What is Scandinavia to Japan? (Before and after life with a Norwegian guy in Tokyo)
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
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A while back, Husky wrote an article about his culture shocks in Japan. So, I decided to follow up with some cultural eye-openers of my own. Husky moving to Tokyo has certainly changed my views about a few things. Let me tell you, what I used to think was the «real» Scandinavia, or the Japanese-made stereotype, is far from my current idea. THIS… is the real Scandinavia!
Please keep in mind that Onigunsô only has ONE sample of real Scandinavian to learn from. At least, when watching the Tokyo Olympics together, I realized that this single sample-Scandinavian before me has a lot in common with his fellow countrymen.
The dark-blond fluffy hair, for instance. Husky doesn’t always cheer when I compliment his light, fluffy, no-volume hair, but in Japan this is one of the best hair-compliments you can get. In fact, hairdressers compete about who can make the airiest, fluffiest, lightest hair, with as little volume as possible.
As you see, many things are turned upside-down from culture to culture, not the least of which are Japanese views on Scandinavia.
Japanese View #1 | Marimekko is Scandinavian Design
Everyone knows Marimekko in Japan. It is so popular that it has become the very image of Scandinavian design. In other words, when people think of Scandinavia, more often than not, Marimekko is their point of reference… Do you need to chew on that a little more, or should I rephrase this huge misconception again?
To Scandinavians, the paragraph above will definitely read strange, but in Japan, no one would think twice about it. Everyone thinks that Marimekko is the pinnacle of Scandinavian design.
Now, why did I repeat this point three times over? Well, in recent years, «Scandinavian design» has become a somewhat murky definition, which includes an increasingly wide area of items and styles.
That said, claiming that the Finnish brand Marimekko is the pinnacle of Scandinavian design might be a stretch. Especially since Finland is not, nor has it ever been, a part of Scandinavia. And this is but one example of many.
It might stem from our fascination with Marimekko, but the Japanese image of Scandinavian popular design is brimful of vivid, colorful features. Imagine my surprise when I peeked into Husky’s apartment and closet for the first time. His entire color scheme ranged from charcoal to pitch black, which is not that uncommon in Norway, I have been told… by Husky.
Japanese View #2 | Pastries are Scandinavian Soul Food
In Japan, «Andersen» is very popular. Not the author of «Frozen» and «The Little Mermaid», but the bakery chain called Andersen. On top of that, «Danish Pastries», most often referred to as just «Danish», are very popular.
FIY, so called «French Bread» (フランスパン) and «British Bread» (イギリスパン) are also very popular. And many Japanese people are familiar with the Swedish term «Fika», which we sometimes call our coffee breaks if they include some sweet pastries.
When Husky moved to Japan, he never bought these Scandinavian «soul foods» at Andersen, but somehow, I felt that he must be missing these tastes. So, I started to provide Scandinavian pastry on a regular basis. As it turns out, he never did enjoy these foods much in Oslo, and suddenly it affected his health…
Or rather his oral health. Before he moved to Japan, Husky never had a single cavity. It didn’t take more than six months on a steady diet of Danish Pastries, though, before a cavity turned up at the dentist’s photo studio.
Because of our faux-Scandinavian pastries, and my misconception about his Norwegian habits, his tooth decay got started in Japan. Who was I to know that Danish Pastry is not a part of the average Scandinavian diet?
In Japan, white bread and pastries are both part of many peoples’ everyday diets. But not to Husky. He calls our everyday loaf of bread (shokupan) for «sugar bread», and our fika for «old-folk cakes». And now his teeth pay the price.
Jeg vil ha loff!!! (Karius and Bactus reference)
Japanese View #3 | Scandinavians take Great Pride in their Hair
This image stems from an old TV-commercial, so younger generations in Japan are not familiar with this one. But when Onigunsô was a growing up, everyone knew the Timotei TV-commercial, which by the way, also came from Finland. Japanese Wikipedia says it comes from Sweden, though, so no wonder Japanese people get confused.
Anyway, the commercial showed a blonde girl washing her hair in the forest, and that was pretty much it. The slogan read «so mild you can wash your hair as often as you wish».
Because of this commercial, Japanese people started to believe that Scandinavians are exceptionally proud of their hair, and their hair products. Many also thought that the Scandinavians have some kind of magic formula to keep their hair till they get old, which I learned is far from the truth as soon as I set foot in Scandinavia.
