What Finland means to me —a series of interviews with Japanese on themes and people that connect Finland and Japan
Said very clearly by Takeuchi at the press conference soon after Japanese Men's team won the bronze medal for large hill at the Winter Olympics at Sochi, Russia.
In the past decades, Japan has invited ski jumping experts from Finland to support the national ski team. In addition to the Finnish staff working in Japan, Takeuchi personally feels a strong bond to Finland in that he spent three years in Kuopio from age 16 to 18. He describes these years as crucial in establishing his base to become a successful ski jumping athlete. Takeuchi, who hails from Nagano Prefecture, started ski jumping at around age 10. He went to see ski jumping competitions at Nagano Winter Olympics and soon fell in love with it.
When he was a second-year student at junior high school, his Finnish coach Pasi Huttunen invited Takeuchi to come to Finland when Huttunen was returning home. At that time, Takeuchi was hardly interested in learning ski jumping in Finland. When he had to decide his path after junior high, Takeuchi, who was struggling with his results, realized he had to take a drastic move and jumped to this invitation.
In 2003, after graduating from junior high, he went to Kuopio. While staying at Huttunen's home, he went to a local vocational school and practiced ski jumping with the Kuopio ski team.
In Finland, he was surprised to know the books on jumping techniques and training methods were already available, which was not the case in Japan. But he was rather shocked by the lack of the sense of seniority.
"Before the ski jumping season starts, we place big nets on the ground. It is not an easy task at all. When I first participated in this grueling work, I saw a very famous world-class Finnish athlete tending the net just next to me. I couldn't believe my eyes," he said.
Huttunen and his wife took care of Takeuchi just as their own child, which led to a number of quarrels as well.
In Huttunen's house there were some rules that were new to Takeuchi.
"Each time I was brushing my teeth poorly, Pasi would show his wrist watch as if to say 'You have not brushed your teeth for three minutes yet, right?'" Takeuchi said. He was also annoyed by the question: "Did you close the toilet lid (after use)?"
Then teenage Takeuchi barked to his Finnish parents saying, "Who cares about such trivial stuff?" and each time Huttunen taught him: If you can't observe the smaller stuff, you will never achieve the bigger goal.
"Now I know they kept telling me nothing special. If I had been a bit older, I may not have been able to listen to Pasi's teaching without objections. Fortunately, I was young back then, plus I really wanted to succeed in ski jumping, so I listened to them anyway. All in all, Pasi is my Finnish dad."
Huttunen often told Takeuchi that athletes with a long career are the best ones.
"Before going to Finland, I had always wanted to take a short cut and win the competitions RIGHT NOW. But Pasi would tell me, 'You just keep climbing teeny-tiny steps. Never stop. Great athletes compete for a long time.'"
Even today, after winning an Olympic bronze medal, Takeuchi feels intimidated each time he sees the perfect ski jumping athletes. Then he shakes his head and tells himself, "Keep climbing up small steps, and I may reach that high level someday."
In Sochi, Huttunen was watching the competition with Takeuchi's own family. The moment Japan's national team won the bronze, he screamed, "My student won a medal! It's a historic moment!" The two were lucky enough to meet for about 10 seconds after the competition, which is not usually easy for spectators to meet the athletes personally, and the "father" hugged his "son" real tight and congratulated.
Still today, Takeuchi said, he sometimes finds himself looking for Finnish elements in Japan. Especially while spending a relaxing time, he affectionately recalls the days in Finland where people leisurely spend time. He even named his puppy Hyppy (Jump in Finnish).
Takeuchi has set his next goal on the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games. Good luck!