All posts by Pyry

FIN-JAP Meeting X: The Finale (and something about trees)

In our last burst of desperation to justify me getting the credits for the course, we met right at the end of May before Aoi left Finland. A topic we discussed was something that was very timely for me: trees and allergies.

Pictured: Death
Pictured: Death

Hay fever, or kafunshou as it’s known in Japan, is apparently a common phenomenon there too, especially thanks to the Japanese cedar tree (sugi) and cypress (hinoki). This is a notable difference from Finland, where the most common causes of pollen allergy aren’t conifers but broad-leaved trees. We talked about differences in flora, or at least what the most commonly known trees are around our countries.

The meeting was a little rushed, but none of us have hard feelings over it. We were all super busy throughout the Spring thanks to other school and life stuff, and at times it felt like we really needed to force things into our schedules to survive. Having made it through ten meetings that justify some sort of blog posts, we hugged and parted ways, knowing that Aoi would leave Finland very soon. I blame the good old Finnish koivu/kabanoki for my eyes being so watery.

FIN-JAP Meeting IX: Becoming Something

As the takatalvi finally seemed to settle down, we met again outside with the noble intention of learning new stuff about our languages. As Spring had finally arrived, seasonal change (and ultimately, change altogether) became the theme of our short meeting that we fit right in the middle of other deadline crossfire.

So how do I say "my notes became rather extensive"?
So how do I say “my notes became rather extensive”?

Apparently in Japanese, the verb naru is used when something changes or becomes something. “Spring came” = haru ni narimashita. However, ni is only used when it’s a noun or a na-adjectve. In other adjectives, like when it gets colder (samui), you add -ku: samuku narimashita. Once again, I had trouble explaining why Finnish uses the word “tulla” (to come) in this context, and the inner battle of proving how all of this is actually logical was as rewarding as ever. However, we knew that the end was near, as we were so far into the Spring season and drowning in other schoolwork, so we just quickly scheduled another quick meeting.

FIN-JAP Meeting VII: Comparatively Better

We realized then that since the first meeting, we had done very little actual language lessons (something that was the primary motivation for each of us, originally). We agreed that for the last couple of times we would meet, we would focus on language or at least put emphasis on language or vocabulary even if the main theme was somewhere else.

As the warm part of Spring was finally becoming a reality, we just went outside with notebooks and tried to think of things we would want to know about each others’ languages. What we eventually ended up with was a discussion about how to express comparative. Needless to say, that is what we taught each other: how to say that an elephant is bigger than a bear, how to compare other people’s ages, and so forth.

Comparatively okay amount of notes
Comparatively okay amount of notes

I had never thought of Finnish comparative being a little weird, but it was surprisingly difficult to explain why there’s a partitive form in norsu on karhua suurempi, although the functionality of it is very similar if not identical to Japanese yori. What I like the most about these language discussions is not only that I learn Japanese, but also how I learn to look at my own mother tongue from a more analytical perspective. For the second time in our EOTO history, we agreed to meet again in a similar setting, as long as the weather allowed it (and that it did not for a while thanks to this weather anomaly known as Finnish Spring 2017).

FIN-JAP Meeting VII: Anime Movie

I’ve always been a fan of Japanese animation (anime). Not that I would call myself an otaku by any means, but the sheer amount of detail they put into these animations is mind-blowing, and Your Name (Kimi no na wa) was no exception. I went to see the movie with Aoi and Hannele one evening. Hannele had previously said that she had never watched anime, which was a surprise. It was time to change that.

Yeah, this movie
Yeah, this movie

Before you even ask: yes, the movie was pretty darn good and beautiful. It did its best to punch you in the tear ducts. Although the movie was clearly made to appeal to people all over the world and not just Japan, some characteristics of Japanese cinema and anime were present, like a trailer-like musical intro (super weird for a movie) and a more relaxed way to handle sex-related humor. Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say that boobs were a recurring theme in this serious magical love story.

That got your attention, huh?
That got your attention, huh?

