ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi Prefecture – A mosque at a fishing port in this corner of northeastern Japan may seem incongruous to some people, but not to many Muslims from Indonesia, Bangladesh and elsewhere who work as technical interns in the local seafood and construction industries.
The mosque, which was completed in July, is an essential cornerstone of their daily lives, where greetings of ‘as-salamu alaykum’ (peace be upon you) ring out as young people in ethnic clothes enter the building topped with a white dome.
Women wearing headscarves spread mats for prayers outside the building.
More than 100 people flocked to the Ishinomaki Mosque to celebrate the Feast of Sacrifice, one of the most important events for Islamic believers this summer.
Many devotees have come to Japan from Indonesia and elsewhere to work for seafood manufacturers, fishing boat operators and the construction industry.
Technical interns have become increasingly essential for this port city facing the Pacific Ocean, which has suffered from a labor shortage since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed an estimated 20,000 people. .
A 51-year-old Bangladeshi who runs a small construction company built the mosque. Interns and others showed up to the job site on bikes on days off to help with painting and weeding.
A 27-year-old Indonesian explained that the mosque was essential to him because “before, I had no choice but to go to a mosque in Sendai by train for Friday prayers”.
As a crew member on a trawler for seven years, the Indonesian said his job was difficult. As he misses his hometown, the mosque is like a home away from home for him to see his compatriots from other workplaces.
The Bangladeshi president said he was concerned about public prejudice against Islam in Japan when he embarked on the project to build the mosque.
He visited the city office and the local neighborhood association beforehand, telling them the establishment “has no ties to extremists or terrorists.”
Plans call for the mosque to be expanded later to accommodate a library and a restaurant to serve dishes specially prepared for Muslims in a halal manner.
“I expect the establishment to provide a place where people from different countries and cultures can interact with each other to deepen mutual understanding,” the president said.