Books and Modern


Overseas > Rovaniemi > July,2014

Mail from Rovaniemi, Vol.1
Thinking about the Happiness

text & photos by URATA Aika / Designer


The Kemi River flows through Rovaniemi. In winter it is covered by a 50 cm thick layer of ice. People can walk, cross country ski and snowmobile on the river. This picture was taken from a spot on the ice.

Nature and People in Northern Europe, and the Society They Have Created

I have lived in Rovaniemi, in northern Finland close to the Arctic Circle, for 13 years now. When you think of Finland among the countries of Northern Europe, what comes to mind?

The reason I chose to come to Finland is the country’s excellence in design and crafts. Design is a huge part of Finland’s identity. When I came as an exchange
student tuition was free, and I was thinking of staying longer, too. Finland provided just what I needed to realize my dream of making a living in design.
Another thing fascinated me as well. I wanted to feel what it was like to live there, to be surrounded by the nature and people of Northern Europe, and experience the society those people have created. How do people live in a place with long and severely cold winters, where they sometimes spend more time looking at the moon than the sun? What does the passage of time feel like there? Finnish people are said to be shy and distant, but everything is relative. Taxes are high, and political choices reflect a feeling that inequality is undesirable. What drives the Finns?


11:06 AM on December 25. On this day the sun comes up at 11:08 in the morning and goes down at 1:27 in the afternoon, so there are only two hours, 18 minutes and 32 seconds of sunshine. You can see the tracks of people and animals on the frozen surface of the river.


Another picture taken at exactly the same time, 11:06 AM on December 25. The moon is shining in the northern sky.

A Painful Experience a Long Time Ago

I came to Finland in 2001 when I was 28. Before that I graduated from art school in Kyoto and worked for three years as a full-time employee in a design company. For the rest of the time I worked in a number of different places as a temporary employee. In other words, I was educated in Japan and worked in companies in Japan. I learned a lot of things in schools and companies in Japan, and the people I studied under and worked with were really first-rate. Yet despite all this, when I left I thought I would never go back, so it was a painful experience for me.

When I was in high school I was on the volleyball team for a while. Of course there is a lot of running practice and muscle building. But for freshman the primary goal was to build up their legs, so team workouts for us meant being assigned to pick up the ball. I would have to run like crazy after a ball that would be flying all over the place. I had done track-and-field in junior high school, so I didn’t have any difficulty at first. But later these workouts were painful and no fun, and they starting getting to me. My body began to feel heavy. After a couple of months I got to the point where I didn’t know why I was subjecting myself to this every day, but I was afraid to quit. My lack of enthusiasm was plainly apparent to everybody, and the upperclassmen looked down on me sternly and disapprovingly. It got to the point where I couldn’t take it any more.

Thinking back on it now, I might have had the physical strength to do it, but psychologically I thought it’s just too bad and I should quit. One of the upperclassmen on the team told me I could take the easy way out anytime, but there’s a rare happiness to be gotten from the strict regimen we were undergoing. I knew what she meant, but my enthusiasm was really flagging. I felt like I was hitting rock bottom and had to figure out a way to fix things. I could find no fun or growth in the dreadful situation I was in. I didn’t have what it takes to bring back my enthusiasm, so I quit the team.

After I starting working I ran into a similar situation when I felt exhausted and ended up not knowing what to do next. It was while I was working for a design company. I was working a lot of overtime, I couldn’t take any time off, and I had to skip a lot of dates when I had promised to meet my friends. In the end, I got sick. After I got better and went back to work, what needed to be done while I was out sick had accumulated and was piled up on my desk. It would have been impossible even for a healthy person to get a handle on it. There was no understanding for my situation and the work that had piled up, nor was there any sense of achievement to be gotten from plowing through it. I thought to myself, I have had it. I am not going to put with this any more. It was the same feeling I had had back in high school. First my physical strength went. I couldn’t keep up any enthusiasm knowing there was nothing to be gained from work the next day. Psychologically I just shriveled up inside. I don’t know whether I was mildly depressed or just not up to it.

What Makes People Happy?

“Grin and bear it and try your hardest. There’s value in having endured the unendurable.” Japanese society makes a virtue of things like this. People who put up with a lot of bad stuff are viewed as having courage. But I would ask politely: If you put up with a lot of bad stuff, does it make you happy?

Happiness is something a person feels viscerally. It don’t think it’s something in the category of things you wonder whether you can feel them or not. You know it when you’ve got it. It’s totally subjective. External factors like social conventions and the social system—what other people think about you—and the political situation are inextricably linked to how easy it is for people to feel happy. At least that’s what I’ve come to think after having lived for over ten years in Finland.

I’ll write again. Until next time.


11:54 AM on December 26 on the Kemi River. It’s hard to tell whether the sun is rising or setting. What color would Finnish kids tell you the sky is?

URATA Aika / Designer
Graduated from Kyoto City University of Arts. After working in several design companies in Japan, moved to Finland for study in 2001. After graduating in industrial design from University of Lapland, set up her own company, Aika Felt Works, in Rovaniemi. Using felt she makes items for daily use and interior decoration.


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