Walking back home from the theater, Aoi and I discussed one part of the movie where the rural female character, having switched bodies with a Tokyo male, struggles to find the right way to say “I/me” to other Tokyo guys. In the Finnish subtitles, all the variants he/she goes through were dialectical variants (mie, mää, mä, mie, meikä) of the Finnish personal pronoun, but according to Aoi, such geographical variation of “I/me” doesn’t exist in Japanese. The trick in the original dialogue was that the word “watashi” was weird coming from a (supposed) male who was in the company of very close friends. Therefore, “ore” and “boku” were more natural in that situation. It was nice to learn that linguistic tidbit in an otherwise not-that-learning-oriented meeting.

FIN-JAP Meeting VI: The Return (Japanese History)

Desperate in our quest to fit enough meetings into our busy Spring calendars, we met again at Hannele’s place and discussed Japanese history. It was another YouTube frenzy not unlike the last time we met.

We started out on a light note by watching this video that, despite being pretty comical, actually summarizes Japanese history pretty well. Naturally, thanks to the video ending in a big silent moment signifying the Hiroshima bomb, we also discussed how that is viewed in Western countries as opposed to what the Japanese view is.

From there, we sidetracked a little into Finnish things when we wanted to know if there was a national epic or folklore similar to what Kalevala is to us. The best example Aoi came up with was the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, or Taketori Monogatari. Turns out that both Finns and Japanese have weird girl-related folklore stories. Our world starts from a duck egg that falls of a maiden’s knee (don’t ask), and the Japanese have magical Moon girls hatching out of bamboo stalks. In weirdness, we found common things.

As we started to get a good hang of this staring-at-screens-for-hours thing, we agreed to go watch an anime movie the next time we’d meet. Maybe we’d see some more references to weird Japanese folklore in that.


FIN-JAP Meeting V: Finnish History Hour

As the Spring season intensified, the girls and I found it increasingly difficult to find time for meetings, but nonetheless we met up at Hannele’s place for a quick Finnish history & culture discussion. Being millenials, this of course meant staring at YouTube videos from a small screen.

We started out from the basics, all the way from the origins of the Uralic peoples. I explained how Finnish is from an entirely different language family than most of the languages in the entire Western world and that we have very little to do with Scandinavians other than the fact that we’ve lived by them for some time now (and naturally, have thus taken in a lot of cultural influences). I also went through some material about other Uralic languages still spoken today and even showed this Y-DNA haplogroup migration map to explain how a Uralic-speaking group of people eventually got here. So, in other words, I did my best to bore the girls to death with my insights into different groups of Uralic people and their shared history.

Then, of course, Hannele and I told Aoi about all the usual Finland history stuff (most of which, we noticed, even we had forgotten; YouTube was helpful with all the pre-1900s stuff). This video luckily did most of the job for us. After that, we went one layer deeper and talked about how Tampere originally started to flourish as an industrial town where factories brought in lots of workers from all around. We were in Tampella, after all, a part of the city named after a combination of the city name and the Finnish word for flax (Tampere + pellava = Tampella).

It was a rather chaotic, unplanned setting where we just went from YouTube video to another, desperate in trying to keep some sort of structure in our ramblings. But that’s what made it fun and interesting! Fun and interesting enough to justify doing this another time with Japanese history and culture, which we did! More about that on the next post.

FIN-JAP Meeting IV: The Games Museum

As some of you may know, Vapriikki (the museum center of Tampere) is free between 3 and 6 pm on Fridays. Hannele, Aoi and I took advantage of this fine benefit and went there for a quick tour of the new games museum. Video games seemed like a cool Finnish-Japanese theme, as both countries are known to be good at making at least some sorts of electronic games.

Picture very much unrelated
Picture very much unrelated

The space we spent the most time in was the small arcade room with all the cool cabinets like Outrun, Puzzle Bobble and Defender. I was impressed by Hannele’s pinball skills. Aoi told me that in Japan, arcades are still common in shopping malls and such, whereas in Finland they are nearly extinct. I told her that there is one really good arcade in Helsinki, and that that arcade focuses mainly on Japanese arcade machines. (I highly recommend Sugoi for anyone actually reading this.)

Pew pew
Pew pew

Some other cool things at the museum were these living room exhibits where they had constructed a room for each decade of electronic gaming in Finland and a huge wall of dfferent gaming consoles from these eras (most of them Japanese). What was surprising to me was that Aoi had never seen the Western model of the NES (or Famicom as it is known in Japan). This didn’t stop her from having a pretty good handle of the controller when playing Super Mario Bros in the 90s living room, though.


