Muslims visiting or living in Japan can now check whether over half of all Japanese supermarket products are halal with a new app created in Fukuoka. Launched in November 2013, HalalMinds is designed for Japan’s resident Muslim population of at least 150,000 and a growing number of tourists from Islamic countries, helping them to find suitable food and restaurants when shopping or on the go.
I meet the app’s creator Pambudi Agung and his colleagues Goto Hironobi, who works at Panasonic, and Dai Oshiro, a fellow student at Kyushu University, where Pambudi is doing his PhD in Geothermal Energy, to find out more. “I can’t read kanji, so I used to have trouble reading the ingredients of many supermarket foods” says Pambudi. “I had the idea for the app and my friend in Pakistan helped me create the code.”
He hopes that the not-for-profit app, free on iPhone, iPad and Android, will help Muslims in Japan to enjoy a greater range of Japanese foods. Users scan the barcode of their chosen product to see an English translation of its ingredients and an alert as to whether the food is halal (permitted), haram (forbidden) or Syubhat, an in-between category used when it is difficult to know whether halal methods have been followed, as is often the case with ingredients such as emulsifier.
Japanese cuisine often contains a small quantity of alcohol in the form of mirin, and substances containing pork or meat which has not been acceptably slaughtered are also common. As Japan has no official halal certification system, Pambudi and his colleagues say they do not want to prescribe strict definitions of what is and isn’t halal, but aim to provide enough information for Muslims to make their own choices.
Currently the app holds a database of more than 500,000 Japanese foods, with pictures and new products being constantly added in an attempt to create a comprehensive reference of one million products, including store-specific ranges and local specialities. “Shops will want to attract Muslim customers” says Pambudi of his wish to create partnerships with convenience stores in the future.
Users are encouraged to add details of new products themselves, making the database a community effort. Has there been much feedback from the app’s thousand-odd users? “People say thank you and that it has helped them, but they also want the database to be better – we are working hard to improve that.”
Additional features include a Muslim-friendly restaurant finder, which suggests the nearest restaurants serving halal food, a Quibla compass to ascertain the correct direction for prayer and a function which delivers a daily extract of the Qur’an.
Pambudi and his friends have big plans for their app, which they say is the first of its kind. In the future, they would like to extend the reach of HalalMinds to South Korea and other Asian countries such as Taiwan. Their ambitions run even further than this – “we want our app to list all the halal-friendly restaurants in the world!”
In Japan, demand for the app looks likely to increase, with recent visa relaxations and a predicted rise in numbers of incoming international workers for the Tokyo Olympics set to cause a significantly higher number of Muslims travelling and living in the country. Kyushu University already has around 150 students from Islamic countries and Kyushu’s first mosque opened in Fukuoka in 2009.
HalalMinds hopes to help Japan’s growing international population. The team are currently involved in negotiations with Fukuoka City as well as officials from Kumamoto to see how their app can help Kyushu and the rest of Japan in their mission to be as welcoming to different cultures as possible.
HalalMinds official website: http://HalalMinds.com
Read more about Fukuoka’s Muslim community:
Report by Katie Forster for Fukuoka Now.