CAIRO - Tired of the material life, Japanese youth are increasingly converting to Islam, setting a new balance between their life and religious beliefs.
"That was nothing but a divine revelation," Masashi Nagano, a 28-year-old Japanese Muslim, told The Japan Times on Monday, December 17.
Born and brought up in a society with predominantly Shinto and Buddhist undertone, Nagano hated religion as a child.
He was appalled by the atrocities perpetrated by Japanese terrorist cult Aum Shinrikyo, including the 1995 poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed a dozen people and sickened thousands of commuters.
This fact, however, changed in 2008 when he was in graduate school.
Reading the Noble Qur'an as part of his anthropology studies, he started to mingle with Muslims living in Japan.
Now, he praises himself as a devout Muslim.
"I owe what I am to the Quran," Nagano added.
The case was not the same decades ago.
Mimasaka Higuchi, 76, a former chairman of the Japan Muslim Association, also found religion in 1963 during studying Arabic course in Egypt.
Though he converted to Islam only to get the Arabic course in Egypt's esteemed Al-Azher University, his belief in Islam gradually grew.
"At that time, Islam was regarded as a barbarian religion of the desert," he says.
Until I left for Egypt, I lived as a closet Muslim.
Higuchi observed that the strong bond of people within tribal societies of the Arab world is similar to the workplace solidarity seen among Japanese.
Believing in religion role in life, Nagano participated in a training program for believers from various religions who want to help heal mental wounds.
"I feel it's difficult to live as a Muslim in Japan, but I'm willing to go wherever I'm needed."
The program was launched under Tohoku University's initiative to remedy the deep scars left on people who lost family members and homes due to the Great East Japan Earthquake's monstrous tsunami in March 2011.
Searching for a greater role for Japanese Muslims, Nagano works as a religious mental care expert as part of a quest to find out what Muslims can do in Japanese society.
Moreover, he frequently visits Buddhist temples to foster a cooperative relationship between Islam and Buddhism, among other religions.
"I want to develop good chemistry with my dialogue partners while bettering each other," he says.
Islam began in Japan in 1920s through the immigration of a few hundreds of Turkish Muslims from Russia following the Russian revolution.
In 1930, Muslims number reached about 1000 of different origins.
Another wave of migrants who boosted the Muslim population reached its peek in 1980s, along with migrant workers from Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Japan today is home for a thriving Muslim community of about 120,000 Muslim, among nearly 127 million in the world's tenth most populated country.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net