Bamboo trees in a Japanese forest

The magical connection between Finland and Japan

It is such a strange (and awesome!) feeling when some place you have never been before feels like home. It is like a tilted dream, a gentle déjà vu, an Alice in Wonderland-moment. That’s what happened to me in Japan.

The spell of Japan has been with me ever since. The resemblance between Finland and Japan is undoubtedly there but how to explain it? I started reading about Japanese culture and luckily stumbled upon The little book of Ikigai by Ken Mogi.

The examples in the book resonated with my own experiences. I was able to put my feelings into words. Somebody has said

Finland is the Japan of Europe.

I couldn’t agree more.

Japanese home garden and girls in their kimonos

Finnish culture is encoded to the power word ‘Sisu’

It is natural that we Finns have a specific word for each type of snow. With one word (such as kantohanki – meaning ‘snow that you can walk on without it breaking’) one can make all sorts of decisions (what to wear, how cold it is…) On the other hand, it is totally understandable that in many languages there is not a one word translation for this type of snow, as snow in general might be a rare phenomenon.

This logic doesn’t only apply to nature related and visual things, it is also within abstract concepts. I like to call these words cultural power words. Japanese have a single word, ikigai, to describe the meanings of life. The purpose or pleasure of your life isn’t something necessary related to your work or success. Ikigai relates to small everyday things as wells as to big goals. It is a common word used quite casually.

In Finnish, we have also have a cultural power word. It is sisu. It means certain courage and determination topped of with most likely the position of the underdog. Having sisu is an admirable trait. It is a very common, motivating and positive stoic concept.

We Finns wouldn’t be us without the concept of sisu. I feel like Japanese have the same situation with ikigai.

Finnish and Japanese approach to quality is the same

I have learned that Japanese have a high standard for quality. This comes internally. Just fine is not enough and they expect a lot from theirselves.

This is same in Finland. If we have promised or agreed something, we will do whatever it takes to fulfill that promise. This means things big and small. You can for sure get a text message from a Finn reporting that he is five minutes late.

Same goes to doing crafts or manufacturing products in Finland. A Finn would be devastated if his product was found low-quality, not meeting the customer’s expectations. He makes everything as if he was making it to himself and his family.

Finnish and Japanese flags are visulizations

The core nature traits of both countries are clearly visible in their flags. The national flag of Japan is a visualization of the idea of the land of the rising sun. The Finnish national flag is a visualization of snow and water.

In Finnish, we really don’t have a word with ‘fin…‘-anything. We have the word Suomi  for Finland and suomalainen for Finn. As you can see, these words are completely different from other languages.

What came to me as a surprise is that the word ‘Japan’ is in fact also an exonym. In Japanese, the name of the nation is Nippon or Nihon.

Appreciating the four seasons

Japanese see the beauty in change. Every spring, Japanese celebrate the blossoming of cherry trees. They don’t only adore the gorgeous perky pinkness, they celebrate the end of the blossoming too. Japanese enjoy the wind dragging all those flowers down and the faded flower mat on the streets.

It is all about accepting the inevitable change. We Finns cherish our four seasons. The new landscape is greeted with love even when it is bald and gritty. The weather change is embraced. Indeed, there is even a Finnish saying about it.

Weather is just a question of appropriate clothing.

Finnish park garden with flowers in planters in the summer

Finnish and Japanese forests are spiritual places

We Finns have a close relationship to our nature. Many feel that forests give power and peace. There is clear scientific evidence about this. Also Japanese hold nature in high regard. Doctors even describe forest bathing to patients.

No wonder that Finland and Japan are soul sisters.

Finnish forest and a stream




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