Since Husky keeps his hair long, I asked if he wanted to join me at the hair salon. Usually, it takes more than 4 hours to make Onigunsô’s hair. Husky said he had no need for such nonsense. He has cut his own hair for the last 20 years, and he rarely spends more than ten seconds doing so.
In Tokyo, we always try to minimize the time spent on everyday tasks. It is a way of making our long work hours a little more tolerable. This is why express hair salons have become very popular. They offer haircuts in only ten minutes time, which makes it manageable on your way to or from the office.
Somehow, such kind of shops and services have become as vital to office workers as vending machines and convenience stores. But they still have ways to go before they can compete with the Scandinavian hair grooming efficiency of Husky.
Something tells me that perhaps he isn’t representing your average Scandinavian at all times… Hmmm…
Japanese View #4 | Scandinavians Cannot Live Without Nature
I realize that many Japanese views about Scandinavia are biased in some way or another, but this one appears pretty close to my experience with Scandinavians. Especially in Norway, where they have all those magnificent mountains, fjords, troll-tongues, and preacher’s chairs.
As it turns out, many Norwegians love to spend their weekends trekking through mountains and forests. With a pocketful of Kvikk Lunch (the Norwegian answer to Japanese KitKat-bars) in their HH-jackets, they head on out in nature, no matter the weather conditions.
But there is another breed of Norwegians as well, one that sits in front of the computer all day long and prefer the soothing slur of a cooling air condition over fresh mountain air. Let’s call this breed Hikikomori Huskies.
In fact, the Japanese summer heat can be quite dangerous for Norwegian snow-men like my Husky. One time, after binge drinking for a long weekend, he almost collapsed on me in the middle of the street when sightseeing in Asakusa.
Yes, this is an indoor Husky for sure. He even jumps in his seat when Japanese spiders skip around, and they are no bigger than the nail on my little finger. Maybe he forgot to pack his «friluftsliv» (Norwegian word for Outdoor Recreation) mindset, or maybe it got lost and sent back to Norway by the airline.
Japanese View #5 | Scandinavians have Big Appetite
The thing that surprised my family and friends most about Husky, is that he doesn’t eat much. How can such a big guy get by on so little calories they ask themselves. He must need more than your average Japanese guy, they thought, which is why they started feeding him more than a normal Japanese diet.
As it turns out, his body functions perfectly fine on less food than most Japanese people eat. Sometimes, he even gets stomachaches when eating too much animal products, but this might be an echo from his many years on vegetarian and vegan diets. Or maybe his body runs on nuclear power, like Doraemon?
Onigunsô had to get to the bottom of this mystery, so I started to investigate why he can get by on fewer calories and less meat. After a lot of digging, I found some interesting facts. According to history, Vikings went through very challenging sea voyages, during which they had to get accustomed to low food intake.
If you believe Darwin’s theory of evolution, the DNA that can survive on the least amount of calories is more likely to survive generational changes and live on. As such, it appears that Scandinavians, with their Viking ancestry, possess some of the most fuel-efficient bodies in the world, like our Toyota Yaris!
(Husky: Comparing Vikings to Toyota Yaris?! How dare you!!)
Yes, we Japanese might not have as energy-efficient bodies as the descendants of Vikings. Instead, we develop technology to make the most energy-efficient cars in the world.
(Husky: So you can drive to all restaurants with no effort at all, and fill your calorie-craving tummies with cakes and steaks you mean? Pffft!)
Anyway, our image of Vikings comes from movies. We are used to images of Vikings feasting on meats and downing it with wine. Of course, I know that these images are fictional. Just as fictional as the horned helmets that Vikings wear on all kinds of images through all ages.
I might have gotten accustomed to life in Japan. But living every day with a Husky in-house gives me ample opportunity to learn and discover new things about his native Norway and Scandinavia. So, Onigunsô keeps up her Husky observations, just like he continues to observe Japanese society.
I will report again when I make some new discoveries.
What do Japanese People Think of Scandinavia?
(5 Common Misconceptions)
Marimekko is Scandinavian design
Pastries are Scandinavian soul food
Scandinavians take great pride in their hair
Scandinavians cannot live without nature
Scandinavians have big appetite
If you liked this blog post, and if you happen to speak Japanese,
Onigunsô has another blog about her life with a Norwegian guy in Tokyo.