Finland And Japan, Two Of A Kind

Finland and Japan alike? You might think it is a ridiculous idea at first, but bear with me and I shall explain to you why these two nations that might seem like polar opposites at first actually have quite a few things in common.

First of all, Finland and Japan – to most people around the world – would be quite exotic, intriguing countries in somewhat remote, not easily accessible corners of the world – and until very recently not many tourists have been traveling to either of these destinations.

But all that is changing very rapidly as traveling has become the ultimate hobby and past time for most people living in first world countries. Traveling to such countries that have not been tourism hot spots previously is now less expensive and as word of mouth reaches several ears around the globe, interests are peaked and hence flights are booked.

helsinki moomin airport
A Moomin character at the Helsinki Vantaa Airport, which has been voted the most beautiful aiport in the world multiple times.

Japan and Finland both offer spectacular, world renown natural phenomena: Japan has its gorgeous sakura, the cherry blossoms, whereas Finland is known for Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.

Both these natural occurrences are curiosities that are both quickly spoken of when discussing these respective countries. For example sakura, the cherry blossoms, appear in April and this year Japan saw a 23% increase in its tourism during that time compared to last year. Over all the tourism in Japan has increased explosively in only five years: from 6.2 million tourists in 2011 to 24 million in 2016.*

In Finland the number of international tourists has doubled in 15 years.** For a small country, that is quite an achievement – if I may say so myself.

But enough about boring old figures! Japan and Finland both are countries of extreme beauty. Japan has hundreds of majestic mountains whereas Finland has tens of thousands of pristine lakes.

mt fuji
Mt Fuji in Japan

When talking about Finland with Japanese people and being asked about my home country and its people I have lately observed myself replying that the Finns are quite like the Japanese. I have based this argument on a few simple observations, such as the general characteristics of both nations: shy, introverted, polite and honest.

Sauna, a haven for Finnish people as well as for the Japanese

As a Finn I think I speak for “my people” when I say that we look up to the quality of Japanese craftsmanship. For decades Finnish people have strived to design and make products that are simplistic, yet pleasing to the eye, timeless and quality made.

Sounds familiar? The Japanese in my mind are the elite of quality designing and product excellence: for centuries they have taken pride in mastering a skill, perfecting themselves and their designs.

sword sharpener
A Japanese sword sharpener back in the day

Finnish textile, home interior, tableware and other design brands such as Marimekko, Alvar Aalto and Iittala are world-renowned but they seem to have a special place in the hearts and homes of the Japanese people. When I tell people here I am from Finland they enthusiastically tell me about their love and admiration for the Finnish designs.

Iittala teema
Iittala “Teema” set, a classic from Finland

Not only do Japanese people light up about the Finnish design, but they seem to have utmost respect for Finland due to our beautiful nature, the famous education system and also our healthcare system. It seems to be that being a Finn in Japan is something special and every time I meet a new person this image is reinforced.

Marimekko design is a Finnish best seller

Trying to think back to my old self prior to visiting Japan I do remember knowing very few, yet flattering things about the Japanese. Their passion for perfection and innovation, the humble yet strongly dignified air of respect and the modern armor of Japanese men: the business suit. Unless I am terrible wrong I would imagine this is how many people view the Japanese as.

The image of Finnish people then? Perhaps I am too bias to speak of it, but it seems to me that the world views us Finns as hard working, trustworthy and innovative, among other things. In other words, awfully similar to the Japanese.

13th Fighter Squadron Renovation
Working towards perfection

And I can not compare the two nations without speaking of the drinking culture. Oh yes, both the Japanese and the Finns love their drink. In Finland we favor a clear, wheat based alcohol called vodka. In Japan they have rice based sake or shochu, which is barley, rice or potato based. Finland has perfected sweet alcoholic ciders to come in many flavors and Japan has its chuhai (made of shochu and tonic) and umeshu (made of Japanese plums and loads of sugar).

Japanese sake is a rice based alcoholic beverage

Drinking habits seem to be similar between these two nations as well: people drink too much. Though whereas the Japanese usually go out after work and get to the state of passing out on the street while still cradling their suitcase, the Finns tend to overindulge on Friday and Saturday nights until they get kicked out of the pub, pass out or both.
None the less both the Finns and the Japanese enjoy drinking and testing their livers’ limits.

