Taitō municipality in Tokyo is encouraging its food businesses to gain halal certification ahead of the 2020 Olympics to provide more options for Muslim tourists.

Since late 2015, Taitō has provided subsidies to food businesses that invest in halal status, which includes a 50% reimbursement of the certification costs.

Taitō office director of tourism Takuji Kwai said of the initiative: “When you travel, you want to enjoy the food of that country, the regions, and if that cannot be done here in Taito ward, it’s sad. We offer lots of delicious food. So we decided to create an environment where Muslims can enjoy without any worries.”

The policy has resulted in an emerging network of halal-certified food manufacturers in Tokyo. The Japan Halal Foundation (JHF) was established last year in Taitō.

JHF food scientist Faslin Lafir said: “Halal is very new to the food industry and there are very few consumers in Japan. But there is an awareness taking place gradually as the industry learns about the halal system.

“There are many certification bodies, so there are deviating standards. From an industry point of view, companies are a little bit confused about whom to get the certification from, which is becoming a problem. Every year there are more Muslim tourists, especially from Malaysia and Indonesia.”

The JHF is actively seeking accreditation by Jakim, the Malaysian halal authority, which the JHF values as one of the better certification providers.

“Jakim accreditation is beneficial to promote our companies in terms of the export market, which is currently mainly for green tea and tofu,” said Lafir.

“When companies want to export to the Middle East and other Muslim countries, it’s better to get certified, and having Jakim accreditation, that is more value for them.”

The increase in Muslim tourists was in part due to the relaxing of government visa requirements from Southeast Asia in 2013 to boost tourism. Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTS) statistics showed that over 394,000 tourists arrived from Malaysia in 2016, compared to 89,000 in 2009.

One report suggests that over 20 million tourists will visit Japan in 2020, of which over a million will be Muslim.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike met recently with ambassadors from 17 Muslim countries to better understand how they could be used to cater for Muslim athletes and tourists.