Hundreds of Helsinki residents join the Japanese community for a picnic each spring as part of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Roihuvuori's Kirsikkapuisto Park. The community sponsored the planting of about 150 cherry trees and celebrates the Japanese festival of Hanami when they blossom.
Helsinki – Been There

In Helsinki, the surreal is never far away

Photo by Kike del Olmo

Helsinki – Been There In Helsinki, the surreal is never far away

Helsinki is brimming with activity in summer when the constant daylight turns it into a 24-hour city.

Kike del Olmo
Kike del Olmo Travel Photographer

In summery Helsinki, there are food festivals, music festivals, and fashion shows. Community centers use public spaces to organize everything from a bicycle show to a fashion show of strange hats to the odd Japanese day in Roihuvuori, where the streets are all named after fairy tales. Cherry Tree Park was supposed to be called Gorbachev, but just before it was inaugurated the Soviet Union collapsed and a new name was needed.

With no other ideas, it was decided to recognize the small Japanese community that lived in the neighborhood. Since then a curious event takes place once a year in which hundreds of Finns – I see only three or four Japanese – dress as Lolitas, Manga characters or Samurai and hold a serious Finno-Japanese picnic to celebrate the Hanami Cherry Blossom Festival. The sushi mixes with herring and a foreign observer such as myself begins to wonder whether he has not eaten some bad food and is now hallucinating.

This is a city where I can go from being in my bathing suit at the artificial beach at Vuosaari to, just a few kilometers away, witnessing a 80-year-old grandfather, wrapped in an inflatable neoprene suit, throwing himself down a 40 meter ramp, on skis, and make a perfect landing below on a hillside of neatly groomed grass. After seeing all this, it is easier to understand the people’s acid wit, their pessimistic view of the world and their genius, like that of the Finnish film director Aki Kaurismaki.

He is a man capable of affirming, in a recent interview, that legendary Argentine tango singer Carlos Gardel was Finnish and that that is why he wanted to pay homage to him with the soundtrack of his latest film, Le Havre. Perhaps the tango in Finland is like seeing the burly Kaurismaki play football, while smoking – something so unnatural that you cannot stop watching.

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