A few days after bearing witness to the effortless on-ice glide of pro hockey players, we decided to overcome our “Varokaa heikkoa jäätä” PTSD’s and try ice skating out ourselves. Well, at least Aoi and Hannele did. I didn’t have the time to go get skates from anywhere, so I just tagged along as a non-skating one-man support group. Turns out that this was a way to be actually useful, so I’m not complaining!

Once we got to the lake where the skating was to take place, it didn’t go unnoticed that the weather was windy. As the girls were putting the skates on, I employed my superpowers as a shoes-wearer by rescuing Hannele’s bag that was caught in a sudden gust of wind. But my ego-boosting heroism did not end there! Understandably for someone who wasn’t born in a cold climate, Aoi wasn’t all that familiar with the concept of not falling while wearing ice skates, so I got to be the pylon that she could hold onto while trying to figure out the exact mechanisms that go into skating. “I failed her only once” doesn’t sound that great, so let’s just say that no-one got injured.

Standing still was a survival tactic of sorts
Standing still was a survival tactic of sorts

Right in the middle of the frozen lake, there was a tent where some guy was selling hot things to cold people. A British person came by, showing off his deep knowledge of basic Finnish survival vocabulary (“makkara, kahvi, munkki, Koskenkorva”; not that the latter was sold there). The sales tent was at an unfortunate rotational angle, all things considered. The entrance was facing the freezing wind head-on, so “warming up” didn’t exactly work as advertised. I felt really sorry for the shopkeeper and his associates who probably spent the entire day there in a tent that was just as cold as the outside.

On our way back, the wind provided us with the kind of experience that I hope all foreigners have on their first visit to Finland (just so everything else feels awesome after that really bad first impression). The wind had helped us reach the middle of the lake by pushing our backs gently, but now it made it known that did not want us to leave. The frozen lake was to be our icy tomb, but we courageously talked about movies to divert our attention away from the fact that our faces were about to fall off. When we finally reached the shore, my skatelessness once again helped in the quick retrieval of Hannele’s bag that made its second attempt to escape into the windy expanse.

The most important lesson I got from all of this is that I really need to invest in better gloves. Next time, we’ll be doing some indoor stuff.

Fear and Loathing in Hakametsä

For our second FIN/JAP meeting, Aoi, Hannele and I had agreed to dive into Finnish sports culture and go watch a hockey game. Although I’ve watched some hockey from TV and internet streams over the course of my life, watching hockey live in the arena itself was probably as new to me as it was to Aoi. I honestly didn’t know what to expect and how much the experience would differ from all those games I’ve watched from the comfort of my home couch.

The local rivals, Tappara and Ilves, happened to have a game on the day that fit our calendars the best. This meant a sold-out arena and loads of people, some of which are very passionate about this rivalry. What makes it all the more interesting is that these two teams share the same arena, the only good rink Tampere has, as their home ice. This time, Tappara was the nominal “Home” team, and the announcer took the most out of that: “Welcome, Ilves, to our home“. As we were standing in the Ilves end of the rink, we got to see how well that joke sunk to some of the more passionate Ilves supporters.

The atmosphere when compared to TV hockey was very different. The puck impact sounds were much heavier (as in much more painful to listen to when someone caught a slapshot right to the shin), and the audience made up most of the soundscape. Tappara’s fan group had a really good battle drum beat going, and the couple fanatic members of each club brought an element of comedy to the experience with their constant shouts and remarks. Between the periods and during commercial breaks, all kinds of weird competitions and events took place. Sadly, I was nowhere near to where the Pancho Villa gift cards were cannoned into.

We had a pretty good view.
Other than that, we had a pretty good view.

Every now and then between all the cheering, announcements and commercials, there was enough silence to have quick conversations. I was surprised to hear that in Japan, sumo is actually a really popular sport (the most popular ones being baseball and football) and not just a marginal sport that looks funny to foreigners (in my mind, I had always compared it to what the eukonkanto championships are to us Finns). I explained to Aoi that when it comes to spectatorship numbers, hockey is by far the most popular sport here, but due to its expensive nature, football and floorball have more registered players. Another suprise to me was that Aoi had never heard of or seen floorball, despite having been in Finland for so long. “Hockey without ice and the constant fear of death”, I explained.

