“We are the first embassy ever, anywhere in the world that has produced anime”

Doing diplomacy differently

Finnish Ambassador to Japan Jukka Siukosaari

Text by Andrew Howitt  /  Photos by Ben Beech

On 6 December, Finns around the world will celebrate Finland’s 100th anniversary as an independent nation. Ambassador of Finland to Japan Jukka Siukosaari has been celebrating this historic occasion all year long. He spoke to Eurobiz Japan about some of the centenary events held in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Finland, and the embassy’s animated mascot, Fintan.

How has the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence been celebrated in Japan?

For me personally, the Koumi midsummer festival in June was very memorable. A Finnish friendship society in Japan invited sauna enthusiasts to celebrate in a very traditional way. We had a bonfire, which I had the honour of lighting; and then — next to a lake and a green field — we enjoyed the sauna and cooling off in the open air afterwards.

In Tokyo, the Tampere Philharmonic and their Sibelius performance at the Bunka Kaikan in May was a great success. The conductor, Santtu-Matias Rouvali, is the first person I’ve ever seen conducting a symphony orchestra who looked like he was dancing.

And then we had a big exhibition of Finnish design, from the 19th century and all the way to the present day, featuring Marimekko and some other names. That has been to six different locations in Japan.

Events like these have strengthened the positive image that Finland already has here. Much of the audience already knows about Finnish music or Finnish design, but I’m confident that we have also attracted some new friends and created interest in Finland.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Finland in July. What did he discuss with President Sauli Niinistö?

The timing was very good because Prime Minister Abe’s visit was right after the G20 meeting in Hamburg and also the summit in Brussels where Japan and the EU announced a political agreement on the EPA [Economic Partnership Agreement]. Much of their talk centred on the willingness of both Finland and Japan to defend the international rules-based system and, as part of that, free trade agreements. The fact that we are now so close to finalising the agreement between the EU and Japan was a central part of the discussions.

President Niinistö and Prime Minister Abe spoke about regional issues, as well. The Japanese side is very interested in what will happen in Europe after Brexit. And then they talked at length about the security situation in this region and, particularly, the situation with the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].

How would you describe the current level of investments by Finnish companies in Japan?

The productive investments of Finland in Japan are far too few, and we would be happy to see more. Two major Finnish companies have production facilities here. One is Nokia who purchased the network business of Panasonic nearly three years ago. And then we have a company called Wärtsilä that produces marine technology. We would very much like to see Finnish companies working more with the Japanese partners in R&D.

But when we talk about Japanese investments in Finland, they are on the increase, which is very positive for us. Japanese investments tend to be very long-term and based on the companies’ interests in building an R&D presence in Finland. So we have seen a number of investments in Finland from different fields over the 15 months I have been here — in materials production, semiconductors, software and energy solutions.

In monetary terms, the biggest one is the investment by Itochu in a next-generation pulp mill that was just opened last month in Äänekoski. It is the first pulp mill inaugurated in Finland since the 1980s, so it was quite a historic moment. We are very happy that a Japanese company was part of that.

Who is Fintan?

He is a seven-year-old boy with a lion costume and a Finnish flag. He was created in 2012 by the famous anime artist Kenji Itoso and, to our knowledge, he was the first mascot of this kind at any embassy in the world. This project has proved to be a great success. Fintan has more than 133,000 followers on Twitter at the moment.

Diplomacy doesn’t have to be too serious and official — we can also have a more human face. We want to reach the ordinary citizen, including children and young people. It’s good to have this friendly, approachable face for the embassy, and we use him quite extensively. We even have a Finland 100 logo for Fintan [above] that we have used for the centenary of our independence.

We are the first embassy ever, anywhere in the world that has produced anime. Three episodes featuring Fintan were made this year as one of the embassy’s centennial projects. The Fintan animes are online and they will be shown on Finnair flights, as well. We also have a project that will bring Fintan to [Japanese social communication app] Line as stamps.

I think this shows that Finland is a country that dares to do things in a different way.

How important is digital diplomacy to the embassy?

It’s extremely important because it is the future of diplomacy. We have to be where our audience is, and I think the digital world lets us do just that. Organising events and inviting people to them will never give you the coverage that digital media can give you. I think it’s also about creating a positive image and attracting people’s attention to Finland through different means in the digital world, such as Fintan.

We have to adapt our message, the content and the length to the media that we have. But we can’t simplify too much. It would be very difficult to squeeze Finland’s human rights policy into 140 characters, for example.

The Ministry in Helsinki is also working hard on this. I think Finland was the first country in the world to have its own national emojis.

You have to be innovative and think about what the audience wants, not do it the way you have been doing it for the past hundred years. 

“We have to be where our audience is, and I think the digital world lets us do just that”