The happy faces pictured are those of three students about to sample the offerings of a Muslim-Friendly menu at Osaka Ibaraki Campus OIC Cafeteria. Made available initially to coincide with Asia Week festivities, it is expected the menu will continue on an indefinite basis for the foreseeable future, helping to facilitate a truly welcoming, Borderless campus experience for OIC’s Muslim students.
For students from a Muslim background, the small pleasure of sharing a hot meat-based meal with friends on campus can sometimes be difficult to come by in Japan. Not only is the notion of ‘Muslim-Friendly’ food, preparing dishes in a manner in accordance with the laws of Islam, a relatively new concept for Japanese chefs; but, even if a chef is aware of the concept and demand for food prepared in such a way, the level of disruption to the ordinary everyday routine of the kitchen required to bring meat dishes in particular to the menu, can often deter even the most dedicated.
Not so, however, for Ritsumeikan’s OIC’s head chef Kenji Morioka, who, over the course of the last two years, has risen both inclusively and decisively to the challenge.
Unveiled on the October 16, 2017 to coincide with the start of OIC Ritsumeikan’s annual ‘Asia Week’ festival was an assiduously designed, scrupulously prepared ‘Muslim-Friendly’ menu of Roast Chicken in Tomato Sauce, Tandori Chicken, hot broth Udon Noodles, Simmered Chicken and Vegetables in Soup, Roast Chicken, and, last but certainly by no means least tasty: Grilled Chicken with herbs. Implemented as a full menu for Asia Week, the dishes will also be available thereafter on an indefinite rotational basis (two items per week) on campus at OIC.
With the simple aim of enabling Muslim students feel more comfortable and at ease on campus, the menu is the result of a long and well thought-out collaborative process between Muslim students, Mr. Morioka (together with his hard-working staff), and OIC’s Office of International Affairs.
The preparation for Asia Week itself involved an initial meeting where Mr Morioka introduced his plans to four students from Indonesia and Pakistan. This was followed by a second session in the kitchen, observed in fine detail by four students from Indonesia, who, as well as observing the cooking process, tasted the dishes and provided feedback; before an all-important final tasting session. Much to the relief of Mr. Morioka, the dishes were cleared for a ‘Muslim-Friendly’ extension to the menu.
Particularly influential in bringing the menu to the campus cafeteria table was the Indonesian Student Association at Ritsumeikan University, known also as ‘I-START‘. Formed to foster academic collaboration and network building among Indonesian students, and spanning both the undergraduate and graduate programs, I-START not only kindly provided participants for the kitchen monitoring and tasting sessions, but was available throughout the process as an invaluable source of advice and support.
Catching up with a group of five friends at the university cafeteria, the atmosphere was cheerful and relaxed, despite the rumbling stomachs. The two undergraduate and three post graduate students, all members of I-START, were clearly excited and happy to be able to meet on campus at lunchtime to share a hot, freshly made meat-based meal together.
Reassured by the clearly marked and easy to see ‘Muslim Friendly’ labels, aside from the very reasonable student prices, they ordered their lunch, found a free table, and sat down eagerly to tuck in.
Munching his way through a mouthful of very tasty looking Tandori chicken, after first giving the food his approval, Rizky Pratama, a third-year student in OIC’s Community and Regional Policy Studies Major (CRPS), praised the university’s willingness to accommodate his requirements and those of his fellow Muslims at OIC:
“I like that they (the Office of International Affairs and Mr. Morioka and his team) consulted with Muslim friends on campus about the process. They discussed what is possible and what is not. It means also that the cafeteria knows about students’ needs. The number of Muslim students is increasing every year. There are students from Pakistan and other Muslim countries coming, and so I feel the need to accommodate them is there.”
When asked about their lunch arrangements prior to the new menu, Dessy Susanti of the Graduate School of Policy Science, said that they had either brought their own home made lunches or stuck to fish dishes already available:
“We have eaten here before this week, but we could not eat meat like chicken or beef. It’s nice to be able to have chicken.”
Commenting on how the university is improving its efforts to accommodate the culinary needs of Muslim students, she went on to say that:
“The menu is better this year because there was Muslim Friendly food last year, but …there was only chicken curry, and it was served in a separate alley…This year the food is served together,” pointing out what seemed to be a very important point for all the students present, who nodded encouragingly in approval.
“It’s also nice to know that the Office of International Affairs accommodate our discussions and meetings. They keep improving.”
First-hand confirmation then that the efforts of the International Office and Mr. Morioka and his team are very much appreciated - proof also that the wheels of ‘Kaizen’*, as perhaps best exemplified in the fine detail of the Japanese tea ceremony, are moving in a positively inclusive direction. Of course, as in the tea ceremony, the all-pervasive philosophy of the team at OIC is one of creating harmonious, mutually appreciative moments of togetherness ‘Beyond Borders’. Judging by the empty plates and beaming smiles at the end of lunch, potential barriers to Muslim students attending courses at OIC are well on the way to being dissolved.
One final note. Mr Morioka has said his team are ready and willing, in consultation with students and university authorities, to adapt and expand the menu in the future.
Kaizen is indeed a never-ending process.
* Kaizen = Literally ‘Improvement’; though used also to indicate ‘improvement of fine details on an ongoing basis’ (leading to unlimited adaptation and refinement and, ultimately, a better, more fulfilling experience for all involved).