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The yearly Helsinki travel fair held during the third weekend of January had a timely official theme: Vastuu yhteisestä maailmasta (Responsibility of our common world). However, another theme emerged more prominently: Fly far and cheap. Finnair, Air France, KLM and other airlines had huge booths where they were selling long distance flights for lower prices than ever. Return flights to India, Thailand and China were less than 400 €, to North America, Northern Africa and Japan well below 500 € and to South American cities around 750 €, all taxes and other fees included. With more than 85 000 visitors attending the event they probably sold quite a few of them. I didn't really figure out how the official and the unofficial theme connected with each other, but never mind.
I spent most of the time at the Japania ry booth, answering questions about traveling in Japan and Japanese cultural events in Finland. A typical visitor had just booked flights to Japan and was searching for hints about which places and cities are worth seeing, where to stay and other practical things. Another common category were fathers and mothers who came to ask about manga and anime (Japanese comics and animated films), because "our teenage kids are crazy about them and we don't understand anything".
Japanese youth culture is certainly hip in Finland now and it's a bit surprising that the Japanese Embassy doesn't do much to embrace it. Japan didn't have any official presence at the travel fair either, so Finnish-Japanese friendship organizations and a couple of travel agencies tried to fill the gap. Laatumatkat had a fancy torii (Shinto style gate) in front of their stand which is featured in the picture of this blog post. I also made a small photo gallery of Japan related stands at the event, including a few portraits of people in cosplay dresses (dressed as manga characters).
I tested a couple of booths with my favourite question What can you tell me about bicycle travel in your country?, but didn't meet anybody too enthusiastic or knowledgeable about it. Last year the Georgian representant did very well. :-) The narrow corridor where all the volunteer run friendship organizations were placed next to each other was again the best of the show: had a couple of nice discussions there. Otherwise I didn't find much of interest as I didn't want to book a cheap flight somewhere or collect a bunch of thick brochures. A bit too late I realized that I had missed the domestic section completely; that might have been worth visiting. For international travel, much better information is available through web sites and by contacting locals or other travel enthusiasts.
First there was a performance by three geishas from Kyoto, a promotional event by Finnair and the travel agency Ebookers who are increasing their frequency of flights to various Asian destinations. The traditional dances weren't anything new for me but the geishas also performed a rock, paper and scissors style game designed to entertain sake-drinking customers in the geisha houses. And of course virtually all of my old friends from various Japanese related societies in Finland were there. I compiled a small picture gallery of the event.
My longest trip in August and September was just a cruise to Stockholm, with a Japanese theme organized by the Japania ry society. I wrote a travel story with a few pictures (in Finnish) of the cruise too.
Shortly after the cruise I was asked if I could help the yearly Helsinki Comics Festival by hosting Keitaro Arima, a Japanese manga artist who was one of the main guests of the event. I didn't have to think twice, getting a rare opportunity to spend time with a person from the center of the manga culture (which is very popular in Japan), practising my Japanese and meeting several Finnish comics artists on the way.
It was a very nicely organized festival with a huge variety of interviews, shows and comics from all over the world, naturally emphasizing the Finnish scene. I especially liked that all the evening parties were open for everybody (with the exception of one dinner on Saturday), so one didn't need to be an insider to meet the artists and organizers also outside the daytime program of the festival. Manga fans were certainly happy with Keitaro Arima's signing session — he would not only give his signature but draw an individual picture for every fan in the queue. The session which was originally planned to last for an hour eventually became 3.5 hours.
Arima was staying in a hotel, but in Hospitality Club and CouchSurfing language hosting means offering a place to stay for someone. I've been quite active recently also in that, perhaps even a bit too active. I just counted that 21 people stayed at my place during the last two months. Almost half of them were cyclists and all the continents except Antartica were represented by at least one person. I didn't have a single bad experience and many of the guests were wonderful people, but too many is still too many. I think I'll have a break from hosting now, perhaps not completely closing my door but at least having less guests. It might happen naturally by simply getting less requests, as October and November are not the most popular months to travel in Finland for quite obvious reasons.
The latest chunk of Japanese culture I got in the Love and Anarchy film festival, which faithfully to its traditions featured a good selection of anime and non-animated Japanese films among other good movies from all around the world. I didn't see many movies during my year on the road so now it was a good time to catch up. Especially as the movie theatres in Helsinki are becoming more and more controlled by one single company which shows little else than the latest Hollywood blockbusters.
The animations Paprika and Tekkonkinkreet were both beautiful, although I didn't like the character drawing style in the latter too much. I didn't see yet Tales from Earthsea, the latest offering from Studio Ghibli, but it's one of the exceptions which will come to the mainstream theaters soon. Festival veteran Takashi Miike's this year's flick Like a Dragon was only mildly entertaining, Sakebi's Retribution was better but not exceptional. Same rating for Lost in Beijing by Ping Guo, the only Chinese film I went to see. Korea is producing more and more interesting movies, this year's good picks being Kim Ki Duk's Breath and Chan-Wook Park's I'm a Cyborg but That's Okay, which was a delighfully refreshing take on a difficult topic, my favorite this year. Año Uña was an interesting Brazilian experiment to do a film based on still photos, well done but still not really to my taste. The discussion with the director after the film added a nice personal touch into the viewing experience. Eastern Europe offered some of the darkest but well-done and realistic films this year, with the Cannes Golden Palm winner 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days directed by Christian Mungiu from Romania and and The Trap by Srdjan Golubovic from Serbia. The Georgian-French joint production 13 Tzameti had the most stylistic black and white shooting.
Copyright Arto Teräs <firstname.lastname@example.org>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. (Unless otherwise mentioned in individual photos or other content.)