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The Halal-Haram Spectrum of Food in Japan

I want to discuss how varied the opinion of individual muslim communities regarding halal and haram status of foods in Japan. However, it is not the goal of this article to give a guidance or even fatwa such as “this kind of foods are halal and that kind of foods are haram”. No. I wish to focus on real facts, grass-root level facts, that this level of variation in opinion and consideration, the whole spectrum exists.

Bahasa Indonesia tersedia di artikel sebelah.

I wish to give insight to any brother and sister outside Japan who wants to visit or move here. And possible invite discussion from brother and sister who live in muslim minority nations, whether the same phenomenon also exists over there or not, and how to face such differing in opinion.

The readers should be able to judge one opinion and the others by themselves. And then search for logics, details, or dalils to support the opinion also by themselves. This article will not provide any scholarly argumentation, verses, fatwa, or rule on any of the opinion. I don’t have the capacity to provide them. Please cross-check them on outside references. Or better, visits your local mosques and imam for further discussion.

This article also will not provide any list of halal/haram snacks, restaurants, supermarkets, or products. If you are searching for that kind of info, I suggest you visit this nice article from halal-guide. For you travelers this article from JNTO and japan-guide are nice. These site halalmedia.jp, halalgourmet.jp, and Facebook halal japan are also sometimes referred by many friends to check the halal status of popular products.

It should be noted that the opinions in this article are not my own. Nor I endorse them. I will try to be as neutral as possible and hide my own opinion in each of the topics. I do this in order to not give any judgment to the opinions and then sway the reader to my possibly wrong opinion. I will also not inform you which opinion is mainstream and which is a minority. The word mainstream itself is misleading and could be different from one community to the others.

At the foremost, the goal of this article is only for enrichment and discussion point, not for judgment and reference point.


Consensus: Pork Meat and Alcoholic Drink are Haram

Let me begin with this consensus. There is no dispute about the haram status of pork meat and alcoholic drink. Therefore, this article will dismiss any opinion from “muslim” who said, for whatever reason, that they are fine drinking alcoholic drink and eating pork meat.

But there is a catch. This consensus emphasizes meat and drink. Emphasizing meat on pork meat means that this consensus only applies for pig derived products which still in the form of muscles, such as ham, bacon, pork, etc. Emphasizing drink on alcoholic drink means that it only applies to a liquid form of alcohol that, well, drinkable.

The difference in the emphasize means that pig derivatives in the form of lump meat and alcoholic derivatives in the form of liquid will not be discussed in this article. Any other derivative is a fair game and will be included in this article.Meat


Meats: The One That Japanese Sell, Buy, and Eat

Our first topics is the normal meats, mostly referring to beef and chicken, which can be found in any Japanese shops, supermarkets, and restaurant. These meats:

This first topic divides the community into two big groups.

The first opinion said that in any country (Indonesia for example) or any time (the time of prophet Muhammad for example) we as a consumer can not be absolutely certain and do not possess the capability to find out whether these meats were slaughtered by islamic way. This opinion held the principle “no sin for not knowing”.

Even in Indonesia, any seller, whether they are a Javanese, Chinese, Bataknese, or Sundanese, no one will bother to ask the halal status of their raw meat. Nor trace the meat origin. Nor find out the affiliates, principle, or religion of the seller. Any chicken and beef are as good as halal chicken and beef. If you do not do it over there, why bother to do it here in Japan.

The second opinion said that Japan is not a muslim majority country. Thus, it can be deduced that most of the meat will not be slaughtered the halal way. Maybe not all. But most of them are enough reason to avoid all of them, according to this opinion. Therefore, they refrain eating any meat included local food in Japan. Just like a vegetarian.

Muslim with the first opinion will not hesitate to eat in any Japanese restaurant. They also view the second opinion as self-oppressing (zalim to our own body), arrogant, or even fanatics. On the other hand, Muslim with the second opinion will avoid most of Japanese food (restaurant or packaged alike). They view the first opinion as sloppy, ignorant, or even sinful.

The effect of this topic alone is very big. Most if not all controversy in this article will not apply for the first opinion. The second person will hunt any 肉 kanji on every product, if there is a meat kanji in honey, they will throw it.


Australian Meat

This topic is an extension of the previous topic. There is also differing in opinion regarding meats that are imported from the country of ′Ahl al-Kitāb, people of the book. I am assuming from the continent of Australia, Europe, and America.

