Text: Makoto Chiba | Reading time: 8 mins
Finland has been popular in Japan for over decades because of its many attractive points. To name just a few, Moomin, art, design, sauna, relaxed lifestyle, and the fact that Finland topped the world-happiest country list for the fourth year in a row.
There are many Japanese tourists visiting Finland all over the year. At the same time, the amount of Japanese living in Finland has been increasing year by year according to a survey done by Statistics Finland. The number of Japanese residents is increasing, yet it is still a minority compared to immigrants from European countries. As a Japanese living in Finland for many years, I am so curious to know what other Japanese living in Turku think about how it is to live here. We will also get to know what kind of difficulties they have faced and how they overcame them.
I interviewed three of my Japanese friends (A, B, and C) living in Turku, to answer anonymously 11 questions regarding life, cultural differences, and finding a job.
Living in Turku
1. First of all, tell us what brought you to Turku, Finland.
A: I came to Finland for the first time about 10 years ago as an exchange student to participate in a project organized by Turku University of Applied Sciences. At that time, I met my future husband, and moved back here after I graduated from an university in Japan.
B: I came to Finland to do my Master’s degree at the University of Turku.
C: In 2018, I came to Finland to take part in the Turku Summer Program organized by the University of Turku. After that, I came to Finland again in 2019 as an Au pair and since then I have been living here.
2. Living abroad is challenging sometimes for many. Please tell us is it pleasant to live in Turku? What do you like about Turku?
A: It is pleasant to live here. I really like the atmosphere and the view of the city along the riverside. Especially during the summertime, there are lots of people picnicking and hanging around the riverside, I like that feeling. In Turku, there are 6 universities, and it is well known as a city of students, and you can feel the energy from students hanging around the city.
B: Yes. Finland has an excellent education system, it is a safe place to raise kids, and there is a well-being system that offers good support for everyone and single mothers as well. There is a convenient transportation system, and with it, it is easy to access beautiful nature destinations such as Ruissalo and Kurjenrahka.
C: Yes. I like the fact that Turku city has a small population, and it is not crowded at all wherever you go. There is no tram, metro, or complicated transportation system like other big cities have. The size of the city is so compact that you can go everywhere on foot or by bicycle. I also like the history that Turku city has, and it is so nice that everyone living in Turku loves to hang around the Aura River while drinking coffee or tea.
3. If there are pros, there are cons as well. Is there anything that you think it’s inconvenient about this city? Is there any room for improvement?
A: There are many shops in Turku, but every shop is somehow too similar and there is not much diversity and characteristics, especially in the big shopping malls such as Hansa and Mylly. I understand that nowadays you can buy almost everything on the internet, but I love shopping on-site. If there were more unique shops or restaurants in the city, people would feel like going to the city more often and it could attract more tourists as well.
B: I think it is a temporary thing, but there are often construction delays in the Turku area. I often see that there are bumps, holes, and uneven roads. It could be better if those things can be fixed more urgently and often. And there should be more warning signs on the road if it is still under construction.
C: I think the transportation system in Turku is optimized and it is useful. However, it is better to have more maintained bicycle roads. Especially during the wintertime, they are almost unusable because of the snow and black ice. So, it could be better if the city of Turku maintains the bicycle roads more often.
Experiencing Finnish culture
4. Did you experience any culture shock when you moved here?
A: This is not culture shock, but I would say brutally cold winter, and limited daylight. In my opinion, darkness is worse than coldness. Because it will affect so much my mental health. Finns step inside the house with shoes on when they forget something inside. This never happens in Japan. I know that Finns are kind and polite, but they don’t greet when they meet neighbors, and they don’t even use elevators with others.
B: In Finland, many people can speak English regardless of their age and you can get most of the service in English as well. I am also surprised that even Finns don’t like long-dark wintertime. In Finland, when you buy vegetables or fruits, you weigh them on the measuring machine, generate the price tag and attach it by yourself, which took me a while to get used to.
C: During the wintertime, when I was not used to the coldness of the Finnish winter, I went outside and felt numb because of the cold. One Finnish kid was staring at me and suddenly told me that “It is not cold outside; you feel cold because of your wrong choice of outfit”. That shocked me. While I was in Japan, even in wintertime I considered my outfit by its outlook rather than how functional it was. After I learned from the lesson, I started to consider more about the functionality of the outfit than the fashion side.
