Illustration for article titled Finland is Lots of Miles from Japan

Behold, the fruits of an English lesson I gave to-day. I was asked to talk about Finland on short notice to a class of special needs students (I work at a junior high school in rural Japan). What do I know about Finland? All I could think of was the Monty Python song which, in retrospect, would’ve been pretty useful given that it specifically mentions Japan in the lyrics—the kids love it when their own country is referenced in the lessons. I also thought of Nightwish, the Finnish metal band I like, especially their stuff from when they had an opera singer on lead vocals. I drew a big bear (on the right) because I knew there were bears in Finland. Otherwise I had nothing until I remembered The Sampo.

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Illustration for article titled Finland is Lots of Miles from Japan

Or as it’s sadly better known in the U.S., The Day the Earth Froze, which is the version with bad English dubbing. It was famously featured on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. But the original film is based on Finnish mythology and was co-directed by the great Russian fantasy director Aleksandr Ptushko, whose films are criminally difficult to acquire decent copies of in the U.S. So I started by drawing trees and then the mountains and the lake. Then I explained how the hero rode on logs, and I explained what a log was, and told them how one day he saw a beautiful woman and how they both were victims of a witch’s jealousy. It was easy to put it all into simple English and I think it was a pretty good basis for a lesson plan.

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The Day the Earth Froze was always one of my favourite episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, a case where there was a strange blurring of the line between mockery and appreciation, at least for me. The film has some genuinely amazing visuals.

Illustration for article titled Finland is Lots of Miles from Japan
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I remembered the host segment where Joel and the bots ask the audience to figure out just what a Sampo is. So when I came to my own version of the story I put it to the students—when the witch, who lives on a miserable island, jealous of the people in the village, demands the Sampo in exchange for freeing the beautiful woman, just what might the Sampo be? One of the students suggested, “Life.”

“Maybe!” I said, “Good answer!” After all, you might say a big lump that spews endless quantities of salt and gold is basically life.

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On a slightly unrelated subject, here’s a giant bug I saw outside my apartment this morning.

Illustration for article titled Finland is Lots of Miles from Japan
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I thought it might be dead so I tapped one of its antennae with the tip of my umbrella expecting it to scurry away if it was alive. Instead, the antennae slowly, lazily swung back. As though to say, “Yeah, I’m alive, and you don’t scare me, human.”

Illustration for article titled Finland is Lots of Miles from Japan

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