On the bus ride back, we all got to experience a very Japanese way of commuting. As it turns out, public transportation after a Tappara-Ilves game is a nightmare. In these rare occasions of utter desperation, you can see Finns getting really close to each other just to fit the maximum amount of people to a TKL bus. After a tight game that turned into a Tappara’s overtime victory, over seven thousand people crawled back into their caves to await the next time these two teams battle over the titular ownership of Hakametsä.

So, two Finns and a Japanese person walk into a coffee shop…

For our first Japanese-Finnish linguistic intel exhange session, Aoi, Hannele and I met at Cafe Europa, a coffee shop (kissaten/kahvila) in central Tampere. Aoi had expressed the desire to learn how to order stuff like coffee (koohii/kahvi), so we figured this would be the place to throw her right in the water with that. That part of the mission was successful, as Aoi’s order was understood perfectly without any involvement from her two Finnish bodyguards.

With our drinks securely at the table, we started out by going throw basic service phrases such as:

  • How may I help you?
    • Nanika osagashi desu ka? (Japanese)
    • Kuinka voin auttaa? / Voinko (jotenkin) auttaa? (Finnish)

The Japanese phrase literally means “are you looking for something” (sagasu = “to search for”). For the Finnish phrases, I mentioned to Aoi that the -ko ending in Finnish words actually functions quite similarly to the Japanese “ka”, turning verbs into questions. Voin = “I can”, voinko = “can I?”.

Another familiarity between Finnish and Japanese we quickly went through was the genitive. In Japanese, the possessive form is done with the suffix “no”. In Finnish, practically the exact same thing is done by adding -n (and possibly conjugating the word beyond recognition, which makes Finnish-learning foreigners very pleased).  So, in practice:

  • A dog’s ball
    • Inu no booru (Japanese)
    • Koiran pallo (Finnish)

With our minds tired from the long school week, we spent a moment of deep Finnish silence, struggling to come up with the next topic and scanning the premises for inspiration. The pen in my hand saved us. Apparently, a mechanical pencil (“lyijytäytekynä” for the Finns out there) in Japanese is called “shaapupen” or “shaapen” for short. Those familiar to the Japanese language’s tendency to absorb English loan words as is and just make them fit their syllabary will notice that it means “sharp pen”. This interested me, because, well, other pens are sharp too. Why was this particular type of pen the “sharp” one? I googled this after I got home, and apparently it’s because of Eversharp, a company specializing in mechanical pencils.

Another thing to take away from the mechanical pencil was the shortening of those words with foreign origins. A “shaapu pen” becames just “shaapen”. Similarly, a smart phone is not “sumaato hoon” but a “sumaho”. As Aoi was explaining this to us, I came to think of one example myself from my dear hobby of collecting video games: “famikon” (or Famicom), the Japanese name for the Nintendo Entertainment System, shortened from “family computer”. No matter how far away you go from Japan, you will still bump into people with the treasured childhood memory of blowing dust off of software cartridges.

As our session went on, hunger took over and guided our frail mortal minds towards words concerning foodstuff. I was interested to find out what word Aoi would use about the wrapped chocolate candy if she was unaware of its contents being chocolate (a problem widely known as “The Schrödinger’s candy”). Apparently, the general Japanese term for all candy and the equivalent for Finnish “karkki” is “okashi”. Hard candy (like stuff you make lollipops out of) is known as “ame” and soft candy as “gumi”.

While we were on the subject of food, there was one thing that I needed clarified. Earlier on in my feeble attempts to learn Japanese, I had run into the term “chikin” being used widely for chicken. Unsatisfied with the idea that an Asian language wouldn’t have a more domestic, widely used word for a bird that originates from roughly that part of the world, I asked if there was a more Japanese term for it. It turns out that “toriniku” (literally: “bird meat”) is used for chicken meat and “niwatori” is the word for a live hen that hasn’t yet been sacrificed for the sake of human protein intake. If one were to use “niwatori o tabetai desu” instead of “toriniku o tabetai desu”, he would be expressing desire to pick up and eat a live chicken, feathers and all.

Let’s help that mental image sink in with one final phrase to learn:

  • Enjoy your meal!
    • Itadakimasu (Japanese; literally “I humbly receive”)
    • Hyvää ruokahalua! (Finnish; literally “(Have a) good food desire!”)