I myself do not know which country can be designated as “people of the book”, nor I ever visit any of that country (I am assuming country with Christian majority). I am very curious about this topic. I think, any Muslim living in Japan curious, how the Muslim community in that country view the “normal” meat over there. If you have time, please share…

Nevertheless, there are differing opinions.

First opinion. The country of people of the book? OK. Country of polytheist? NO!

Second opinion. Country of the people of the book, people of the forest, or people of the sun does not matter. Show me the halal mark, then we can talk.

The most practical example is Australian meat. Years ago, Sukiya – a sashimi restaurant – served a menu using meat from Australia. Or so the rumor goes. Some people ate there. And some people will refuse an invitation to eat there. Because, you know, it was still not clear whether the meat has halal mark or not. Unfortunately, since I came to Japan the Sukiya does not serve this menu anymore, and I never witness the drama unfolding in front of my own eyes.

Probably, the more modern (2017) example is a new menu from Saizeriya, with a big mark indicating that they use Australian beef. SO, can we eat it?


Brazilian Chicken with Halal Mark

The most commonly found chicken meat with halal mark are the one which imported from Brazil. Some of them are brand Seria or Sadia. These brands usually sold in your usual halal food shop. Mainstream Japanese supermarkets such as Gyoumu Supa and Amica also sold it. I occasionally also find this type of chicken in random small shops or supermarkets that at a glance do not care about halal products.

These Brazilian chickens have a hala mark. So, it is halal, right…?

No. According to some brothers. I do not understand their reasoning but I will explain later. In any case, if you give them fried chicken from this meat, they will not touch it.

Rumor said, that they – the brothers – do not trust the halal mark. It may be not valid, according to them. Well, when you hear the word “Brazil”, do you even think about islamic stuff?? No, don’t you? As the story goes, one of their community inquired the Brazilian importer, or the producer in Brazillian, or authority over there – I am not sure – and the answer they got are not convincing. Dubious at best.

Or so they said. So what kind of halal chicken do they eat? Halal chicken from Japan, locally slaughtered and marked with halal logo. Maybe they trust this logo because the bussiness are owned by their own community members.

This topic raises a question about the halal mark itself. Can you trust it?

BUT. If you can not trust it, WHO DO YOU TRUST?

I find many variants of halal logo, many that I never seen before when I went to halal shops. There are halal marks from Scandinavia, Myanmar, Italia. The nations that we do not even aware that they can be included in the Halal Venn-Diagram.

Should we trust them? There are also disturbing news about Korean crackdown on fake halal certificate.  Over there this is a very serious problem. However, if we do not trust the mark, how we can ever trust anything anymore.

On a related topic, can you trust the restaurant owner/staff when you ask them “is this meat halal?”. People usually this question to Nepal/Indian restaurant. When replied by yes, we usually put a happy face and sit to their table. But, how do you know that they even know the concept of halal?


Mirin, Like in Sushi, Udon, and friends

The previous topic is a heavy one, but next we will cover alcoholic substance. Such as Mirin. A substance that I never hear before, and almost mistakenly bought on my first day to the supermarket to buy a frying oil.

Mirin is seasoning which contains relatively high percentage of alcohol. It is commonly used in stir-fry food or soupy food. It is also sometimes used in Sushi and Udon. This fact alone annoys many Muslim people. Because, you know, Sushi and Udon are the only Japanese-y food without any relation to meat.

My favorite Udon shop in Toyohashi

Our frustration grows as the rumor about our favorite sushi shop includes mirin in their rice, or not anymore, or includes again, almost periodically change and change and change. This kind of things makes many part of community flip flops regarding this sushi matter and probably mirin in general.

Some people ignores completely whether the food (read: sushi, udon) contains mirin. Wait… Ignore is a harsh word. I mean, some people make an assumption that that kind of foods by default do not contains mirin. At least until it is confirmed otherwise. But the they usually will not do the confirmation themselves.

Some other people will definitely ignores it. Whether it is confirmed or not. There is no person in the world ever drunk by too much eating sushi.

Some other people are paranoids, will avoid any sushi and udon. They do not like raw fish anyway.

There was an interesting discussion. Do the Japanese use mirin as a, well, alcoholic drink? Do they drink them, and then drunk? If not, then maybe it is not khamr after all, and thus permissible.

The answer to the first question is yes. At least long time ago [1].

Mirin was originally meant for drinking, but has been used as a seasoning since the end of the Edo Era …Chiba, Machiko, J. K. Whelehan, Tae Hamamura, Elizabeth Floyd (2005).
Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers. Kodansha International. p. 12.

