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4 Things You Didn’t Know That Connect Japan and Finland

100 years of diplomacy

by Tony Öhberg| July 6, 2019

Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko of Japan visiting the Hietaniemi Cemetery in Helsinki on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. The royal couple arrived in Finland for a four-day visit to explore the Finnish culture and landmarks and to meet with the Finnish presidential couple. “I wish from the bottom of my heart that the dialogue between our countries will continue to improve and that our friendship will grow even stronger over the next 100 years,” said Crown Prince Akishino in his address to the Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

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This year marks a historical milestone for diplomatic relations between Japan and Finland.

The two countries have celebrated good relations for 100 years!

Similarities between their respective people can be found in their mindset, appreciation for quietness and even in seeking aesthetic beauty in the simplest things.

It’s true that they share their love for Moomins, too.

Japan and Finland have during the years grown to become strategic partners in international affairs, in research and in innovation and developed close relations in business and arts as well.

To celebrate the centenary of the good relations, we dug into some of the less-known facts, which unite the two geographically distant countries.

Crown Prince Akishino laying a wreath at the Cross of Heroes at the Hietaniemi Cemetery. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today


A man playing the Finnish zither in the 1940s. Picture: Pauli Jänis / The Finnish Heritage Agency – Musketti

The Japanese have a passion for playing the Finnish zither, kantele.

According to Koistinen Kantele, a Finnish zither manufacturer, Japan is very likely to have most zither players in the world after Finland.

The zither arrived in Japan in the 1970s when Japanese businessmen and students became fascinated with its strings while visiting Finland.

Many Finnish zither groups and musicians have in the past 20 years been invited to play in concerts and to hold workshops in Japan.

Japanese zither players are drawn to its unique sound. The players describe the instrument as “soft,” “sensitive,” “clean,” “untamed,” and “lingering.”


People entwined in the heat of Tango during the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. Picture: Pekka Kyytinen / The Finnish Heritage Agency – Musketti

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Both share a passion for Argentine Tango.

Tango came to Finland from Paris in 1913, on the verge of Finland’s independence.

Over the years, the melancholic sound and its Waltz-like feel have instilled the dance and rhythm into the hearts of the people.

Many Finns have said that they wouldn’t exist without Tango because their parents met while entwined in the heated rhythm, during dances arranged in barns and pavilions.

For the Japanese, Tango is a way to escape the strenuous life of a working man.

Tango was brought to Japan from Paris in the 1920s by a medical student.

First, it was just about the original Tango music. After World War II, many Tango groups were formed, of which many came very popular because its melody worked its way into the hearts of people overcoming the war.

Low birth rate

A baby portrait in 1943. Picture: Viljo Pietinen / The Finnish Heritage Agency – Musketti

Japan and Finland share a significantly low birth rate.

In Finland, the number of born children has been decreasing for the past seven years, and the decreasing population is hindered only by immigration.

In both countries, only two children are born per woman.


The Japanese royal couple exploring ‘Silent Beauty’ exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. The exhibition juxtaposes visual art, ceramics, textile art and architecture by Finnish, Swedish, Japanese, Korean and Chinese artists. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

According to Haruko Hayakawa, managing director of Japan-Finland Society, many Finns have a passion for learning Japanese. The interest is not solely based on the fascination in Japan or longing, but wanting to learn Japanese virtues.

The Japan-Finland Society recently published a dictionary for advanced students, and she said that “she’s delighted that there is a demand for such a dictionary among Finnish pupils studying Japanese.”

Hayakawa believes that the two nations can in the future take their alliance to even a deeper level worldwide if they strive to cooperate together.

READ:  Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Thanks Finland for Moomins, Santa Claus and Similar Views

Crown Princess Kiko visiting the Oodi Central Library in Helsinki on Thursday, July 4, 2019. The crown princess asked Nella, 10, from Espoo what her hobbies are and what she likes to read. (Nella likes cheerleading and she was reading one of the famous children’s books, ‘Onneli and Anneli and the Mysterious Stranger.’) After a while, Crown Princess Kiko started playing with Riina, who is two years old. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Source: Suomi ja Japani – Kaukaiset mutta läheiset (Finland and Japan – Distant but close) Edita 2019.

About The Author

Tony Öhberg

The founder. Reporter and photojournalist. Salesman. Fluent in three languages. Pushing a career in journalism spanning two decades. Always looking for opportunities to tell another story.

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