06 Jul Why Japanese are Fascinated by The Nordic Culture
There are many people worldwide, including myself, who seek out what is known as “Nordicness“. It is maybe because there seems to be something special about Nordic culture. For a number of reasons, Nordicness can also be found here in Japan. Not only the beloved Moomins, but there are many other aspects of Nordic culture loved by the Japanese.
If you pay closer attention, it seems that Japan and Nordic countries have a lot in common even though we are 5000 miles away from one another. But, what Nordic things attract Japanese people?
Japanese Versus Nordic Culture, so Different, and Yet so Alike?
Table of Contents
Joanna Nylund, a Finnish author says in her book SISU The Finnish Art of Courage “Spending time in nature serves as a natural antidepressant.”
We Japanese also take nature seriously and know the benefits of being in it. The Forest Agency of Japan has been advising people to take strolls in the woods to lower stress. This practice is called shinrin-yoku, translated literally in English as; “forest bathing”. In Kyoto, the city where I live, nature is taken care of a great deal with the local people willing to go clean rivers and the mountains to keep the Kyoto scenery beautiful.
Nature has a power that can heal people, and Nordics know it better.
However, I have to say when it comes to bringing out the best in nature, the Nordics are masters of it. Nordic ways of living with nature be like:
Struggling with hot summer days?
- Go jump into a nearby lake.
Wanting to go on an adventure?
- Step outside and you have a whole forest to yourself.
- Go pick different kinds of berries. Couldn’t eat them all? That’s okay, now it’s time to bake a berry pie!
I have adapted one simple lesson from the Nordics into my daily life, which is their way of using “light”, especially the use of sunlight. Yes, light matters greatly in Nordic countries.
Welcome in the sun, but also learn to not fight against the darkness. When the sun sets, let the night be dark and enjoy a slow night with a little help from candlelight.
According to the book The Little Book of Hygge, 28% of people in Denmark light candles every day. Use sunlight as m
uch as possible in the daytime and simply light up candles at night to end the day with a “hygge” feeling.
Light and nature are essential in regard to Nordic and Japanese interior designs. Scandinavian minimalism has taken over interior design in the last decade or so.
For the last couple of years, I can see the trend has been shifting towards “Japandi”; a style of design that is the fusion between Scandinavian (or Nordic) and Japanese styles. It focuses on simplicity, craftsmanship and natural materials. How do they complement each other?
Saeko Kato, curator of The Shop at the cultural center Japan House, London puts it “I feel a common point for us is how to live comfortably with nature.”
Mikkel Zebitz, a founder of MOTARASU says “There is a clear common thread in the design style of Japan and Denmark, both nations focusing on the beauty of raw materials, quality and a simplistic philosophy.”
Both Nordics and Japanese appreciate simplicity and cherish the idea of “less is more”. It seems tricky to synthesize two completely different designs but when two cultures meet, a beautiful and delicate design can be born just like this dreamy living room. Here are some common Japandi hacks:
- Add a textured and handcrafted flower vase in your living room to spice up the décor.
- Display simple black and white ink painting on the wall.
- When making Japanese tea, use a Kyusu teapot. If you can afford it, add kintsugi mugs to your mug collection.
Work-life Balance Japanese Way versus Nordic Culture
The other day when speaking with my Swedish friend they told me “My 4-week summer holiday starts next week!”. 4-weeks! Not bad, right? Nordic countries are known for having a great work-life balance with long vacations punctuating throughout the year. This happens to be one of the major reasons why many are looking to spend their lives and start up a new one there.
This is in stark contrast to the reality of working culture in Japan, which has become quite notorious in recent years for overwork and a demanding work-life balance for many Japanese. Unfortunately, this has been a normal situation in Japan for many years.
Working and living in Norway, is it any good?
I asked a Japanese friend of mine who lives in Norway what it was like; “What I like about living in Norway, and I’m sure it’s very similar in other Nordic countries is that people value having time for themselves.”. It’s been 7 years since she decided to stay in Norway after studying in Oslo.
According to her, people in Norway usually work on average about 8 hours a day with an hour lunch break and they don’t tend to work overtime except on some special occasions. Workers are obligated to take a 5-week holiday every year and most of the men and women take maternity and paternity leave.
She says, with those healthy working conditions, people are guaranteed to have their “ME time” after work, which is incredibly valuable. From her Japanese perspective, she knows that many Japanese workers would find this to be “extraordinary” and very different from what is the norm in Japanese working culture. But to people in Norway, it is much more the “right” way to approach a work-life balance.
Japanese Nordic Culture on Film
If you want to get a glimpse of how different it is to live in Nordic countries in comparison to living in Japan, there is a movie called Kamome Diner (かもめ食堂, Kamome shokudō). The movie tells the story of 3 Japanese women who move travel to Finland.
The movie describes the three Japanese women’s struggle with working in the hectic and demanding Japanese society. They seek to change their “unhealthy” mindset by moving to Finland to start working in a tiny Japanese restaurant.
I think we can learn a lot in Japan from the Nordic work-life balance and try to improve the situation here.
My Conclusion on Nordic Culture
The three reasons here are why I believe Japanese people are attracted to and fascinated by Nordic countries. I’m sure there are many more reasons as to why these countries are an inspiration and are becoming increasingly popular vacation destinations for the Japanese. I will continue looking for “Nordicness” here in Japan in the hope to give you more interesting information in the future.
Ran is a blogger who lives in Japan, Kyoto. She is an avid Nordic fan and loves reading and learning more about Nordic countries and culture. You can follow her journey on @japanmeetshygge on Instagram where she is embracing and discovering Nordic culture in Japan.
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