The answer for second question is I don’t know. Somebody has to do the experiment. However, I think the answer is closer to yes. If the Japanese at that time use it for drinking, that indeed they drink it to be drunk. Yeah, English is confusing. Drinking it much is haram, ergo, also drinking it a little.

2302_03

Image: japanguide.com. Basic for Muslim Travelers in Japan.

At least that is an opinion from some parts of the community. The question remains that eating sushi as much as you can will make you vomit, never make you drunk. In this reasoning, some people inspects the status of khamr on the final product, not the composition. Thus, it brings us to the next topic.


Alcoholic Food

What if the food is poured by wine, and then 1 second later it will definitely, completely, disappear. Vaporized.

What if the food contains alcohol, but at the low end of the percentage. How about natural alcohol. Example of such food is durian, or tapai (alcoholic fermented casava that definitely not haram, common in Indonesia), or  legen (alcoholic palm water which won’t make you drunk).

How about a food that contained alcohol that the molecule now changed to another molecule. Such as, vinegar.

For every possibility, there will be differing opinion. It is true in the muslim majority country (Indonesia), thus it will be more prevalent and confusing here in Japan. Quite off topic but I myself feel that the experts and scholars also do not have consensus in this matter. Or at least a consistent guide or rule for this topic. Every halal certificate organization also has their own view and standard. If the experts do not agree, how about us the grass-root.

Just an example of this inconsistency is people that like durian but avoid snack with kanji 酒 in their packaging. It is entirely possible that the durian has more alcoholic content than the snack.

Yeah, some people will search for the kanji in the composition section of the packaging to avoid drinking alcohol from the food. Some people, will not.

Thus, the joke goes that, we should experiment to non-muslim people, ask them to eat the alcoholic food as much as they can. Until they vomit, if possible. And then see, whether they become drunk or not.

Regarding this topic of molecular thingy, it seems that not only alcoholic compound but any derived compounds are still in debate by the expert. For example food ingredients in the from of “pure compound” derived from pig that cannot be differentiated by other compound derived from everywhere else. Or compound that is used only to feed bacteries that will finally extract the food ingredients. This advanced topic will not be covered in this article, but the effects will.

Yes. That kind of food ingredients that are listed in the composition section of the packaged food. The chemical compound like substance food ingredients is also up for debate in the community. In muslim majority country (Indonesia), nobody will care about this kind of thing.

However, before address that topic, we will continue a little bit about alcohol.

Non-Alcoholic Drink

Or conversely, a topic about non-alcohol. Non-alcoholic drink to be specific?

What? Ice Coffee?

No. No. I mean this drink.

0-00_abv_beers

This picture is from Wikipedia. I don’t buy this.

Yeah. Zero-alcohol beer or wine and friends. As we discussed before, many people are paranoids about alcohol. So these drinks do not contain any alcohol. Is it halal to drink?

Some people say yes. Some people doubt it.

On a related note, Indonesian Ulema Council has a fatra that any food or drink with a name with haram connotation will be haram by themselves (for example tea with brand Whiskey Tea). Also a food that is engineered to taste like a haram substance, also haram (for example potato chips bacon flavor without any bacon). [Fatwa MUI 4/2003].

Even though the topic of legal, law, and dalil is outside of the scope this article, the above fatwa make me curious. How about bir pletok? Ginger ale? Wine (Wine is not emulator)?

Coming back to Japan. Here alcoholic drink and this kind of non-alcoholic alcoholic drink is freely sold on any outlet. Convenience store, supermarkets, restaurant. You can find it everywhere. Jepang. Not sure anybody care enough to try the non-alcoholic alcoholic drink though.

Well, move on to the next topic.

Ingredients Listed Derived Substance

The elephant in the room. Well, not exactly elephant because this substance is molecular. Very small that you can not see. But it is listed anyway in the packaging and invited concern to some people.

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Image: ameblo.jp. This chocolates are nyukazai-free. I once got this choco from a junior high school club on Aichi Scholarship cultural event. They were selling this choco for charity.

Saya tidak pernah paham the extend of “watch-out”-items in the ingredients, gimana tuh Indonesianya, ttg lebar/jangkauan/cakupan zat-zat yang harus diawasi di daftar komposisi. Kadang saya main ke komunitas/orang lain yang saya jarang berinteraksi, ternyata mereka menjauhi bahan-bahan yang selama ini tidak pernah saya pikirkan harus diawasi.

