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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.***
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…
* Based on information provided by JTB Tourism Research & Consulting Co. https://www.tourism.jp/en/tourism-database/stats/
** Based on information provided by The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment https://tem.fi/en/finnish-tourism-in-numbers
*** Based on WHO’s statistics http://apps.who.int/gho/data/view.main.MHSUICIDEv?lang=en