Japanese businessmen going home after a few drinks

There is also a grim factor that some people like to bring up about both nations and I shall tackle it here. Suicides. In Japan the pressure of work is often blamed for pushing people to end their lives and in Finland we talk about depression and other mental issues. Both countries seem to be homes to some quite introverted people who do not like to talk about their issues. In 2015 out of every 100 000 people 19.7 Japanese people committed suicide when in Finland it was 16.3 people. To put that in to perspective Sri Lanka had the lead with 35.3 people. Japan and Finland did not make it to the top 15 countries as it comes to suicide statistics.***

gallen kallela
A Finnish painting by Gallen Kallela depicting the age old Finnish drinking habits

To conclude my point that Finland and Japan are quite like two peas in a pod (if the pod was a bit funnily shaped and sized, that is) I would like to present my final argument: karaoke. Invented by a Japanese man but embraced by both nations alike, karaoke gained its popularity in Finland in the 1990’s and has been a strong part of our (drinking) culture ever since. Japanese people sing karaoke alone or with their friends in private booths but Finnish people have a few drinks to muster up the courage to perform in front of strangers in karaoke bars. And like the Japanese, we do not really care if we do not quite reach the appropriate note…

karaoke taksi
Karaoke taxi advertisement in Finland

* Based on information provided by JTB Tourism Research & Consulting Co.

** Based on information provided by The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment

*** Based on WHO’s statistics

19 thoughts on “Finland And Japan, Two Of A Kind

    1. Indeed! We don’t have karaoke rooms, but none the less Finnish people LOVE singing. We usually just need a bit of alcohol dashing through our veins to muster the nerve though… We would definitely benefit from the Japanese styled karaoke rooms 😛


  1. Great post! 🙂 Another thing Finland and Japan have in common is the language which, for mysterious reasons, are related. The rhythm and use of vowels and double consonants are similar and both languages have vowel harmony, are agglutinating in structure (stringing suffixes, prefixes or both onto roots), use SOV word order (Finnish has no strict word order), and lack grammatical gender.


    1. Thank you 🙂 I have always thought that pronouncing Japanese for a Finn is easy – at least if I compare myself to ie. native English speakers.
      Very interesting indeed, thank you for commenting! 🙂


  2. After just visiting Japan I’m very curious to see Finland someday now! The hospitality and natural beauty in Japan were some of my favorite things while my wife and I were there and if Finland can boast these as well then it’s only a matter of time until we go!


    1. Do visit Finland and I’m sure you’ll be stunned hows incredibly clean, modern and convenient it is. Also the people are similar to the Japanese 🙂 Glad to have sparked a travel interest towards Finland!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What is Finland’s attitude towards hierarchy, seniority and internationalism? There may be some differences concerning the third one due to Finland’s geographic location.


    1. Naturally there are also differences between Finland and Japan, but I thought it made an interesting post about how similar they are.
      Hierarchy is not a “thing” in Finland and it might surprise you that Finland is not very international in terms of having foreigners living and working there. If I remember correctly around 5% of the people are foreigners in Finland whereas it would be around 2-3% in Japan. Quite similar.


  4. I am a Finnish woman and worked in Italy, Milan, with Japanese as main customers in the fashion business during the years 1983-4. I loved to work with the Japanese people..truely loved it. And I know they respected and loved me back:) Magical time for me and I do not know why I got so perfectly well along with Japanese people. Absolutely magical:)). Unfortunately have never been to Japan .. almost everywhere else in Asia but not in Japan..wish I could do it before leaving this world, Sending my love to Japan:))


    1. Hei Riitta, mielestäni suomalaiset ja japanilaiset ovat luonteenlaadultaan hyvin samanlaisia 🙂 Ymmärrän, miten sielujen sympatiat voivat toimia niin vahvasti näiden kahden kansallisuuksien välillä! Ihanaa kuulla, että sinulla on niin maagisia muistoja japanilaisista 🙂 Suosittelen sinua tulemaan Japaniin: täkäläiset rakastavat Suomea, suomalaisia ja kaikkea mikä tulee Suomesta!


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