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"This year we will focus on scientific exchange," says Jukka Viitanen, the first director of the Finnish Institute in Japan.

    Reaching out to Asia

    Jari Sinkari


Finnish science and culture established a stronghold in Japan, when the 15th international institute was opened in Tokyo last December. How does the institute plan to conquer Japan?

With one man, a couple of trainees, perhaps a hundred square metres of office space. Mission: scientific and cultural exchange between Finland, population 5 million, and Japan, population 126 million. Finland has some twenty universities, Japan between 586 and 700, depending on how you count them. Where to begin, what to focus on?

Since August 1998, these basic questions have occupied the thoughts of D.Sc. (Econ. & Bus. Adm.) Jukka Viitanen, 31, the first director of the Finnish Institute in Japan. The institute was opened in August 1998 and official ceremonies were held just before Christmas on 17 December. Those present included Finnish Minister of Education Olli-Pekka Heinonen, the Rector of the University of Helsinki Kari Raivio and Japanese Crown Prince Takamado and his wife. Viitanen describes the period between August and December as a ground-laying stage spent in purchasing furniture, setting up communication links, and organising the opening ceremony and celebration seminars. But what now, after the festivities?

"This year we will focus on scientific exchange," says director Jukka Viitanen. This is natural, since the establishment of the institute was prompted by the Finnish Council of University Rectors. After visiting Japan in 1996 the Council began to advocate a foundation for the institute. It involves the participation of a total of 33 partners, including universities, scientific, economic, and cultural organisations and foundations, and corporations and associations. Kari Raivio, Rector of the University of Helsinki, is the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the foundation.

At first the institute will gather information on universities in Finland and Japan. The aim is to bring the information services of AIEJ (Association of International Education, Japan) and CIMO (Centre for International Mobility, Finland) up to a level which gives students fast access to information on exchange programmes. A report on how Finnish students can apply for extra financing for their studies in Japan is also in preparation.


Japanese universities are opening their doors

Regarding the promotion of scientific exchange, Japan is in an interesting situation. The recession has led to a self-evaluation process, including an evaluation of the education system. Both the Japanese Prime Minister and the Minister of Education maintain the opinion that a new perspective is needed for promoting individuality. One factor would be opening the educational system to the outside world. The target number of foreign exchange students for the year 2000 (1.4.2000-31.3.2001) was earlier mentioned as 100,000; this number, however, will not quite be achieved. A change in Japanese legislation has also promoted inter-university cooperation.

Until 1997, it was forbidden by law for Japanese state universities to accept money for applied research. As a result, almost all applied research was conducted in enterprises and the link between basic research and applied research was missing.

”Legislative changes have caused a stir in academic circles,” Viitanen enthuses. ”Universities are looking for cooperation opportunities with enterprises, in foreign countries, and with private universities to which the law did not apply. Consortiums are being formed. The Finns, too, have better opportunities for getting in contact with interesting research groups.”

The institute also intends to establish links between Finnish businesses and Japanese researchers.

”Our Internet pages will contain an open forum for research projects, a kind of information market,” says Viitanen. On the institute's Web pages, Finnish companies could give information on their research projects in order for Japanese researchers to compete. These would make research offers and the enterprise would choose the one it deemed best. The project would also be financed by the enterprise.

What if the best offer came from outside Japan? Viitanen thinks hard before answering.

”The solution of the research problem must be practicable in Japan. That is why the research must in practice be carried out in Japan. However, I see no reason to close the competition to groups from other countries,” he specifies.


A high profile in culture

According to Viitanen, the institute will maintain a high profile in cultural projects. The aim is to arrange one high-level event a year. Launched in January 2000, the flagship will be the Finnish Contemporary Photo Art Exhibition, an exhibition of contemporary photography at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

Viitanen emphasises that this does not mean only one project organised by the institute annually. He says that the institute wants to serve enterprises: to act as a consultant bringing communities together. It may participate in arrangements, but in cultural projects it aims at expert organisations taking the overall responsibility. To adapt the Nokia slogan: connecting organisations. The neighbourhood of the institute is being combed for exhibition and concert rooms; the aim is to compile a list of contact information for a variety of projects whose arrangements the institute may be asked to help with.

Jukka Viitanen also says that resources will not be squandered on producing and distributing a newsletter. The information network is a useful tool and information channel. Printed matter will not be pushed aside totally, however: there are plans for Discussion Reports, a series of publications appearing at irregular intervals and aiming to initiate discussion from a Finnish-Japanese perspective. The first Report will discuss the links between the background philosophy of the tea ceremony and communication culture. The motto is an observation from the background of both: communication is based on trust.

Finnish Institute in Japan
Embassy of Finland (in Tokyo)
3-5-39 Minami-Azabu
Minato-ku, T 106-8561 Tokyo
Tel. +81-3-544 76040
Telefax +81-3-544 76041
Open Monday-Friday 9-12 and 13-16