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Diplomatic relations between Finland and Japan

Into an observation post to help follow developments in the Soviet Union

After Japan's de facto recognition of Finland's independence on 23 May 1919, Finland started to consider posting a Chargé d'Affaires to Japan. The country's geopolitical location was thought to serve as a suitable observation post of developments in the eastern parts of the Soviet Union. Foreign Minister Rudolf Holsti was determined to advocate the appointment of Gustaf John Ramstedt as Finland's representative in Japan. Because of a civil war in Russia and, in practice, no land connection across Asia, the only option for the new representative of Finland was to embark on a long and time-consuming travel by sea.

From house to house

After the arduous sea voyage, Mr Ramstedt eventually arrived in Tokyo in late autumn 1919. He first set up the Finnish mission in the Tsukijien-Sejok hotel close to the main railway station. A couple of weeks after his arrival, Mr Ramstedt managed to hire a house in the Shimo-Sibuya district outside the city. In May 1920, the former embassy building of Argentina in Azabu, a district known for the many diplomatic missions located there, was made available for the Finnish mission.

In September 1923, a devastating earthquake hit Tokyo, wreaking enormous havoc in the city. The Finnish mission was again without premises. In January 1924, Mr Ramstedt reported: "I'm staying in room 327 of the Imperial Hotel. So far it has been impossible to find permanent housing in the city."

Imperial-hotelliIn the mid-1920s, military-political tension in the Soviet Far East reduced to the extent that the Finnish mission in Tokyo found it appropriate to direct the focus of its activities to the defence of the trade political interests in the vast economic area of the Far East. During Ramstedt's term in Japan, the political situation in the country was still stable. After Ramstedt's return to Finland in 1929, the world had already started to sink in the depths of the depression. Within the army, nationalism and the emperor cult were gaining momentum.

Towards democracy

Minister George Winckelmann was appointed the Finnish Chargé d'Affaires in Tokyo at the beginning of March 1930. Democracy development had stagnated. The political conditions in Japan were stormier than for years. The country's main interest was Manchuria.

As a result of its China policy, Japan drifted on a sidetrack in the League of Nations and was eventually separated from the organisation. When Hugo Valvanne was posted to Tokyo in 1933, ultranationalistic forces had started to gain the upper hand over the moderate circles in the domestic and foreign political decision-making in Japan. The threat of a major war, attitudes towards the Soviet Union and the country's national interests were items that had an influence on the talks between diplomats in the Tokyo of the 1930s.

The world at war

In the autumn 1939, the international position of Japan changed. Events in Europe and the fact that Germany and the Soviet Union concluded a non-aggression pact caused a painful disappointment to the power elite of Japan. The country became isolated.

On the eve of the Finnish Winter War, the Japanese held a very positive picture of Finland. They extended their moral support to the country that was struggling in the heat of difficult negotiations. During the first days of the Winter War, the Japanese thought that Finland was in an almost hopeless situation. The Finns' successful resistance and major tactical victories aroused great respect in the Japanese.

Telegrams to Helsinki

In the early spring of 1941, Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka visited Germany and Italy. In Berlin, Joachim von Ribbentrop had urged Japan to attack Singapore. On his way home, minister Matsuoka visited Moscow and signed the Neutrality Pact between Japan and the Soviet Union. Japan had safeguarded itself. It could now turn the focus of its military activities at the Pacific Ocean.

The military pursuits of Japan isolated the Finnish mission in Tokyo for the war years from 1941 to 1944. The courier connections were broken and contacts had to be taken care of via telegrams.

In the summer of 1942, Japan started to go downhill in the war fronts. After Finland had severed its diplomatic relations with Germany, minister Matsumoto approached the Finnish envoy Mr Idman and asked with concern about Finland's view of Japan in the new situation. On 30 September 1944, Mr Idman reported that he understood that the question of our diplomatic relations did not interest Japan only because of Finland. He said that if Finland was required to break its relations with Japan, Russia might follow suit later on.

The Soviet Union did exactly what the Japanese had feared it would do and attacked Manchuria and the Kurile Islands. Finland severed its diplomatic relations with Japan and evacuated the staff of the mission home through Siperia.

Revival of diplomatic relations

After the failure of Finland's diplomatic relations with Japan, Sweden, in its function as Finland's protector, started to look after our interests in Japan. In the spring 1952, the government discussed the question of sending a representative to Tokyo after eight years' absence. At around the same time, the occupation officials in Japan gave a positive answer to an inquiry concerning the posting of a commercial representative to the country. Soon after that, Japan regained its independence.

In the autumn of the same year, the mission was changed to serve as a consulate general and five years after that as a legation. Mr Smedslund's term as the Finnish envoy in Tokyo ended on 1 August 1962 and the first Finnish ambassador to Tokyo was Viljo J. Ahokas. The legation was officially designated an embassy on 26 September 1962 when Ambassador Ahokas submitted his credentials to the Emperor of Japan. In the 1960s, the commercial relations between Finland and Japan became more active. In their wake, the mutual contacts between Japan and Finland started to revive.

Renaissance of the bilateral relations

Foreign Minister Keijo Korhonen paid the first official state visit to Japan in February 1977. In December the same year, Prime Minister Kalevi Sorsa participated in the meeting of the Council of the Socialist International in Japan. In the autumn 1977, the Ministry of Education started negotiations on a cultural exchange agreement. There was an unprecedented period of boom in the relations between the countries.

A record year in the relations between Finland and Japan was 1980, when a greater number of bilateral events took place than ever before. The Cultural Exchange Agreement entered into force in June and an Air Traffic Agreement, which had been pending for a long time, was signed in December.

Several export promotion events were also arranged, the most important of which was a visit to Finland by a delegation of the Japanese employer federation Keidaren in March 1980. In September the same year, a group of Japanese MPs visited Finland. President Mauno Koivisto visited Japan four times during his term in office. Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone visited Finland in 1987 and Emperor Akihito visited Finland with Empress Michiko in 2000. In October 2004 President Tarja Halonen and Dr. Pentti Arajärvi made an official visit to Japan.

Finnair started direct flights between Helsinki and Tokyo in 1983. The collapse of the Soviet Union enabled direct flights across Siperia, and the time of flight shortened considerably. For the Japanese, Finland has always been a gateway to Europe and the European markets. A case in point was the start of Japanese cars' conquest of Europe in 1962 via Finland. As for the significance of Japan for Finland, the country has always been our most important trading partner in Asia.

Antti Vuojolainen
Information Service
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

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Updated 12/16/2008

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