This may come as a surprise to both tourists and some residents of Japan but there are about 80 mosques that have already been established in the country since the Second World War broke out. Most of these mosques are relatively small. However, in the heart of Yoyogi Uehara sits a magnificent structure that could accommodate around 1,200 worshipers – Tokyo Camii.
Just a short distance away from the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku and Harajuku and you will find the Tokyo Camii whose striking minaret and domes become the hallmark of such impressive Ottoman-inspired architecture. Unlike any other mosque which literally means “a place where one bows one’s head,” a camii is a central “congregational mosque” or a major mosque where people gather every Friday to pray and worship. Tokyo Camii is a testament of the thriving Islamic culture in Japan and its architecture is said to be similar to that of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. All of the construction materials that were used to build the largest mosque in the country from the beginning of construction to end were imported from Turkey except of course for water, cement and steel.
The building is a work of art. In fact, there are about a hundred Turkish artisans who worked to build the second-story and the cultural center of the mosque.
According to an imam (priest) at Tokyo Camii, Nurullah Ayaz, the first direct contact of Japan with Islam was only in the twentieth century. The first mosque was established by Muslim refugees called the Tatars after the Russian Revolution in 1917. Tatars originating from Turkey came to Japan through Siberia and China. Their basic requirement upon migration to the country were schools for their children and a mosque where they could pray. The Japanese government gave their permission in 1928 to establish their mosque and school. Muslim minorities opened their school in 1935 and after three years the first mosque in Japan was completed.
Friday is the most important day at Tokyo Camii because it is the day of prayers which is somewhat similar to a mass held every Sunday among Christians. On this day, a sermon is given in Turkish, Japanese and English since there is an increase in the number of Muslim converts. For first-time visitors who attend the Friday prayer congregation, the imam gives a simple explanation of Islam. There are also a few reminders to take note of in order to avoid any cultural blunders.
1. Women should cover their hair and any exposed skin with a hijab (scarf) before they enter the mosque. Headcloths are available at the entrance of Tokyo Camii.
2. Men are not allowed to enter the mosque with their legs exposed. Short trousers are definitely not allowed inside the place of worship.
3. Do not make conversation while prayers are in progress. This applies to all religion.
4. No taking pictures without special permission.
5. Do not cut across in front of people who are praying since it is believed that it breaks the connection of the worshipper and Allah.
Keep these points in mind and you will never have a problem visiting Tokyo Camii, another mosque in Japan and or a mosque in any other countries.