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INTERVIEW | Finnish Ambassador on the Moomins and Japan-Finland Cultural Parallels

Finnish Ambassador to Japan Tanja Jääskeläinen discusses the appeal of the Moomins and the cultural similarities and connections between Japan and Finland.



Tanja Jääskeläinen, the Finnish Ambassador to Japan. Minato Ward, Tokyo, June 19. (©Mina Teragouchi)

The Moomins, created by Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson, are immensely popular in Japan. In fact, Moominvalley Park in Saitama Prefecture is the second Moomin theme park in the world and the first outside of Finland.

In an exclusive interview with The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward, Tanja Jääskeläinen, the Finnish Ambassador to Japan, discussed the role of the Moomins in promoting Finland. She explained that the characters served as a form of Finland's soft power. The ambassador also drew parallels between Finland's sauna culture, popular for its cleansing effects and emotional well-being, and Japan's onsen (hot spring) culture. Excerpts follow.

Tanja Jääskeläinen, the Finnish Ambassador to Japan. Minato Ward, Tokyo, June 19. (©Mina Teragouchi)

The Moomins

How have the Moomins helped you promote Finland in Japan?

At the Finnish Embassy in Japan, every staff member's business card features a character from the beloved Moomin stories. We choose the character ourselves. I chose the brave and independent Little My for mine. Handing out these unique cards to Japanese people always breaks the ice and sparks conversations. Discussing the characters fosters a warm atmosphere and provides an opportunity to promote Finland.

Only the embassy staff in Japan have cards with Moomin characters on them. Finnish diplomats in other countries don't really do this. It shows how familiar Japanese people are with the Moomins. We even display Moomin plush toys in our embassy's waiting room. 

The Moomins can be considered a potent form of soft power. Finland is fortunate to have created such iconic characters. Similarly, Japan is celebrated for its manga and anime. Through these cultural mediums, Finns feel a deep connection with Japan.

Moominvalley Park on April 18. Hanno, Saitama Prefecture. (©Sankei by Kazuya Yanagihara)

Cultural Parallels

What are some similarities between Japan's onsen culture and Finland's sauna culture?

It's wonderful how both countries deeply value their cultural traditions: hot springs in Japan and saunas in Finland. In Finland, the sauna isn't just about cleansing the body. It's also a space for emotional well-being and inner peace. Similarly, hot springs in Japan serve a comparable purpose. While some Europeans may feel uneasy about nudity, Finns are quite comfortable with it, just like Japanese people who bathe naked in hot springs. From these similarities, I feel that there are cultural parallels between Finland and Japan.

Unlike in Japan, Finnish saunas do not have neppashi [attendants using towels to circulate hot air for guests in some saunas.] However, we have similar practices such as massaging the body with bundled birch branches to enjoy the refreshing scent of the steam.

Sunset at Renge Onsen. (©Daniel Moore)

Reflections on Japan

Which Japanese city do you find particularly appealing?

I've traveled to 27 or 28 prefectures, from Hokkaido in the north to Saga in the south. It's difficult to single out one city or prefecture that I find particularly appealing. I believe Japan is a captivating country that offers many activities to enjoy in various locations, including hiking, skiing, and water sports.

Do you like Japanese cuisine?

I love Japanese cuisine — it has never disappointed me. Japanese cuisine is also popular in Finland. I've noticed that different regions of Japan take special pride in their local produce, such as pears and watermelons.

What are your thoughts on traditional Japanese culture?

I believe Japanese traditional culture finds value in the details. There is also a profound respect for beauty, exemplified in practices like ikebana [flower arranging] and the tea ceremony. It's remarkable how Japanese culture endeavors to uphold these traditions.

Recently, I had the privilege of experiencing gagaku [imperial court music and dance] at the Imperial Palace. Witnessing an ancient tradition thriving was a truly remarkable experience.


(Read the interview in Japanese.)

Interviewer: Jun Kurosawa, The Sankei Shimbun