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Hijimachi in Oita finally approved Islamic Cemetry. How is the reaction of Japanese people?

Increasing number of Muslims in Japan.

9th May 2023, it was officially reported that Hijimachi in Oita Prefecture has finally agreed with the proposal of building an Islamic Cemetry. The issues of building an Islamic Cemetry in Japan have been controversial for many years, since Japan has abolished the Earth burial so many years ago.

Looking at the reaction of Japanese people, the decision was not taken as favorable. What are the reasons of the issues and what can we do for mutual understanding?

The increasing population of Muslims in Japan.

It is estimated that there are more than 230,000 Muslims live in Japan. This is only 0.18% of all the population in Japan, which looks so small. However, a major newspaper Asahi points out that the number of Japanese who have converted to Islam and the Muslims who have naturalized to a Japanese national is on increase. Because of globalization, the Islamic population is increasing within Japanese nationals, not because of people who have migrated to Japan like before.

It is also said that the number of mosques is also on increase and there are 7 times more mosques than that of 20 years ago. Japanese society is becoming more and more diverse, and it is extremely important to come up with the solution for the arising issues.

Why did Japanese oppose Islamic Cemetry?

In almost all of the cases, Japanese people cremate the body first and then bury in the funeral. The percentage of cremation is nearly 99.9%. Only the exception was for a very remote, limited area where cremation is difficult. What is important to know is that it is still not prohibited to bury the body directly to the Earth.

Looking at this percentage, it sounds like the cremation has been part of our culture for a long time, however, this is relatively a new style. Japanese government has started promoting the cremation after the World War 2, which was only after 1945. Before that, Earth burial was also a way of burying the body in Japanese society, too.

Why did government promote cremation? This is because Japanese terrain is mountainous, and the land is so limited. Earth burial takes up more space, so that land for cemetry became scarce.

Another reason is hygiene. The climate of Japan is usually humid and rains a lot which can cause more flood, with earthquakes. It takes longer time for the body to dissolve completely in such environment and there is more risk of damage to the cemetry. When compared with the characteristic of the countries where majority is Muslims, like Middle East or Central Asia, it is true that there could be a hygiene concern.

Japanese cemetry in Tashkent

Reaction of the Japanese people.

Many Japanese people have shown concerns toward the decision of building an Islamic Cemetry in Hijimachi.

The biggest concern may be reputation for local industries. Japan is a country with great water resource from mountain. Usuki, a city adjacent to Hijimachi, claimed that by having a cemetry, their Shochu industry, live stock farm and agriculture will be impacted. Though there is not enough data that cemetry contaminates the water, they are worried that consumers will avoid purchasing their products.

Another reason is that the Japanese people are being more conservative to accept people with different culture. For most of them, Islam is a religion that they have never seen in their real life. If they see a people with different culture and background trying to buy a land and build their own cemetry, which is different from their own, then it is natural that they cannot accept the decision right away.

What can we do to promote mutual understanding?

It seems like Japanese people think that the Earth burial is only for Muslims who came from other countries, which is the reason why they believe that these people should go back to their own country to be buried accordingly. They can never imagine that building a cemetry that allows Earth burial is not only for these Muslims migrated to Japan. In fact, there are many genuine Japanese people who have converted to Muslims, or even Christians need such cemetry, too. Globalization has made the situation more complicated than these people can imagine. Japanese people have to be more flexible for diversity.

It is also important for Muslims living in Japan to live in a “Harmony”, which is a keyword for a successful life in Japan. People lived in a village, and they could not live without help from others. This is why it is considered very offensive to be different from others, and it is always right to follow others. Even though Japanese local rules look outdated, it is important to try to show your understanding towards the culture. By doing this, though he/she is a foreigner, they may win a trust from Japanese people, which can help build a friendly relationship.

It is inevitable to see more globalization taking place in Japan, and it is extremely important to try to know each other better. The issues with regards to Earth burial is not only limited to Muslims, but also for other religions and Japanese people, too. Living in a place whose culture is different is always difficult, but it is a great opportunity to widen vision and to understand the value of others.