The Finnish Institute in Japan participated for the first time in the 23rd Tokyo International Book Fair on September 23 to 25. The fair was held at the Tokyo Big Sight, in which 470 companies and organizations from 20 different countries had on display about one million items at the exhibition hall. In connection with the event, the Embassy of Finland organized a press conference together with the Finnish Institute to introduce Finnish reading culture and library system on September 23 at the Institute located within the Embassy's premises, inviting three Book Fair authors from Finland, Hannu Väisänen, Timo Parvela and Emmi Itäranta, to introduce themselves to the journalists. Ambassador Jukka Siukosaari gave the opening remarks, which was his first official task after presenting his Credentials to the Emperor in the same week.
LIBRARY AS CITIZEN'S LIVING ROOM
The press event began with the presentation by Tapani Häkkinen, a librarian and Project Coordinator at the Finnish Institute in Tokyo. Although Finland has traditionally been a nation full of avid readers, the global trend of people reading less books has also hit the country. One countermeasure libraries have come up with has been transforming libraries into so-called citizens' living rooms. "Libraries used to be a stuffy place where you just borrowed books," remarked Häkkinen. "But now they're trying to be a cozier place, somewhere you can relax and enjoy yourself while sipping a cup of coffee." For libraries, interior and exterior design is nowadays considered to be quite important, with a variety of new services and products available. For example, you can borrow umbrellas and snow shoes, and if you want to try your hands at composing music, some libraries even offer sound-proof rooms.
One unique feature of Finnish libraries is a therapy dog for book-reading, or lukukoira in Finnish. Originally coming from the United States, there are now more than 50 active reading dogs in Finland since 2011. Children with reading difficulties or disabilities read out loud to the therapy dogs, which are trained to listen and give all their attention to the readers. "The kids who might otherwise be too shy to read to an adult can relax with a dog. The dogs don't judge them or laugh at them," explained Häkkinen.
Libraries' relationships with authors and the grants the latter receive also gathered great attention from the audience. According to Finnish legislation, authors are entitled to a payment of around 15 yen per book when their works are borrowed, with the Finnish Government spending about 8.2 million euro on this during the year 2015. This seemed to surprise many participants, since in Japan libraries are often criticized by the authors and publishers for buying numerous copies of best-seller novels right after they are published, affecting sales. There are also other subsidies available in Finland. Authors can apply for a library grant of an average of 7000 euro per year or for a long-term yearly grant consisting of for example 1400 euros per month. "Because Finland is a small country of only 5.5 million people, the Government is trying to protect artistic activities," commented Timo Parvela, one of the three Finnish authors present.
THREE AUTHORS, THREE STORIES
All of the authors gave short introductions of their works at the press event. Among them, Parvela is the most prolific author, having written 80 books that have been translated to 30 languages in 40 countries, including the Japanese translations of "Purdy the Cat and Burky the Dog" series. His books can be distilled to two things– humor and school. Humor, because it’s a language people can understand regardless of age, and school, because he is a former teacher and is most familiar with the topic. Although he is widely known as a children's book author, "I don't just write for kids, I write for all ages," Parvela stated. "Great children's books are not just targeted for children, the best example being the Moomin book series."
Hannu Väisänen was already famous as a visual artist before he wrote his first book in 2004. Being an artist and author requires different skills but "it works very well for me, they support one another. When I'm writing visual images come to my head," Väisänen explained. His next work will be a fairy tale for adults with "ancestors" as the theme of the novel. He will also illustrate the book himself. Versatile and active, Väisänen will spend the whole of October in Osaka as a playwright for a Bunraku theater group.
It's Emmi Itäranta's first visit to Japan, although she has felt close to the country ever since she was little. "My mother used to read the Tale of Genji when I was a child. She has always wanted to come to Japan," reflected Itäranta. The main character of her first dystopian novel titled "Memory of Water" is a protector of water who practices tea ceremonies. "The book is inspired by Japanese tea culture. Having it translated here brought it back to Japan. I feel as if the circle has closed in a way," mused Itäranta.
LIVELY BOOTH AT THE BOOK FAIR
The three authors all visited the Finnish Institute’s booth at the Tokyo International Book Fair to hold talk events and autograph sessions. The booth stood out in the crowd, with a photo of birch trees lining the walls, the lukuteltta (reading tent) made out of Marimekko textile, and the big Moomin soft toy inviting visitors to step inside. Having three real therapy dogs on September 25 greatly helped with attracting passersby to stop over. Adults and children alike attempted to read books to the dogs while most others were satisfied with patting and hugging the adorable creatures. One newspaper reporter who visited the booth looked positively persuaded. "People nowadays don't often visit libraries. I can understand that dogs could act as a motivator to go there."