Anyone with dietary restrictions who has been to Japan will know that it can be quite frustrating. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll be shocked to hear that the fish head in your miso soup “isn’t meat.” And if you don’t drink, well, good luck at the nomikai (drinking parties).
For Muslims who follow a halal diet of no pork, alcohol, and other restrictions, it can be extremely difficult. Pork-broth is very common in Japan, alcoholic mirin and sake are often used in cooking, and in Japan animals who have been slaughtered according to Islamic guidelines are about as rare as a mosque. But thanks to a halal-friendly karaoke parlor that’s just opened in Tokyo’s Yotsuya, Muslim customers finally have a place to kick back, belt some tunes, and not worry about dictionary-checking every ingredient.
The Manekineko karaoke parlor in Yotsuya – which opened its doors on December 25 – may just be one of many Manekineko chain karaoke parlors all over Japan, but it’s still a first of its kind in the country. In addition to the normal menu available at all of its locations, it also offers an entire selection of food and drinks that strictly adhere to the halal guidelines set forth in Islam.
▼ Now Muslims in Japan can finally experience the joy of doing this for hours.
On December 24, just in time for the parlor’s opening, the Malaysia Halal Corporation (MHC) inspected Manekineko and gave them a “Local Halal” certification after verifying that everything was done according to proper halal standards. This was no mean feat: not only can the items on the halal menu not contain pork, alcohol, or anything else that goes against the MHC’s requirements, but none of the food or drinks can even be prepared in the same area or be served using the same utensils as non-halal food. This means there are separate glasses for halal drinks,separate trays to bring food, and even an entirely separate kitchen for preparing the halal food in.
Now having halal food is all fine and dandy, but is it any good? Just looking at the menu it seems to offer most of the typical karaoke parlor fare: there’s ramen, udon, yakisoba, edamame and more, which is great since it allows Muslim customers to get a taste of Japan without worrying if it’s something they can even eat. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of Middle-Eastern food like lamb, hummus, or (oddly enough) curry, but it’s still a great first step.
▼ The menu also contains a generous helping of Engrish, including “corny pizza” and “fried t corn.”
And it’s not just the menu that’s accommodating of Muslim customers. The new Manekineko also includes a whole prayer room inside the building as well, to be used by anyone who wants to perform one of their five daily prayers. The room faces toward Mecca, and can comfortably fit four people, allowing Muslim customers to stay at karaoke longer and not worry about having to leave and go somewhere else to pray.
Apparently Manekineko has big plans to attract even more Muslim customers. Aside from expanding their halal menu to more parlors, they’re aiming to offer party plans during Ramadan for customers to break their fasting with, start a “Muslim student discount” to entice students studying abroad in Japan from Islamic countries, and expand into Southeast Asia using what they’ve learned.
“We want to create an environment where our Muslim customers, and our regular customers, feel comfortable enough to stay and have fun for a long time,” said Manekineko PR representative Takayuki Ezawa. They’ve certainly gone above and beyond in that respect, and it’s always nice to see the sometimes slightly xenophobic Japan open up its mind, and its karaoke boxes, to welcome other cultures.
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. (the following day)
Price: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., 150 yen (US$1.25)/30 minutes
6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., 300 yen ($2.50)/30 minutes (holidays/weekends are 350 yen ($3.00)/30 minutes)
Requires signing up for a 200 ($1.50) yen membership.