Friday, July 9, 2010

かもめ食堂

[ Kamome Shokudo ]

Where to start with this story? – since it is one that started essentially after my last departure from Finland. Upon returning from my second extremely memorable YFU experience, I relished in all of the memories of Japan and Finland that I had around me. One day online, I stumbled on a movie that was gaining quite a bit of popularity in Japan – Kamome Shokudo, “Seagull Café”. The premise was simple, three Japanese women partaking in a comical process of starting a Japanese restaurant in Helsinki, Finland.

It seemed too good to be true - a movie that had everything all together. Once I became a student at UofM, the movie was still not easily available and I had forgotten about it. However, one of my professors that I would frequently chat with after class - [ if I am allowed to make fun of myself, it was my Buddhism teacher, and he also spoke Japanese. I always enjoyed the conversations ] -one day he gave me a burned CD and it was a copy of the movie, and he said that I would like it – of course I would, I had been waiting to see it! And ever since then, the movie has not only become a favorite of mine, but also my family’s and even Shinya, our Japanese exchange student from Okinawa, Japan. I think that is why I love the movie so much – it brings out the excitement in me of the cultures being together in the film, and how they both have opened doors for me in my own life.

Fast forward to 2010, and I am now on the train to Helsinki from Turku. As a huge coincidence, I am seated on the train next to 6 Japanese tourists venturing through Finland. At first I was a bit nervous, German dominated the part of my brain that deals with foreign languages – my Japanese was rusty at best. Even so, something sparked me to lean over and like a natural at stalking Japanese tourists: “etto… chotto sumimasen desuga….”

I cut in with a polite interjection, and joined into their discussion about Muumiland [ their previous destination in Naantali where the white hippo-like trolls live], and then to their trip Helsinki. What else was on their agenda – of course かもめ食堂, Kamome Shokudo! The series of events were all so exciting for me – I wasn’t the only one that was mesmerized by Finland and Helsinki in this film.

The film is quirky, and deals with the smaller details of life. Life abroad, helping out friends, making good food, trying to find happiness in life – but the film just makes it all seem like so much fun; calm and tranquil Helsinki is definitely a contrast to bright and chaotic Tokyo.

[ Another cultural tip to add - this map locates the areas of the city where civilians can wash and air dry their rugs, a summer ritual of many Finns (and a country where carpets are almost non-existent) ]

Once in Helsinki, the Kiukkonen family was very excited to meet me as I arrived. I had only stayed with them for one week during the final stage of my YFU exchange in 2007, but we really enjoyed each other’s company and have been in contact ever since. They have also shared their love of cultures and art with me, and caught on to my unique interests early on of Finland and Japan. They actually found the best personal gift for me – a book of Japanese Finnish fusion cuisine, in both English and Japanese!

I had sent them a copy of Kamome Shokudo last Christmas for them to see what I was so excited about in the movie. The next day we were going to visit the city and find the restaurant which was the setting of the film. In the meantime however, it was already late – near midnight, and we were home for the evening. We had no time to waste however, and Anna proposed an idea – how about some Pulla?

Now, first of all, Pulla is an excellent cardamom spiced Finnish pastry perfect with coffee. I couldn’t say no. Second – the film Kamome Shokudo has a scene with Pulla cinnamon rolls that make them look incredible – and now I was watching the yeast rise, rolling the dough and pinching the little pastries myself homemade, as traditionally Finnish as you can get!


The next day in the city, Anna and I window shopped, explored the harbor, caught up on the past years of studying abroad [ she is doing her Undergraduate studies in Lancaster, England]. The city was as beautiful as I had remembered it. Esplanadi park was bustling with people, the Havis Amanda statue was clustered with photo-snapping tourists, The street’s window displays were filled with colorful Marimekko patterns and fluid Aalto vases. Through our ventures of the city [ and me gushing about the edgy design of Scandinavia – only to find out that in 2012, Helsinki is the design capital of the world with many events and conferences, definitely worth a visit back!] we finally stumbled upon the little café. The café has a different name now, and aside from the movie poster in the window and some Japanese signs, it is unaffiliated with the movie. Even so, there is something surreal about looking down the street and it looking exactly the same as the film [ not that anything would change… but the characters of the film walked these streets, making the film come even more to life].

Peeking inside, the interior was completely different [ a shame, because in the film, the décor of the café was curiously all very expensive and iconic Finnish furniture and glassware!], but there were customers including a few Japanese that I could easily point out as well. It made me excited that they were probably here for the same reason that I was – just to see it.

[ I would make a statue of wild Finnish strawberries too ]

[ Believe it or not, this view is right in the middle of Helsinki! There are still areas that connect right back to nature. ]

The visit and snapshot lasted only a few minutes, but the experience was nonetheless extremely cool. I think that this story really documented some of the memories and laughs of my first day in Helsinki, as well as the very cool connections that I can celebrate in thanks to my great friends and host family members abroad all over the world - of course, the first person that I wanted to share the photos with was Okaasan in Japan who is also a huge fan of the film.

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