- Naomi Moriyama has coauthored three books on traditional Japanese meals and their health benefits.
- This is an adapted excerpt from “The Sisterhood of the Enchanted Forest: Sustenance, Wisdom, and Awakening in Finland’s Karelia.”
- In it, Moriyama describes how living in Finland changed her and what she learned about the country.
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The following is an adapted excerpt from Naomi Moriyama’s book “The Sisterhood of the Enchanted Forest: Sustenance, Wisdom, and Awakening in Finland’s Karelia,” coauthored with her husband, William Doyle.
When my family first moved to the remote, bucolic forest region of Finnish Karelia, I was a Tokyo-born former New York executive, wife, and full-time mom. Now I was living in a Nordic society with a much different social structure from the United States. I joined Martha, a volunteer community service association of Finnish women, who welcomed me like a long-lost sister and taught me local attitudes and customs, like foraging in the forest for mushrooms and berries.
This place was changing me
After six months of living in rural Finland, I was turning into something new. My ideas of success were changing. Instead of individual achievement alone, perhaps real success meant that everyone in the community should succeed to the maximum extent possible. Perhaps we should measure personal success in part by how well-off and how well cared-for all the members of society are.
Finnish citizens pay higher taxes than Americans, but most Finns see it as a good bargain for everyone, since Finns demand, and receive, a very high standard of government-supported social benefits that are shared equally by everyone. The bottom lines should be people, quality of life, and well-being – not just money.
Instead of money and material possessions, perhaps true wealth should also include immersion in pure nature, which this society has in such abundance. Finland is basically one enormous nature park, and even residents of the capital of Helsinki live just a short distance from thick forests, pristine lakes, and peaceful hiking trails.
Finland was also changing me as a parent. I was coming to realize that parents should not only demand a great education for their own children, but for everyone else’s, too. Childhood should be a time of joy and play, and discovery, I realized, not stress and overwork.
Finland is not Utopia, it grapples with problems of domestic violence, racism, and rising inequality. But it is a thriving, free-market democracy that ranks #1 among the world’s nations, or close to it, on a striking range of international comparisons, including the rights of women and children, happiness, education, freedom, safety, governance, sustainability and managing the covid-19 pandemic.
Finland is one of the world’s leading nations for gender equality, though Finns will be the first to tell you that much work remains to be done. Finland is not necessarily “better” than other societies, but a source of inspiration and reflection for how things can be done differently.
The nation’s success is based on a simple fact: women have been involved since the 1900s
Eventually, the answer, or at least part of it, dawned on me. It wouldn’t seem like an unusual idea to Finnish people, since it was already baked into their national DNA, but for much of the rest of the world, it was a revolutionary idea.
In 1906, Finland was the first nation to give women full political rights to both vote and run for office. In the words of Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg, “Many of Finland’s successful social programs, like early childhood education, were championed over the years by women and women’s organizations.”
Since 2000, Finland has had a woman president for twelve years and three female prime ministers, including the current Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who in 2019 was sworn in as the world’s youngest serving state leader at age 34. Today she runs a governing coalition of five parties, all of which are headed by women.
There is even fragmentary evidence that Finland may have been the location of a long-lost, possibly mythical Terra Feminarum, or ancient “Land of Women,” run by powerful Northern women and located around areas near today’s Russian border and Finnish Karelia, not far from our home.
Now it was all starting to make sense. This country, more than many others, was founded, built, shaped, nurtured, and now run by women.
From “The Sisterhood of the Enchanted Forest: Sustenance, Wisdom, and Awakening in Finland’s Karelia,” by Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle, to be published by Pegasus Books. Copyright © 2021 by Naomi Moriyama and William Doyle.