Written by: Zunita Ramli
Ramadan in Japan
This year is the 10th year I celebrate Ramadan outside Malaysia. I used to celebrate Ramadan in Australia 4 times and in Japan, this is the 6th time. Hence, some people are wondering, what is it like to celebrate Ramadan outside Malaysia, particularly in Japan where Japan is a minority Muslim country?
Of course, the differences are in so many ways if we want to compare how we celebrate Ramadan in Japan to other Muslim majority countries such as Malaysia or Indonesia.
Deciding First Ramadan
Japan, unlike Malaysia, is a Muslim minority country. There is no one standard Islamic authority to standardize the first day of Ramadan across Japan. Some Muslims will follow their own countries for their first day of Ramadan and some might follow others. So, this makes the first day of Ramadan in Japan may differ from one another. Some might start today, some might start tomorrow.
As for me, I follow the guidelines from Ruyat-e-Hilal Committee-Japan. This committee follows Malaysia’s Islamic authority to start the first day of Ramadan. The logic is that Malaysia is the nearest Islamic country to Japan and Malaysia has one legal standard authority to standardize the first day of Ramadan in Malaysia.
In Japan, there is nothing change during the fasting month. Japanese work as usual in their office during Ramadan at normal hours and they eat as usual during the lunch hour. Unlike in Malaysia where some workplaces might have shortened working hours and non-Muslims might not eat in front of us even during lunch hour because they understand and respect Muslims are fasting.
However, in Japan, you might want to expect they will be freely eating in front of you, especially those who are not aware that now is Ramadan month. There are also no shortened working hours during Ramadan in Japan too.
Fasting duration in Japan also depends on the season. If Ramadan falls during summer, the fasting will be longer which can be up to 16 hours, but if it falls during the winter, the fasting will be shorter around 11 hours. This year, Ramadan falls in spring, so the fasting duration is around 14 hours. Compared to Malaysia, the fasting duration does not change much each year which is around 13 hours.
Iftar (Breaking Fast)
One of the exciting parts of fasting is the iftar. If in Malaysia, we have a lot of mosques, radios, televisions, and other things to remind us the prayer time and iftar. When the time comes, athan will be heard.
Malaysia also has a lot of Ramadan bazaars that offer various kinds of foods – ranging from fast foods, western foods, traditional foods, desserts, drinks and so much more. It is so easy to get Halal foods as well.
But in Japan, there is no such thing.
For athan, we need to depend on prayer applications on our smartphones. No Ramadan bazaar in Japan means we have to cook ourselves. Any food especially home-bound food that we miss or we want to eat for breaking fast, we have to cook it ourselves. But the good thing is, we can polish our cooking skills… well, I believe so.
But in Japan, there are also Muslim communities that once a while organizing iftar together, especially during the weekend. Sometimes we just bring our foods from home (pot-luck style), or some other times, we cook together. I believe this kind of activity makes the bond between the Malaysian community stronger. Overseas, no one will look after you better other than your own community, right?
Some mosques in Japan organize Taraweeh and iftar together as well. Interestingly, there are so many foods at mosques during breaking fast in Japan because most of the foods are donated by other Muslims. This is because, in Islam, we believe giving foods for iftar to the fasting Muslims is highly rewarded. But to be true, I never have had my iftar and Taraweeh at the mosque in Japan so far. Nonetheless, I would love to experience it
As for me, most of the time I just perform my Taraweeh at home. Some other times, I perform Taraweeh together with the Muslim community after we break the fast together.
Challenges & Take Away Note
There is no doubt celebrating Ramadan is way different than in our home country. No Bazaar Ramadan, no family, and the vibes are also different. Even so, I believe if we see from the positive side, there are so many things we can learn from that such as;
- The stronger bond between the Malaysian and Muslim communities in Japan as a whole
- Appreciate the easiness to get Halal foods in Malaysia or our home country
- Experience celebrating Ramadan with different Muslim cultures in Japan
Nonetheless, I believe wherever we are, which country we are in, the spirit of Ramadan just never changes. It is just how we see Ramadan from other perspectives.
Nevertheless, happy fasting!