In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islam in Japan

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historical Overviews of Contact between Japan and the Islamic World
  • Japanese Involvement with the Islamic World during the World War II Period
  • Early Japanese Scholarship on Islam

Islamic Studies Islam in Japan
Kieko Obuse
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0167


Japanese contact with the Islamic world was sporadic and mostly indirect before the end of national seclusion in the mid-19th century, when Japanese delegations started to visit Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey, Iran, and Egypt. The subsequent collaboration between Japanese Pan-Asianists and Pan-Islamist activists of Turkic backgrounds laid the foundation for Japan’s Islam policy, a military strategy to gain a better footing in areas with predominantly Muslim populations across Asia. This campaign was particularly emphasized during the Asia-Pacific War, as part of Japan’s imperialist agenda. However, all of their attempts to collaborate with Muslims and use these connections in order to fulfill the country’s political agenda, including research in Islamic studies, were discontinued at the end of World War II, and the war-time research outcomes of Islamic studies were ignored within Japan for half a century afterward. Post-war Japanese attention to Islam has reemerged only at times of major events like the oil crisis in the 1970s and the 9/11 incident, without leading to much collective involvement with the Islamic world, while the country’s bubble economy in the late 1980s to the early 1990s has brought many Muslims to Japan. The Muslim population in Japan as of the early 21st century is estimated at around one hundred thousand. Although this constitutes less than 0.1 percent of the entire population of the country, the Muslim community in Japan is extremely diverse. The majority of Muslims residing in Japan are non-Japanese “born” Muslims, who are originally from such countries as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Many Japanese converts are women who convert when marrying a non-Japanese Muslim man, although there have been a small but increasing number of individuals who embrace Islam as a result of spiritual exploration. Since the late 1990s, the number of mosques in Japan has increased dramatically, and now numbers around eighty. The communication between Islam and the traditional religions of Japan, especially Buddhism, has also steadily increased, taking the form, for example, of interreligious dialogues. In contrast to the significant development of Islamic studies in Japan since the 1980s, the research on Islam in Japan is still in its infancy, with only limited scholarship available in English. This article therefore presents an overview of the existing scholarship, while also introducing some hitherto little-known primary sources in Japanese. To make it accessible for those without a reading knowledge of Japanese, each section lists English sources first, followed by Japanese sources. It should be noted that the topic headings employed in this article are not exclusive categories. Readers are encouraged to refer to other sections, as indicated, for a more comprehensive understanding of the scholarship on the topic in question.

General Overviews

There are as yet no comprehensive academic volumes in English on Islam in Japan. Nakhleh, et al. 2008 is a valuable, if brief, introduction to contemporary situations surrounding Muslim communities in Japan. Among those written from a confessional standpoint, Morimoto 1980 remains useful, though it covers developments only up to the early 1980s. A more up-to-date overview of the history of Japanese involvement with the Islamic world and contemporary developments is al-Samarrai 2009. Penn 2005 provides virtually the only bibliography on the subject, covering mainly English sources. More English sources on Japanese relations with Islam are discussed in Historical Overviews of Contact between Japan and the Islamic World. For those who read Japanese, Sauji Arabia Taishikan Bunkabu 2010 brings together the outcome of recent research on various aspects of Japanese-Muslim relations undertaken by Japanese scholars of Islam as well as leading figures in the Japanese Muslim community, while Sakurai 2003 provides a valuable account of the lives of foreign Muslims living in Japan, based on extensive fieldwork.

  • Morimoto, Abu Bakr. Islam in Japan: Its Past, Present and Future. Tokyo: Islamic Centre Japan, 1980.

    Drawing on internal information, this work by one of the leading figures in the postwar Japanese Muslim community, discusses the major Muslim organizations and major Japanese Muslims active during the postwar period, up to the 1980s. It has long been out of print, but can be found in a few Japanese libraries.

  • Nakhleh, Emile A., Keiko Sakurai, and Michael Penn. “Roundtable: Islam in Japan; A Cause for Concern?Asia Policy 5 (2008): 61–104.

    DOI: 10.1353/asp.2008.0011;10.1353/asp.2008.0002;10.1353/asp.2008.0013

    This multicontributor feature makes a useful introduction to the situations surrounding Muslim communities in contemporary Japan. It covers such topics as the demographics of Muslims residing in Japan, including their immigration status and Japanese reception of them, how they attempt to maintain their religious practice in a non-Muslim society, and the challenges they face in post-9/11 contexts. Particularly emphasized is the cultural diversity found among non-Japanese Muslims.

  • Penn, Michael. Shingetsu Bibliography for Japanese-Islamic Relations. Kitakyushu: Shingetsu Institute, 2005.

    This privately published bibliography was compiled by the then-president of the Shingetsu Institute for the Study of Japanese-Islamic Relations, which is no longer operational. It lists mainly English resources under the following categories: books, theses and dissertations, government documents, published articles, Internet publications, and pamphlets and unpublished papers.

  • Sakurai, Keiko. Nihon no Musurimu Shakai. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 2003.

    This compact volume examines the lives of migrant Muslims in Japan, based on fieldwork conducted on non-Japanese Muslims communities, such as Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indonesian, and Iranian. Though currently out of print, this is the most comprehensive treatment of the Muslim presence in contemporary Japan, and is available secondhand or in major libraries in Japan.

  • al-Samarrai, Salih Mahdi S. “History of Islam in Japan: History, Spread and Institutions in the Country.” Islamic Center-Japan. 2009.

    This overview of the historical involvement of Japan with the Islamic world and the contemporary Muslim presence in Japan is written by the chairman of Islamic Center-Japan. The sections pertaining to the postwar period are more substantial than the historical account, and it tends to focus on the contributions of Saudi Arabia to the development of Muslim communities in Japan.

  • Sauji Arabia Taishikan Bunkabu, ed. Nihon ni Ikiru Isurāmu: Kako Genzai Mirai. Tokyo: Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 2010.

    This edited volume features contributions from leading Japanese scholars of Islam and Japanese Muslims. Topics include the history of Japanese contacts with the Islamic world, postwar developments, contemporary demography, and the possibility of dialogue between Muslims and the Japanese.

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