has ever guessed my nationality correctly. Europe or Latin America were the usual answers in my case and when I say "Egypt", the response would usually be "Ehh?..Egypto..Sugoi" (What?..Egypt..Wow) followed by "This is the first time I meet an Egyptian" or something that made me feel very special. Today, however, I did not feel that, as it seems Egyptians make up a big percentage of the Arab Muslim community in Tokyo.

As I reach the mosque I am told where to head for the Women's prayers area. I go there immediately. The Imam was still giving a Khutba about the Qur'anic chapter, “Al-kahf” (The Cave). I listen to what’s left from the speech and then the prayers start shortly. It was quiet at the women's section and after prayers were over everyone left peacefully and quietly.

I manage to talk to two young ladies from Morocco however. One of them shared that she only came to Tokyo a few months back but "I come here for the Friday Prayers whenever I can." We exchange numbers and agree to stay in touch.

Heading back to the station, I feel glad that today, without seeing my father and brother I "felt" Friday in Tokyo.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Meet Egyptians in Yokohama

The "Egypto Kai" that was scheduled to take place today was cancelled. The Egypto Kai, a monthly meeting arranged by the Egyptian community in Tokyo was called off due to 30% possible rainfall. The plan for today was an outdoor barbecue in Daikanyama, an upper class neighbourhood in Tokyo.

Many Egyptians, especially first timers (including myself) were disappointed. Not wanting to give up, a group of Egyptians agreed to make up for it. They planned a day trip to Yokohama. I, excited about starting this blog, grasped the opportunity and tagged along to have my first look into how Arabs live in Tokyo.

We happily agreed to meet at Sakuragicho Station at 9:30 AM. Not everyone made it on time. A Japanese professor and a previous visiting professor at Cairo University, was also invited and was there at exactly 9:30 ready to show us Egyptians around Yokohama.

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We had a lot of fun. We talked about Japan, Japanese people, differences in countries, cultures, food, food and food. The mother of one Egyptian student who only arrived to Japan two weeks ago said: "Japan is an amazingly clean country, I was impressed" she said, "but I just don't understand how Japanese people can eat raw fish. It’s tasteless"

Food is a big issue and it was definitely a common concern among all Egyptians in the group. Arabic cuisine is different from Japanese cuisine. And although everyone came to love sushi after living in Japan, today, when our stomachs started rumbling, even for those who had only arrived two days ago and travelled thousands of miles to experience Japanese culture, there was only one place to go, the "Doner Kebab" place.