Sunday, February 16, 2014

Finland and Japan

During the summer of 2000, I took FinnAir for the first time in order to attend the "Next 30 Years Towards Senior Society – a Japanese Nordic Conference“ held in Helsinki, wherein the challenging and compelling topics of aging were discussed - growing healthcare and pension expenditures, tax burdens, etc. The program included visits to senior and healthy active living community centers.

The non-stop FinnAir directly connects Narita with Helsinki. After taking off in Narita, I think I saw the Siberian coast that faces the Sea of Okhotsk. It was a very enjoyable flight; no different from flying across the between L.A. and Narita. The flight hours are about the same, 11 - 12 hours. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Russian Baltic Fleet took six months to sail from the Gulf of Finland to the Japan Sea. Look how far we have come in 100 years!

Japan and Finland have some things in common. Both are direct neighbors of Russia, sandwiching Russia on the east and west. Japan and Finland have territorial issues with Russia, for which both engaged in wars against Russia. Karelia, a part of Finland, was taken by Russia. Four of the Kurile Islands of Japan were also taken by Russia.

What do you associate with Finland? Sauna bath? Yes, Finland has a fine sauna culture. Karevara? Yes, an oral and tradition-oriented epic. Yumin? Yes, it's a lovable cartoon creature. Jean Sibelius? Yes, Finlandia! How about Linus Torvalds? No? He is the creator of the Linux kernel, the would-be Bill Gates of Finland, if he had continued on with his business ventures.

Anything else? Well, I have news that's a big surprise. Just about the time I was visiting, Finland was cited No. l in the world for their business environment. Oxford University's Global Competitiveness Report listed the top five countries as follows; 1) Finland, 2) U.S., 3) Germany, 4) the Netherlands, 5) Switzerland. And where is Japan on this list? Japan is No. 14!

Why Finland? The index factors reflect not only Government policies, but also the quality of the infrastructure and the skills of Finnish industries. Are there internationally known industries in Finland? Yes! This small North European Nation is home to Nokia, which scores highly for efficient innovation. I saw the Nokia headquarters building close to the highway and its complex extensions under construction on my way to visit Hvittrask in Kirkkonummi, 30 km or 20 miles west of Helsinki.

Hvittrask (H is silent), meaning 'white lake' in Swedish, is a lakeside villa and a summer studio of three eminent Finnish architects, Eriel Saarinen (1873-1950), Armas Lindgren (1874-1929) and Herman Gessellius (1874-1916) , all from Helsinki University. Nationally romantic style homes were made of logs and natural stone. Here Eriel's designs of the National Museum of Finland and the Helsinki Railway Station were completed according to the Master Plan of Helsinki City (never realized due to cost). Eriel later moved to the U.S. where he was employed as a professor at the University of Michigan and his son Eero became famous for his Arch design of St. Louis, Missouri. This visit to Hvittrask was the best thing I did during my week's stay. I walked to Eriel's gravesite in the woods. It was so pretty and I felt like I was in Lake Tahoe. Please view the following video for a taste.

Before leaving Helsinki, I had the pleasure of inviting Mr. & Mrs. Kimanen to a Russian dinner through an arrangement made in advance by email. They are great musicians well known to Kitakyushu citizens as the founders of the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival. They brought the Festival regularly to Kitakyushu where I live. Mrs. Kimanen, a.k.a. Yoshiko Arai, is Japanese who was born in Kitakyushu. Both are regular members of the Jean Sibelius Quartet, Seppo playing cello and Yoshiko the violin. They gave me a CD of their own performance of Mozart as a souvenir. Overall, this journey was an unforgettable experience.

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