I personally never truly grasp the extend of the list of watch-out items. Whenever I think that I know them all, and then I meet some new people or new community and then they warn me about this substance that I never suspect.

The list can and will spread very wide. The items is included but not limited to: fat, gelatin, shortening,  jelly, nyukazai / emulsifier, margarin, butter, caramel, cream, yeast, amico acid, soyu (soy sauce), white vanili, etc.

This watch out substance is to be watch out usually because of their origin. Unknown origin. There is a possibility that they are derived from pig, for example. The most common example is nyukazai 乳化剤 or emulsifier, that is known derived from plant or pig. Sometimes the packaging writes the emulsifier’s origin, but sometimes do not. When it is unknown, nobody’s sure and somebody avoids it.

I will only add that, on every items on that list, there will be differing opinion to their must-watch status.

Some people, when confronted with unknown information illustrated in the emulsifier example will assume the best and eat it. Some people will assume the worst and throw the product on sight.

Some other people, the paranoid but adventurous-curious people, will call the manufacturer and ask them questions. Is this thing from plant or pig, or similar question.

This people will be viewed as a hero (or villain?) when they announce that this product is okay because it does not contain xxx or contains yyy. This kind of people will be featured in the very last topic of this article.

Double Derivative: Food with Ingredients that Have Consumer Products with Questionable Variant Ingredients

Before that, we will extend the topic of derivative. Entering double derivative! As the title suggest there is a food, this food has ingredients written in it, this ingredients has many consumer products, that has ingredients written in it, and some of the products have questionable ingredients.

Bear with me.

Let see again the watch-out list I provided in the previous topic. The last two (or three?) are very interesting, because I never suspect them before until my someone mention it. Soy Sauce and White Vanilli. Not so suspicious, right? I mean, they are both from plant, and should be no problemo.

Their argument is as follow.

So soy sauce is from soybeans. We can buy soy sauce from supermarkets. There are many products of soy sauce in the supermarkets. We can inspect the ingredients list in the packaging. Some of them contain only soybeans. Some of them contain many things, including alcohol. Are you still with me?

And then there are other, completely unrelated products. Let’s say it is a bread or a snack. Oh my god, see, the packaging lists soy sauce as one of its ingredients. Oh no, we do not know which soy sauce products they used. Oh no, this snack is bad!!!

They follow the logic that there is a fact that we can observe: soy sauce are sold in supermarket, not all soy sauce are free from dubious derived ingredients. Ergo, all products containing soy sauce or white vanilli is also dubious. QED.

Some other people will said, Wait A Minute! You were mixing the name of product and the name of substance. A soy sauce is soy sauce, a sauce from soybeans! White vanili is a vanili that is white! Additionally, you were also mixing a consumer product with manufacture product. Manufacture usually will purchase a pure substance. If, the ingredients of the ingredients are significant enough, it should be listed as the ingredients of the final product as well, shouldn’t it?

Thus this final topic and argumentation cast a doubt on the ingredients list itself. Can we trust it?

At least, there are the doubtful but curious type of people that will follow the money the ingredients and confirm the manufacturer itself. But this also raises question, should we trust the manufacturer’s answer?



Halal Limited: in Time, Place, Serial Number, and even Packaging Size

1001045_560233460693901_1985745834_n

The taste doesn’t bother interest me anyway.

This discussion brings us to conclusion that on the strictest sense, the halal status of products in Japan are ephemeral. It is limited and temporer.

Asking “is Japanese kit-kat halal?” is grasping the air. It depends on the flavor of the kit-kat, when it was produced, it’s serial number, it’s selling location, etc.

As bizzarre as it sounds, there are also products that have different halal status based on their bottle size. Even though this is the same brand and same packaging and same writing including the ingredients. Just the size.

This is very common phenomenon in Japan.

But who decided that?


The Mujtahid and The Absolute Mujtahid

Without any authority, here everyone is a mujtahid. Everyone should think for themselves what kind of policy or which opinion they will take. That is why this kind of article is necessary.

There is a good advice from our local imam in Toyohashi Mosque.

Wara’ is for ourselves to follow. Not for others to follow.

And for the one that cannot decide by themselves, there are always the absolute mujtahid. Well, this is not the kind of absolute mujtahid you found on islamic law. This is a slang term that we use to describe the kind of person that their every decision about halal food affects us all in the community.

