Typography
Kyuu Eturautti

Japan is not that far away, at least not for those who know where to look.

While Japanese culture might initially seem to appear somewhat of a distant concept in Finland, it has in fact a widespread network of supporters and events devoted to its wonderfully quirky aspects. In many cases the term Japanophilia can be applied: a strong interest in the country, culture or people of Japan. For many it is even not a case of interest, but lifestyle.

Did you know that Finland is in fact the third largest market area for Japanese rock in Europe according to JmusicEuropa, a European online poll about Japanese music? Finland also has its own Anime Union, which collaborates with many local Finnish anime organisations, of which surprisingly many do function in the country. While local organisations are independent, the Anime Union oversees common interests, such as organising larger events and campaigns.

Japanophilia encompasses different aspects of Japanese culture: anime, manga, language, clothes and music, to mention a few. Needless to say, these are aspects rather divergent from Western and Nordic cultures and hold a strong interest in their supporters due to their extremely foreign nature.

Something out of the ordinary

Laura Lindeman, 24, who makes clothes herself, is an avid follower of Japanese culture and fashion. “I like the garish nature of the clothes culture of the Japanese,” she says. “They dare to be bold and different there. I also like that the people often manufacture their own clothes there. The contrasts are also quirky: the Japanese are rather conventional, yet they have vending machines with panties and sex museums. The culture is just so utterly out of the ordinary.”

The highly eclectic nature of current Japanese fashion is something to admire, yet not easily emulated. Street fashion is prominent in Japan, and it combines Western trends with local and subculture features. The feminine streak of the Lolita style, a common feature in Japan though originating in the US and Britain, is not uncommon among Finnish youth.

The cupcake-shaped skirts and petticoats inspired by Victorian and Rococo-era Britain have been reinvented to suit punk, gothic traditional Japanese needs in the widespread Lolita style. The outfits are often completed with knee high stocks or stockings, blouses and headdresses.

Cosplay, short for costume play, is an important yet rather bizarre aspect of being a fan of Japanese culture and clothes. Dressing up in Japanese manga and anime style costumes is an extreme way of conveying devotion to these imaginative sub-cultures. This is a worldwide phenomenon; an annual World Cosplay Summit takes place in Japan, in which Finland also takes part.

So what is it about manga and Japanese animation that is so awe-inspiring? What fans mostly talk about is the diversity and exotic nature of these genres. Nothing seems to go according to rules in these mystical stories that nevertheless often portray features of Japanese hierarchy and traditions. Ninjas and the warrior culture dating back to feudal Japan provide mysterious, even romantic tales on screen and in books.

The anime craze in Finland increased greatly when The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro by the highly acclaimed anime director and manga artist Hayao Miazaki hit movie theaters in 2002. A steady influx of anime films has ever since adorned the offerings of Finnish cinema. It was around the beginning of the 21st century that the different aspects of the Japanese culture landed permanently among sections of the Finnish people.

Several anime TV shows, such as Dragon Ball Z, Silver Fang and Pokémon have also made their way here. Some of these are not considered “pure” anime by hardcore fans, but rather children’s versions. These can be purchased rather widely in stores in Finland, yet those seeking lesser known works must often buy things from online shops, such as fantasiapelit.com. Manga comics are often part of comic book store collections, yet collectors’ items may be hard to find.

The supernatural Japanese streak extends to all forms of art, and speaks to people around the world, not least in literature. Four of Haruki Murakami’s works have been translated into Finnish. His universal themes of alienation and loneliness merge into surrealistic Japanese elements in these wildly successful works. Kafka on the Shore made it to number 9 in the list of most bought translated books in February 2009. This year the Finnish version of Norwegian Wood made the list in February and March.

Find Finnish dedication to
Japanese culture at:

www.cft.fi
www.animeunioni.org
www.mangacafe.fi
www.jrocksuomi.fi
www.tokyokan.fi
www.fantasiapelit.co
www.luca.fi

A place to gather

Manga Café in Kaisaniemi is a haven for hardcore Japan fans, especially those who love their animation and manga. Milla Sainio, owner of the establishment says they have a lot of regular customers. “Most of the visitors are adolescents or young adults. About 80 per cent are females, who are into the Japanese culture, read manga, watch anime, cosplay, listen to Jpop and so forth.”

Their display of products is something to behold: Japanese beverages and treats, as well as the obvious collection of comic books, complete with vending machines. “We have Japanese soda Ramune, it’s a funny glass bottle where a ball is popped inside,” Sainio describes. “We have different flavours on sale. We also have Pokka ice tea, a Japanese brand. Then we have these Pocky chocolate biscuit sticks, which are very popular in Japan.”

Not to be outdone, there are plenty more items on offer. “We have different Japanese figures, all sorts of merchandise imaginable from different TV shows. Of course comic books are also available, Japanese ones.”

The café has been in operation for over three years. It moved to the new premises a few months back, and business seems to be going rather well. Sainio says it’s a popular get together location for groups especially during the weekend.

16-year-old Erika Jensen-Eriksen, also known as Rika is a frequent visitor at Manga Café. Her style is made up of dark Lolita elements, completed by an umbrella. Rika likes to draw and play videogames. She is a fan of Japanese manga and anime, but not exclusively.

“I had friends who were into it, and they encouraged me to check out some things. This was around when I was in fifth grade. It has since subsided a little, now I enjoy also Western comics, but I do manga and anime.” The Espoo native visits Manga Café quite often. “I go to upper secondary here in Helsinki, so I may come here after school,” she says. “I usually have friends here, and I’m friends with the owners as well.” Rika has not been to Japan herself, but would like to visit there. “It’s not a must anymore, but it would definitely be nice.”

Rika is a fan of Japanese manga and anime.

Rock attraction

Japanese rock music is referred to as Jrock around the world. Finland’s JrockSuomi community is an organiser of fan meetings and offers expertise knowledge on the genre to the press and everyone eager to dwell into the world of Japanese rock. The community collaborates with other associations around Europe. The first visual kei gig in Finland in Turku in 2005 was sold out two months before the concert. The visual kei movement, marked by elaborate outfits, makeup and often androgynous elements, essentially makes up the image of the ubiquitous Japanese quirkiness: it’s bold, eccentric and embraced warmly by the Finnish community.

For those wishing to familiarise themselves with the culinary features of the Japanese culture, Tokyokan on Annankatu provides rare imported delicacies, along with cooking supplies and books, kimonos, Japanese magazines. Even SUZUMO sushi robots are available and ready for use. The shop was established as early as 1987 and features native Japanese visitors as well as Finnish people and fans of Japanese food.

Also Luca Kiosk on Mannerheimintie has a comprehensive selection of Japanese snacks, beverages, herb tea, stationeries, accessories, bags and cosplay and animation related merchandise.

According to the kiosk their most popular products are: Totoro products, animation products, Japanese snacks, shopping bags, and fashion magazines.

“As we all know, Japanese culture extremely cares about the details,” states Luca Kiosk’s Oda. “We believe the high-quality products from East Asia bring different feelings to Finnish people, to enjoy up-to-date fashion from the other side of the earth without travelling abroad.”

It seems like the Japanese culture is here to stay. You can celebrate it by attending the Hanami celebration in the Japanese garden of Roihuvuori in May, study the Japanese language in a number of institutions, or visit one of the hotspots for Japanese fans. Sushi bars are a frequent sight in the city centre these days; they are no longer the oddities that they were ten years ago. The stoic Finns and creative Japanese may in fact have a lot in common. Japan certainly kindles the interest of Northerners.

Annika Rautakoura