There are around 1,300 Japanese people living in Denmark, working in fields as diverse as the arts, IT, business and consultancy. We caught up with Mika Yasuoka, originally from Tokyo’s Suginami ward, who moved to Denmark nine years ago. She now lives in Hellerup and works as researcher at the University of Copenhagen as well consulting for Japan’s External Trade Organization—making her the perfect cultural guide to two of our favourite cultures.
Skagen Journal: So first things first, what do you see as the main differences between Japan and Denmark?
Mika Yasuoka: “Danes are definitely more relaxed in general than the Japanese!” says Yasuoka. “It feels as though more people in Denmark enjoy life and manage their time so that they fit in family and leisure. It’s not always like that in Japan!”
Skagen: What do you think the Japanese can learn from the Danes?
MY: "The Japanese can definitely learn from the work-life balance in Denmark—people work short hours, but they work efficiently. In Japan we work too much and the work place can be quite formal.”
Skagen: …And what can Danes learn from the Japanese??
MY: “The Asian philosophy of humbleness and accepting difference is a good life lesson for other nations. Danes could also learn a lot from the food culture in Japan—Danes don’t have the same philosophy of using the whole of a food like we do in Japan, i.e. the skin of the chicken or the leaves of carrots. In Japan, you don’t waste food.”
Skagen: What surprised you in terms of similarities between the two cultures?
MY: “I think Japan and Denmark share similar core values, like simplicity and respect for nature. A friend recently remarked on how both Danes and the Japanese are naïve—but in a good way'! And she’s right: people from Denmark can be naïve because the country is so small and the economy is good, so they’ve led quite a sheltered life. In Japan, we can be seen as naïve because we’re so polite and we have this big emphasis on respect.”
Skagen: What do you miss from home?
MY: "I can find most of the food I miss from Japan in Denmark now, but there’s not much choice available. For instance, I really love tofu and natto but I can't find great quality versions of these in Denmark. But generally, I do okay. I used to get homesick when I first moved here but now I’m happy.”
Skagen: Where do you go in Denmark when you’re craving the feeling of Japan?
MY: "I head to Boutique Taeko in Copenhagen—Taeko Stokholm’s shop is the most popular place for Japanese people in Denmark and it’s where you can buy really traditional things, from chopsticks to special transparent watermarked paper that always reminds me of home. The Japanese community is good at organising events related to traditional festivals, like New Year’s, so I can get together with other Japanese people and feel at home. And every spring we have the cherry blossom, or Sakura, festival—a real highlight for the Japanese community in Denmark.”