Japan and Sweden – Kindred Spirits

  • When I lived in China, I observed that Chinese people share a lot in common with the Italians: both have a passionate love affair with eating (in substantial quantities), both are social people of the garrulous and vociferous sort, both have a strong emphasis on the importance of family and a love of children… and the list continues.
    So now that I live in Japan – I have drawn similar conclusions linking this Asian culture to another European country. Japan and Sweden – two unexpected kindred spirits. So what prompts this association in my mind?


    The biggest similarity I’ve noticed from my time spent in Japan and in Sweden is that both peoples have a similar manner and way of conducting themselves. Politeness and helpfulness (the Japanese in particular are helpful to degrees I’ve never experienced in my life before) are two traits that I’ve noticed in the Japanese and the Swedish. These are people who often keep harsh opinions to themselves, choosing their words carefully so as not to offend. The people (like the countries) often have a peaceful, quiet air of calm and a feeling of social well-being.


    Sweden is famous for it’s crisp, clean air and tidy streets. So too Japan (particularly compared to other Asian countries) where recycling rules are strict and abided like gospel. Neither country is famous for it’s high levels of pollutions – one of the main reasons why I hold Japan and Sweden in such high esteem.

    The Moomins

    Written by the (Swedish-speaking) Finnish Tove Jansson, The Moomins have been popular in Sweden for decades, particularly since the ‘Moomin Boom’ in the 1990’s, which was when The Moomins became popular in Japan. The cute cartoon characters were even the official mascot of Japan’s major shopping centre chain, Daiei, at one time. Nowadays, Daiei has its own mascot for PR reasons.


    Fish fanatics, protein patrons, healthy heart hounds – look no longer for countries that meet your dietary preferences. Both Sweden and Japan have a love of fish, be it fresh, raw, seared, tinned, fried, speared on a stick or mixed in the creamy sauce of Jansson’s Frestelse.


    World wide, one of the things that Sweden is most popular for is good-quality, affordable furniture, particularly of the flat-pack variety. I was surprised to see how popular Ikea is in Japan, but looking at the stylistic similarities between the décor of Japan and Scandinavian countries, the link is clear. Not only do the Japanese flock to the popular Swedish store for their furniture purchases – they’ve created their own brand all Nitori (ニトリ) which produces the same stuff as it’s European cousin, but even cheaper.