Is that Finnish that I am seeing in Japan?!

In many countries, it is common to use foreign words or phrases in advertising, to create an interesting, quirky or trendy image for your product. Japan is no different. Over here, a Westerner can recognise familiar Western words that are used as shop/restaurant names. This is the case especially in trendy parts of the city, and the language predominantly used is of course English.

However, as a native to Finland, I’ve been over the moon to notice that several shops/restaurants in Osaka also have Finnish names! This, as silly as it might sound to a native English speaker, makes a Finn exclaim with delight. After all, Finnish is by no definition a world language spoken by the masses as a native language or taught as a popular choice as a second language. In fact, it is only spoken by about 5 million people native to Finland and is taught as a second language only in its neighbouring countries (if even there), and thus, we practically never see Finnish words used outside Finland (other than maybe in places like Rhodes or Fuengirola i.e. particularly popular destinations amongst Finnish holiday makers).

Intriguingly, I don’t think there is any obvious Finnish connection when Japanese shops choose their Finnish name. I mean, the reason why they have Finnish names is not because the owner or their spouse is Finnish or because the bulk of their customers are Finnish (given that the Finnish community in Osaka is miniscule and only a handful of Finnish tourists visit Osaka). I think these shops have Finnish names just because it is trendy to use Finnish!

Here are some names that I’ve come across in Osaka:


A bakery/clothes shop: Pesä (‘Den/Nest/Burrow’)





A café that specialises in pancakes: Pöllö (‘Owl’)





A restaurant: Keitto Ruokala (‘Soup Canteen’), It might be worth pointing out that even though the name might suggest otherwise, this restaurant didn’t serve soup, nor did it look like a canteen.




Hairdressers: Alkaa Täältä (‘Begins from here’)




Clothes shop: Olohuone (‘Living room’)




Before I finish this Finnish post, I might just need to add that even though it is wonderful to see Finnish in Japan, the Japanese do not always get their use of Finnish right. Here’s an example of something on the wall of a stationery and life-style shop in Shinjuku in Tokyo. A cardinal mistake in my opinion!


Japanese cat deterrent


It seems to be pretty universal that people (in particular parents of young children) are not too happy about neighbourhood cats using their garden as the toilet (I’m sure most people wouldn’t be happy about the neighbourhood dogs using their garden as the toilet either). A garden covered with cat faeces which might contain Toxoplasma gondii (a parasite that causes neurological problems) is extremely incompatible with young children, who are drawn to dirt and fail to resist putting random things in their mouths and licking anything from a daffodil to a rake.

The only group of people that might not mind cats using their garden as the toilet are the cats’ owners. But paradoxically, cats tend to prefer their neighbours’ gardens to their own.

In Japan, catless people tackle this problem with PET bottles filled with water (see photo above). I’ve understood that the use of these is based on three assumptions.

1) Cats don’t like water. (I’m giggling just typing this silly argument!)

2) When a cat goes close to the bottle, they see their own reflection on the bottle, thinks it is another cat (probably a size of a tiger due to the bottle distorting their reflection) and consequently runs away. But cats are intelligent animals, they wouldn’t fall for this, would they!?

3) Maybe more convincingly, cats don’t like the prism that sunlight creates in the area surrounding the bottles.

I was going to suggest that instead of taking the drastic measure of buying a dog (or your own cat!) you, my non-Japanese catless reader, could use PET bottles instead, to make your garden less attractive to cats, but then it dawned on me that this would only work in places with lots of sunshine (e.g. the Sahara and Japan). Given that we have only about a week’s worth of sun per year in Finland (and even less in England), in these countries, the use of PET bottles would be as effective a cat deterrent as gluing a photo of a dog on your garden shed.

Why do statues wear bibs?


Kiyomizudera temple in Kyoto

A common sight at a temple in Japan is a multitude of statues. This is not that different from religious sanctuaries in Western countries, except that in Japan these statues usually wear bibs!

I’ve been asking my Japanese friends why this is. I mean, the statues look kind of cute but is there a reason for the bibs? And who puts them there?

But my Japanese friends don’t really know, and I don’t really blame them. After all, I’m a Finn but don’t know the ins and outs of all Finnish traditions either. For example, on the night before Easter Sunday, Finnish children leave woolly hats next to their beds. In the morning they will have found that an Easter rooster or Easter chick has visited and laid chocolate eggs in their hats. When Japanese people ask me what the significance of the Finnish rooster/chick is and what is its cultural references in comparison to, say, the English Easter tradition of an Easter Bunny and Easter egg hunt the answer is: I don’t know. To me (similarly to many Finnish/English people) these are just cultural traditions that we learn as children, but whose symbolism, meaning or historical reasons we do not question (or in fact, most kids may not even be interested in the cultural references of Easter roosters, chicks or bunnies, but the main point is that these characters are associated with magically appearing chocolate eggs).

