By  Mohammad Yahia, IOL Staff

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“This will help the Japanese Muslims learn about hajj in a proper way,” said Ohira.

CAIRO — Muslims in Japan can now have a hands-on training experience of hajj after the launch of a new Japanese version of IslamOnline.net’s educational program on the annual ritual in the virtual world of Second Life.

“We were impressed by IslamOnline.net’s program which aims to spread awareness about hajj using a new and innovative method,” Ichiro Ohira, regional manager of Japanese TV Asahi in Cairo, told IslamOnline.net.

In association with Asahi, IOL has translated into Japanese all the material of its virtual hajj training program, which was launched on IOL’s own island in Second Life on December 9.

In the program, visitors can go through all the steps of 3D hajj rituals, using note-cards spread around the island that guide trainees through the training course step by step.

“This will help the Japanese Muslims learn about hajj in a proper way,” said Ohira whose TV has already produced a report about the program to be aired back in Japan.

There is no official estimates of the Muslim population in Japan.

But the often cited number is around 60,000 to70, 000 of whom 90% are foreign residents. Some 84 percent of the Japanese observe both Shinto and Buddhism.

One of the five pillars of Islam, hajj started on Monday, December 17, with some three million white-clad pilgrims moving into the arid valley of Mina in a ritual known as “Yawm at-Tarwiya.”

Hajj will climax on Tuesday when the pilgrims climb Mount `Arafat, asking for God’s forgiveness.

Every able-bodied adult Muslim — who can financially afford the trip — must perform hajj, at least once in their lifetime.

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The hajj program gives visitors a hands-on experience of the annual ritual.

Ohira believes that IOL hajj program would serve as a powerful educational tool for Japanese people about Islam.

“For the Japanese people the benefit of this project is doubled, they will learn about hajj while enjoying the virtual world,” he said.

As most of the Japanese are technology savvy, the Japanese-language version of the hajj program would attract many visitors.

“According to this year’s estimates, more than 25 thousand people from Japan log on Second Life every month,” said Shayma’ Sami, a program designer at TV Asahi.

Sami said there are nearly 35 Japanese islands in the computer-generated world.

The world of Second Life is entirely built and owned by its booming population.

Since it was created in 2003 by the San Francisco-based Linden Lab, Second Life grew exponentially and has over nine million subscribed, active users today.

In the animated world, real people use their avatars to “live” alternate identities in a virtual community, complete with homes, cars, shopping malls and a virtual currency, known as Linden Dollars.