HELSINKI and Tokyo have settled a bizarre diplomatic row over the cartoon character Moomin, sparked by a question in the Japanese university entrance exams last month.
The cartoon characters – which resemble hippopotamuses and were created by Finnish author Tove Jansson – were the focus of an exam question where students were asked to identify the home country and language spoken by the Moomins, reported the Japan Times.
The exam paper went viral on Japanese social media, with many noting that the location of “Moominvalley” is never specified in the books or cartoons. A hashtag translating as “unforgivable Moomin” became trending in Japan.
The question reportedly included Swedish writing, perhaps as Jansson was a Swedish-speaking Finn.
“While the Finnish author of the Moomins, Tove Jansson, may have written the stories with a Nordic nature in mind, the whole idea to the story is that it takes place in an imaginary place,” said Markus Kokko, the press counsellor at the Finnish Embassy in Tokyo as quoted by the Times.
Professors in the Swedish language from Osaka University’s Graduate School of Language and Culture criticised the test in an open letter, writing that: “we want to express our unease about the risks that this question poses to both test-takers and Japanese society”.
The Moomin franchise is wildly popular in Japan, which is hope to six Moomin Shops compared to just three in its native Finland, one in Hong Kong and another in the UK.
Asked by the media to comment on the debacle, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said “while I am aware of the reports, it is not the position of the government to comment on the test”. By Wednesday, the Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said that the issue had been “settled”.
“Now we know where the Moomin is, it is in each of our hearts, so we can be very relaxed that this problem is over,” said the Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, as quoted by Japanese news agency Kyodo.
Tokyo boasts its own Moomin House Café, which specialises in “anti-loneliness” by seating customers with stuffed Moomin dolls, according to CNN. The café serves Finnish rye and traditional pasties to respect the “Moomin culture”.
A Moomin theme park is scheduled to be opened in Japan in stages between 2018 and 2019.