Ok, back to the statues in Japan.

The only things that my Japanese friends have told me is that some statues, usually in the shape of a small person or the ones that have human faces, are called Ojizosama and often represent children who have died before their parents. It’s the parents or sometimes also other local people who put the bibs on the statues to protect the dead children in the afterlife. I don’t quite understand why, but for some reason, it seems, the bibs are considered a protective garment. Red is perceived as a particularly protective colour and hence, it is the most common colour of the bibs. However, other colours are also used (see photo above).

But it is not just statues in the shape of people, but all sorts of statuses that can be seen wearing bibs. Since these are not children, the question is: Why should these statues need the bibs? For instance, the Fushimi Inari Shire in Kyoto has statues of foxes, who are the messengers of the God of Agriculture and these foxes also wear bibs.



Fushimi Inari, Kyoto


Could this be because the Japanese believe that the statues, like all living and non-living things, have a spirit and the bibs are to keep them warm or are they just decorative items? I don’t know.

If you know anything more about the statues or bibs, I would love to learn more about them. They are beautiful, fascinating and something that seems to be a question mark not only to Westerners but also to many Japanese people.


Addition to the original post, the 8th May 2016

A Finnish reader, who has lived in Japan for many years, speaks and reads Japanese and has detailed knowledge of Japanese culture and traditions, sent me a message explained the function and cultural significance of the bibs. She said:

‘So basically what this blog post is talking about are those tiny Buddhist statutes called ojizosama in Japanese. You see them dotted around e.g. temple grounds, road junctions and wooden shelters. Many foreigners unfamiliar with the story deem them a bit scary. The word for these is indeed that O-jizo-sama (o- and sama- being part of Japanese honorifics, so the noun for these are actually jizo) You see them most commonly carved out of stones, something you would perhaps disregard when travelling in Japan if it was not the red bibs or red baby hats they are commonly wearing. Jizo is a bosatsu, a Japanese term for deity or a sacred character in Buddhism. Much loved and cared for, if I recall correctly it is the saint for the weak (e.g. children, giving them strength) or travellers. It is not uncommon for deities in Japan to carry significance for many different groups. There are numerous legends associated with Jizo-sama’s, the one I have been told as a child living in Japan is that this particular deity, albeit having reached the highest level of Buddhist wisdom, has chosen not to enter nirvana but instead remain in this world to help those needing his assistance e.g. children who traditionally have been believed to be too weak to cross that Buddhist river required to enter nirvana. This sadly is e.g. unborn children or those dying in early childhood. It is believed that these children remain in limbo. If you look closer at ojizosama’s you will also see piles of pebbles formed into a tower next to them, this is often the parents building the pebble tower with a view to facilitate for their kids afterlife. Similarly, it is a common tradition to put bibs and hats on ojizosamas. Even robes sometimes. I do not think there are particular rules regarding what you can put on ojizosama to show your respect. It is also an act of accruing good karma for the afterlife for yourself, so it is common that local women have groups taking turns doing the dressing up. Oh and worry not, its actually a bold Buddhist monk it is depicting, not a dead child.’

Thanks so much for the information! I’m glad to hear that the statues are not children, and that even though the statues are associated with sad events, such as a parent losing a child, they are kind and helpful entities who society sees as having an important role in the afterlife.


Addition to the original post, the 11th May 2016

Another reader left a message on my blog’s Facebook page and said:

‘A friend of mine, who had lived several years in Japan, told me, as I asked a similar question to yours, a different explanation: as contraceptives are not easily available, abortion is used more often than in western countries. She called the groups of those statues with the red caps the “altars of unborn children”. The acceptance of abortion seems to much higher – you find the groups of statues quite often in residential areas. Made me think about the position of females in Japan.’

The reader emphasised that she did not know how accurate her friend’s description of the statues was, but given that her friend had lived in Japan for many years, I feel that it is likely that there is at least some truth in what she said. (I also did a quick Internet search on abortion statistics, and yes, it sadly seems to be the case that abortions are very common in Japan relative to many Western countries.)




The latest fashion accessory in Japan

I think that the Japanese go a bit over the top in relation to many things – not least in how they look after their dogs.

A couple of photos below – what do you think?!












photo copy



Maybe this fella is too hefty for the petite Japanese sizes – his only option is to accessorize.



Despite its appearance, this isn’t a pram (at least not for a baby)



The expression on this dog’s face! I bet s/he is thinking: Not a single ‘kawaii’ or I will chew my way out of this bloody rag and show just how kawaii I am.