Tokyo Shimbun, the only Japanese newspaper that reproduced the cartoon published on the front page of the special edition of Charlie Hebdo magazine after the murder of its cartoonists, has published an unconditional apology to the Muslim Community in Japan.
The move came after Japanese Muslims demonstrated in front of the newspaper’s offices in Tokyo and subsequently community leaders had constructive dialogue with its staff explaining their point of view.
Among a population of 127 million, Muslims are thought to number around 100,000. There are an estimated 200 mosques around the country, many set up in former private homes. The oldest, in Nagoya, was built in 1931 while the largest is the Ottoman-style Tokyo Camii. The religion was properly established in Japan around this period but contact with Muslims reaches back to the 8th century and trade missions in the late 19th century secured ties with the Ottoman Empire. Indian merchants and Malay sailors were a regular sight in Japan’s ports around this time. Today, university cafeterias, hotels and restaurants offer halal meal choices and there are prayer rooms at airports and on company premises, as well as more than 100 Islamic associations.
In 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke of the “unbroken bond” between Japan and the Muslim world. Largely this is due to an economic influx of visitors, tourists, exchange students and workers — from Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia during the 1980s. Some later married Japanese nationals and became permanent residents.
However, there are concerns the videotaped killings of Japanese nationals, Yukawa and Goto by ISIS will undermine this harmony. “By seeing videos that created fear in them, they could have unconsciously gained a negative impression of Islam,” Ryoichi Matsuno, a media psychology professor at Chuo University, told the Asahi Shimbun of his students. Psychiatrist Rika Kayama told the newspaper the tactic of killing hostages without attempting to negotiate made Japanese feel that communicating does not work.