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Siiri Sinko, Tenryuji-temple

What I Learned from the Japanese – and Perhaps We All Could

It’s no secret that travelling widens your horizons and you can learn a lot about different cultures and countries by simply visiting them during your holidays. However, by spending a longer period in a foreign country, such as an exchange semester, you will gain a deeper insight on the lives of the people in another culture. Based on my own experience in Kyoto, I realized that there were several things which I really respected in the mindset and the culture of the Japanese. Despite of some more shocking differences, there were also a lot of positives – aspects of life that we as Finns could learn from.

Here is a list of things I think everyone in Finland could learn from the Japanese. Not to say that there are no people who already practice these things in their daily lives, but to shed some light on the small things which the Japanese in general seem to know how to do a bit better than us.  

1.      Appreciating the change of the seasons

This was one of the most charming points of the life in Kansai area. There are four seasons, and each one is appreciated. The theming of basically everything according to the season was in a whole new level than anything I have seen before. Even the cardboard mugs in the campus coffee vending machines were brightly colored to match the current season. Handicraft shops decorated their windows with beautiful draperies with animal and plant motifs of the season (this includes pumpkins for Halloween) and Shinto shrines sold bookmarks and charms with a picture of a different flower for each month. The Japanese national holidays often celebrate things like the end of winter or the autumnal equinox.

  I know it is part of the Finnish culture to complain about the weather, but since we also have four seasons, a little bit of positivity would be welcome. Let us also enjoy the little changes in the weather and celebrate the seasonal festivities while appreciating the moment and not just always wait for July (and then complain because the weather is too hot/ not hot enough)!


2.      Reading the air around you

Reading the air or the atmosphere is a regularly occurring phenomenon in many different situations, and it signifies both understanding what others are after in the situation and acting accordingly. Usually it translates as being discreet and taking the small clues. While being considerate can sometimes go too far, the situations where I found it to be the most attractive are the occasions where there are a lot of people sharing a small space, such as public transportation.

I think it all comes down to this: Leave space even when there is no space. Sometimes you simply must bump shoulders with someone or stuff yourself in a bus that looks like it cannot take one passenger more. This might be a thing almost everywhere in Asia, since the one thing there is definitely enough of, is people. However, you do not hear someone cursing you because you are in their way or someone shouting, ‘the bus is full!’ in your face when you are trying to get in. Because everyone knows that the situation will proceed more smoothly if one tries to comprehend the circumstances others are in instead of tooting one’s own horn at every turn.


3.      Kindness shown is kindness received

This is probably the most important thing and the one I miss the most. There was a time on Campus when I accidentally reeled back and dropped almost everything I had on my lunch tray. All at once there were three people I didn’t know offering me their full packs of tissues to clean my clothes and table (this happened outside, so there was no staff nearby). As I was eating what was left of my lunch, having cleaned up what I could, one of the girls that had helped me suddenly burst into tears. Sitting in a table next to her, I was just there thinking that this girl had given me all her tissues. She had some friends with her, but they didn’t seem to know what to do either, so I went there apologizing and gave her all the left-over tissues I had. This occasion had me thinking how weird and ironic life sometimes is, and just how friendly the Japanese are.

I have noticed that in Finland I often have this feeling that I have to have a special reason to be polite or even apologize for being ‘overly’ friendly. You know the feeling when you greet the bus driver and they simply glower at you? I think that Japan has taught me that one can be shy and care about their own space while simultaneously being friendly and polite. It is very easy to be kind when people are also kind towards you.

I learned and received a lot from my stay in Japan, but here I have mentioned some of the most important things that I feel like I am going to miss a lot while in Finland. At the same time, these are also things that one can practice in one’s own life and maybe make it a bit brighter – for also other people around them.

Photo by Siiri Sinko, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha 

Siiri Sinko

Helsinki '21

The author is a student of political history in the University of Helsinki. She is a sensible freak who enjoys the fine little details of life. Her interests and hobbies include history, music, visual arts, cartoons, national symbols and international competitions.
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