5. Compared to Finnish and Japanese culture, what is the extreme or noticeable cultural difference from your point of view?
A: General concept or way of thinking about cleanliness. Coming inside the house with shoes on to pick something up. A good example is when the construction guy visited our place, he came inside with his construction shoes on and there was his footprint on my floor. When I went to a restaurant, I often see that the tables and chairs are not cleaned properly.
B: You can see that tax is given back for citizens and you can get a tax refund if you have paid more than you were supposed to. A cashless society is just amazing. You can use the digital payment system flawlessly almost everywhere in Finland. In addition, I think that Finns’ lack of interest in food in general.
C: Finns say things straightforwardly. On the other hand, in Japan, we have a culture in which we try to read one’s thoughts by reading one’s expressions and choice of words. Modesty is a virtue that is more valued in Japan. Work-life balance, status, and role of women. In Finland, women work hard, and the status of a woman is much more valued here than women in Japan in my opinion.
6. Is there anything that Finland can learn from Japan?
A: There should be a more versatile style of amusements such as a karaoke shop and concept café etc. More importantly, food culture. How to cook and eat fish and seafood.
B: I would say Finns can learn manners from the Japanese. I feel so sad sometimes when I see people throw cigarette end on the road and litter trash in nature.
C: The quality of customer service should be improved still. It has been getting better and better but still, they could be more friendly and approachable.
7. On the other hand, is there anything that Japan can learn from Finland?
A: Work-life balance. The status of women. LGBT culture. Language education. Easy and stress-free lifestyle, well-being system, and how to utilize tax.
B: Priority of one’s life. Family and your own health should be prioritized in life. It is often said that the Japanese are hardworking, but they work inefficiently. They have to understand that it is important to work smart and effectively, instead of working too long hours.
C: Remove the hierarchy. Options for different types of life. Japanese can learn the richness of life from Finns.
Working in Finland
8. Finding a job abroad is one of the most difficult things to achieve. Is it easy to find a job here in Turku?
Yes: 2 No: 1
9. Yes: Why is it difficult? What are the concrete reasons for that?
A: Honestly, it takes time to get the desired job unless you have specific skills such as programming and other IT skills. And of course, the language barrier is one of the biggest reasons why it makes job hunting in Finland difficult. Not only in Turku but in Finland in general.
C: Compared to other big cities, it can be more difficult to find a job in Turku that accepts non-native Finnish speakers, it depends on one’s specialties and skills though.
No: What are the concrete reasons for that?
B: I think finding a job in Finland is not as hard as I thought. If you have a certain field that you want to work in and it requires native-level Finnish skills then it is difficult, but other than that if you don’t care about the field of industry, you can find a job here easily.
10. What should be done or improved to make it easier for immigrants to find a job in Turku?
A: The recruiting events in English both onsite and online can be organized more often for immigrants. Better Finnish language education for immigrants and the quality of teaching the Finnish language can be improved.
B: Acquaintance of the Finnish language as early as possible. The various municipal services could help immigrants more in their career choices and future pathways. As an example of what benefits understanding the Finnish language brings to them and how they can utilize the language in working life. If you have a specific skill already, it is better to focus on what you are good at.
C: There should be an easily approachable meeting place where immigrants could get a connection with Finns, to interact with each other more. I can see that there is still some barrier between them. If there only were more foreign business owners in Turku, it could maybe increase the number of workplaces available for immigrants.
11. Is the working environment pleasant here?
A: I haven’t worked at a Finnish company yet so I cannot give an opinion, but since I have a Finnish partner who is working at a Finnish company, I can say one thing. I like the fact that Finns know that life and family are the first priority and colleagues also know that work is not the first priority in your life.
B: Finns work effectively. Finns go to work early and come back home early. It is nothing special here, but it is special in Japan. Finns don’t interfere with others’ life, so you don’t need to care about social contacts so much. In Japan, we have still an old working culture where newcomers must go drinking with seniors or bosses to get along with them. In that sense, you don’t need to care about so many interpersonal relations here in Finland.
C: It is pleasant to work here. I was surprised by how common it is to take a long vacation in Finland. My friends take a summer vacation for more than 1 month and I have heard that teachers take more than 2 months of summer vacation which never happens in Japan. The whole concept of working style. They put more energy into their life than work and that is the common sense in the Finnish working culture.