I feel that Tokyo has been gradually changing to a mosaic city year by year. Of course, not as much as New York, it no longer rare to see various kinds of people in terms of race, language, and religion in the city. Not only for increasing the number of foreign visitors but also residents in Tokyo from other counties have also increased in these days. In particular, Islam has been a very faraway religion for me for a long time in Japan, although I had some Muslim friends in the US and UK during my staying there. However, it became a cue of my interest in Islamic culture – that is Tokyo Camii in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.
The place you can experience the exotic atmosphere immediately in Tokyo
Tokyo Camii is a Turkish mosque that is the largest one in Japan with a long history. It was built in 1938 by Tatar people exiled from Russia and the current mosque in Ottoman style was rebuilt in 2000 by supporting Turkish religious agency. The appearance of the building is completely different from traditional Japanese architecture, so it is very outstanding in the district. However, there are quite a few Japanese who still don’t know that we have a great mosque in Tokyo. (Although the mosque may be too common among Muslim residents in Tokyo and Japan.) As I also didn’t know the existence despite living in Tokyo for decades and I was so charmed to see the photo of such an exotic and beautiful building on the Japanese guidebook. The mosque is allowed to enter for everyone who is not Muslim as well, so my husband and I decided to visit there with great curiosity.
The mosque locates near Yoyogi-uehara station which is a 5-minute walking distance and you can find the building with exotic appearance suddenly along the street. Passing the main gate to enter the building, there is a Turkish cultural center on the first floor, then climbing up an inner ladder to the second floor, you can reach the entrance of the mosque with a large round roof. We have to take off shoes there and women have to cover their heads with a scarf to enter inside (I brought my own scurf, but they also prepare some of them for people who didn’t bring). I was very impressed to see the elaborate and detailed decorations inside. Especially, the decorations of the roof were so majestic and gorgeous which I had never seen before. Some people seem Muslims and Japanese visitors like us. We were just sitting on the floor covered with a smooth carpet in silence, doing nothing special, but I remembered the atmosphere in the mosque made us very comfortable and calm down.
We also observed Islamic worship at sitting on the back of the space and it was my first time to be and see how to pray in an Islamic way. Although I didn’t have any knowledge about the Quran and could not read and understand any Arabic, the voice of the imam was awe-inspiring and emotional, so that it captured my heart completely. Since then, I have sometimes visited there including some social events to share such a comfortable atmosphere and moments. After visiting Tokyo Camii, I have been more interested in Islamic cultures and Turkey and wanted to feel the atmosphere at local mosques. And, a few years later, we had a chance to travel to Turkey at last!
As you know, there is one of the most beautiful mosques in the world in Istanbul called the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. It is very famous as “The Blue Mosque”, and some of you may have already visited there. Non-Muslim visitors can enter the building unless you enter sacred areas to pray. Decorations with arabesque style are so remarkable and the atmosphere of the place was so comfortable for us. All I did was just sitting on the floor and watching Muslim people how to pray, but it was really curious to know, especially about their religious customs. We also visited the religious center for world visitors in the mosque and had a chance to talk with the imam and learn about the basics of Islam religion including the meaning of Ramadan. I understood after talking with him and sharing space and time that the religion is completely philansolophic, equal among any people, and has flexibility. (Additionally, the imam read a part of the verse from the Quran just for us, which became our great memory.)
To tell the truth, Islamic religion had been mysterious for me due to being unfamiliar in Japanese society, furthermore, I had a bit scary image, even I have some Muslim friends, because of violent activities happened by some extremists around the world. However, my image for the religion had completely changed since then. After all, we visited and spent our time for a few hours at the blue mosque for all 3 days while we were staying in Istanbul. And we were really healed to hear the voice of Adhan which stated just before the time of praying from mosques during our trip to Turkey.
Now, we have various people from the world in Tokyo, actually, not only in Tokyo but some local areas in Japan, too. Our society will have to invite more people from the other countries in terms of a declining birthrate, decreasing the labor force, increasing international competitiveness toward the future. I suppose that religion is based on people’s way of thinking and behavior, so visiting religious places such as mosques can be a first step for mutual understanding. Of course, we just understand the tips of the religion, but those places will drive your curiosity to know your neighbor’s life. Anyway, Tokyo Camii is worth to visit in terms of praying, religious understanding, and Islamic art/architecture, for both Muslim and non-Muslim people. It is not Japanese culture, but why don’t you feel other cultural aspects in Tokyo?
*Reference Information: Tokyo Camii (English)