If they said this brand of chocolate is not okay, nobody will buy or bring it to community party. If they eat a new bread, they everybody will buy that bread this weekend. They are absolute.

There is not many requirements to be an absolute mujtahid. You just need this three things. One, somewhat reserved in food choice and continuously updated themselves in the topic of food. Omnivore or consensus breaker cannot be. Two, somewhat well known or revered in the community. Three, somewhat be able to read Japanese. No kanji illiterate!

Every communities usually have their own absolute. It should be noted that there are possibilities that absolute in one community have differing opinion from absolute in others. There is at least one instance I heard that a person revered in one community hold the first opinion on the first topic in this article. So, anything is possible.

The doubtful but curious people that I kept talking about are also positioned themselves (or be positioned) as absolute mujtahid. They usually have many followers on the internet. Some websites, Facebook group, or forum also acts as absolute mujtahid for many people. They provide guidance and help for the ignorance mass.

halal japan facebook

Absolute mujtahid in action

So, if you cannot decide by yourself, find your own absolute mujtahid to make the choice for you.


Food From Friends

This article shows that on every topic, there are persons with conflicting opinion. It actually does not matter if you live alone. But we are all living in society. Every community has interactions. Exchange of opinion. And of course, exchange of food? But how about this spectrum of halal criteria applied for this exchanged food?

Do we have to check all of our own defined parameter to the friend’s parameter? Just to eat their food? Of course, this topic also rises different opinions among people. Some people will check on every details, some will ask just a little confirmation, and some will ignore any differences.

One example, on the brother and Brazil chicken, some said that they will be angry if they know that the chicken you give them were Brazillian. I do not witness the exact reaction but I think they are getting softened nowadays.

I will violated this article’s neutrality clause special for this topic. My opinion in this topic is if I know the people who give me is muslim, I will never ask is this halal? or worse why you were saying this is halal?.

Saya akan melanggar batasan netralitas artikel ini khusus untuk topik ini. Kalau saya, asal saya tahu yang memberi makanan atau minuman tadi muslim, kecuali makanan tadi sangat-sangat mencurigakan, saya tidak akan menanyakan ini halal nggak? atau lebih parahnya lagi parametermu bagaimana?.

I think that the burden of proof to check whether this food is halal or not are on them. Because they are muslim, they should have any notion about the concept of halal. As a muslim, we should have a faith on their faith and judgement. And believe they have good intention, not to hurt us in anyway. A difference in opinion is not worth the trouble for conflict.

But you can ask in a nice way, or refuse to eat if you can handle it well.

My point is, do not break any Silat-ur-Rahim just for a simple reason as which food do you eat and not.  Just respect each other opinions.


Closing

The last topic is whether the food is how the food is enclosed, whether the food’s closing is made of plant material or from….

No, I was joking. ^^

This article has been very long and cover many things. I do not know how to close it. I want to edit it a little and make it a little bit brief, but editing takes time you know. More than the writing itself.

So yeah, that’s it for know.

If you have read this far and searching for answer about halal status of certain food, maybe you will be confused. Because this article is not the absolute you seek for. For that, I will give you my apologize. Also my thanks to bear with this long article. I hope it will be useful for muslim in Japan and also useful for muslim in majority muslim world to know what does it feel to live here.

If you are living in Europe or other muslim minority country, I am waiting for your comment and story in your country. Please do not hesitate to share it.

Also if you have questions, comments, or objections also do not hesitate to write in in the comment section below.

Wassalāmu ʿalaykum.

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2 Comments

  1. Amelia says

    A very good article.
    Living in Japan for a year makes me struggle a lot to find food that is halal for me. The questions you throw makes me rethink my ways of judging the halalness of the food available here.

  2. as Indonesian that is still living in Indonesia, this is what i’ve been wondering about in which how muslim who lives abroad eats and keep their belief of halal food and drink. Like when i see hijab woman in, like you said, people in the book country, casually buys and eats ice cream on the side walk, i will think are they allowed to consume something from non-muslim that we don’t even know what the compositions are? it reminds me of the controversy of certain ice cream in Indonesia years ago. Then again, this paragraph that slaps hard :
    “Even in Indonesia, any seller, whether they are a Javanese, Chinese, Bataknese, or Sundanese, no one will bother to ask the halal status of their raw meat. Nor trace the meat origin. Nor find out the affiliates, principle, or religion of the seller. Any chicken and beef are as good as halal chicken and beef. If you do not do it over there, why bother to do it here in Japan.”

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