June 8, 2018

Five for Friday: Japan gets Finnish culture

Finland is in vogue in Japan thanks to its design, fashion and a host of other cultural specialties.
Finland is in vogue in Japan thanks to its design, fashion and a host of other cultural specialties.
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The Nordic Fair brought a total of 30 Finnish brands to Hankyu Umeda Department Store in Osaka between 30 May and 5 June.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Finland is in vogue in Japan. Finnish design and fashion have an incredibly devoted and knowledgeable fan base in Japan, while the Finnish winter continues to draw visitors from the not-too-distant country year after year to see the Santa Claus and witness the dazzle of the Northern Lights.

As we all know, however, there is much more to Finland.

The Nordic Fair, organised at Hankyu Umeda Department Store in Osaka, sought to cast a spotlight on the unsung delights of the long summer days, deep-rooted summer traditions and exciting summer flavours in Finland and the Nordics.

Here are our main takeaways from the one-week event.

1. Finns’ infatuation with summer is contagious

In Japan, Finland and the Nordics are still primarily known for their cold, dark and long winters, while the festive spirit that takes over almost the entire region during the short summers is less well-known.

Tsuyoshi Takahashi of Hankyu Umeda Department Store told Business Finland ahead of the event that the Japanese could learn a lot from the way the summer is celebrated in the Nordics.

It quickly became apparent that the learning curve is not particularly long. The ninth floor of what is one of the largest department stores in the country was buzzing with excitement as visitors scampered from one booth to the next in between participating in workshops ranging from folk dancing to kuksa-carving – as if knowing that the autumn is just around the corner.

2. Mölkky – a barrier-free pastime

The Finnish summer is not complete without a game or two of Mölkky, which made a somewhat surprising appearance at the Nordic Fair in Osaka. The increasingly popular outdoor game of skittles was presented to the locals as a game that is completely barrier-free and suitable for children and adults alike.

“The hand-feel of the wooden pin is good and the sound of knocking over the skittles satisfying,” Shuichi Yatsuga, the president of the Japan Mölkky Association (yes, there is such a thing!), said, summarising the simple yet powerful appeal of the game during a live demonstration.

“Some are known to need a beer in the other hand to find the right balance to throw,” he added knowingly.

3. A spotlight on craftsmanship

The Nordic Fair also cast a spotlight on contemporary Finnish craftsmanship.

Kyrö Distillery’s award-winning craft gins were on display at the booth of A21, one of the best cocktail spots in Helsinki and a pioneer in the cocktail scene of Finland. Owner-bartender Timo Siitonen delighted visitors with his showmanship and ability to bring the best out of ingredients indigenous to the Nordics.

Those who needed a shot of energy, in the form of caffeine, found relief at the booth of Good Life Coffee, one of the trailblazers of the third-wave coffee movement in Finland.

4. A celebration of tastes

With a coffee in one hand, the aroma of cinnamon was irresistible and unmistakeable. Someone, somewhere was baking cinnamon rolls, a beloved staple on the chalkboard menus of cafés all across Finland.

The aroma led to an endless, but orderly line, of locals eager to satisfy their sweet tooth with cinnamon rolls baked by Arja Julkunen, the now-retired owner of Kahvila Suomi, a café that served as the set of the beloved film Kamome Diner (Ravintola Lokki) and was renamed Ravintola Kamome in 2016.

Food, in fact, was one of the more prevalent themes of the Nordic Fair, which offered visitors a rare opportunity to enjoy authentic Finnish pancakes (lettu), flat bread (rieska), salmon soup and Karelian pasties.

5. Design drives home the point

Finnish design was naturally also well-represented and – judging by the frequent exclamations of ‘cute’ – continues to enchant the Japanese.

The classic prints of Marimekko, the colourful stools of Artek, the playful animal-inspired children’s clothes of Papu, and the cheerful bobble hats of Costo Design all certainly served as a reminder that there is much more to Finland than its cold, dark and long winter.

Text: Aleksi Teivainen

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