Measured in flight time, Finland is the European Union's member country that is closest to Japan. Even though this is true and on the world map, Finland and Japan are separated by only one country, it cannot be said that the distance is short. Despite the geographical distance however, Finns and Japanese usually find a mutual feeling of closeness. Some say it is due to a basic cultural resemblance when it comes to attitudes towards nature and quietness.
It is impossible to say when exactly the relationship between Finland and Japan started. One of the very first Finns in Japan must have been lieutenant Adam Laxman at the end of the 1700-century. Catharine the Great, the Empress of Russia, sent Laxman to study the possibilities for trading with this closed and far away country. As a continuation, Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld sailed to the port of Yokohama in the year 1879. Nordenskiöld was a famous explorer who first navigated the Northeast Passage.
The diplomatic relationship between Finland and Japan was established in 1919 just 18 months after the Finns gained independency. The year 2004 marks the 85th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries. During the decades contacts between the two countries have grown and today the relationship can be qualified as very active and friendly.
Moreover, the relations between the two countries are more than just diplomatic relations between two states. Relations are strong among citizens, towns, academia and in the fields of business and culture. For Finland, Japan is among the major trading partners outside Europe.
Finland is traditionally well known in Japan as the homeland of Santa Claus, or for the exotic Arctic aurora borealis, the sauna, as the home of the popular Moomin characters, and for the classical composer Sibelius who found his inspiration from our untouched northern nature. Traditional image still holds true and gives Finns the advantage of being known and recognized.
The traditional image has however become more varied and newer details have begun to fill the picture. Finland has gained recognition in Japan as a country of high technology combined with social caring. The Finnish education system receives interest around the world, including Japan.
There are about 600 Finnish citizens in Japan. The reasons for coming and staying in Japan vary: Some have found their loved-one in Japan and made Japan their permanent home. Some people are in Japan for a shorter time, for work or study reasons etc.
Finland and Finns are represented in Japan by a large number of associations and societies from different areas.