Letter from Ambassador in April - “Hygge, trust and Jante’s law” 


    Dear Sir and Madame,
    I hope that this letter finds you well. Here in Denmark during April, the Copenhagen Sakura Festival, the largest annual Japanese cultural event took place in person for the first time in the past three years. Also people in Denmark celebrated the 82nd birthday of Her Majesty The Queen almost in the same way as before COVID-19. It seems that Denmark has overcome COVID-19 to large extent.
    On the other hand, following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the Ukrainian national flags have been hoisted all over Denmark to show solidarity. On 21 April, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen made a surprising visit to Kyiv to meet President Zelenski and offered further military assistances among others. The public’s attention to the situation in Ukraine has been heightened.
     In Japan, the media covers the news on Ukraine every day such as how the Ukrainian displaced persons are received in Japan, Japan’s humanitarian assistance to Ukraine worth 300 million dollars, the strict sanctions against Russia and diplomatic efforts in coordination with the like-minded countries such as G7. Denmark and Japan have tried to communicate with each other so that we will see the earliest restoration of peace in Ukraine.
    On 20 May, the Government of Denmark announced the draft of the new green reform package to describe a roadmap for 70% reduction of the greenhouse gases by 2030 (hereinafter 70/30). The draft emphasizes the need to become independent from Russian gas, and it includes a uniform CO2 tax levied in accordance with the emission of CO2. If this package were to be implemented, 3.7 million tons of CO2 would be reduced out of 9.4 million tons necessary to achieve 70/30.
    Together with the agreed reduction in the agricultural sector for 4-6 million tons, and 1 million tons out of the EU related efforts, now we can see how the target would be met. It is said that there has been already a broad agreement on the draft among the five parties from both governing and opposition sides. In the meantime, the government is rapidly preparing for the specific implementationsof the proposal.

    I assume that the Japanese nationals living in Denmark are asked by friends in Japan and others about why the Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world. I have been also questioned from time to time. In the latest 2022 world ranking of happiness, Denmark was in the second place. There are so many different answers to this question. For me, there seem to be three key words to explain this. Firstly, hygge. It is a circumstance or a state of mind when one enjoys a most relaxed time with his or her family and friends. Secondly, trust. There are the effective social welfare and lifetime education which are supported by the high tax. The tax payers trust that the paid tax will be used in a proper manner. The government responds to such trust. Thirdly, characteristic of people who are modest and persistent. I have often enjoyed getting to know Danes who practice Jante’s law such as one should not regard oneself better than the others.
    In the following, let me try to explain how these Danish qualities relate closely to the 70/30 target for climate change.

1. Hygge
    Danish people seem to imagine various things from this word. Some say that the most hyggeligt time for Danes is the moment to spend with candles lit. (“Danish hygge” by Meik WIKING) Particularly, when sun sets quite early from autumn to winter, the Danish household consume a vast amount of candles. It is not hard to imagine that is must be emitting a considerable amount of CO2 as well. However, within my limited experiences, I have hardly heard Danes saying that they should refrain from candles any more. Why? I guess that there must be strong spirit among Danish people to firmly protect an important value. Such a value includes the strongest will to succeed the globe as a comfortable place to live for our children. Therefore, I see Danish determination to achieve the decarbonized society by 2050 by mobilizing all the other possible measures in order not to concede a joy of lit candles.

2. Trust
    I have heard and agree that trust between individuals and a community exists behind the promotion of renewable energy and it has made the wind power generation commercially successful in Denmark. In other words, important issues are always discussed thoroughly among the political parties with different opinions to attain an agreement among the parties which will remain unchanged even if the government changes. Once agreed, everyone jointly proceeds toward an agreed objective.
    Secondly, trust seems to give the youths the opportunity to play an instrumental role. Before the corona lockdown, young people, mainly the students gathered in front of the national parliament every Friday to claim that the Government should address the climate change more squarely. A Danish film called “70/30” (directed by Phie Ambo 2021) depicts vividly in details the communication among the youth leaders, a female politician and Minister for Climate, Energy and Utility overcoming differences in their views. Trust connects these three stakeholders.


    Thirdly, the most serious stakeholders are business people. With the vision that green transition serves for both pursuit of profits and enhancement of social welfare, the largest Danish energy companies are increasing their investment for off shore wind power in Japan. Maersk, the largest maritime company promotes transformation to green fuel such as ammonia, methanol and hydrogen. They established a marine transportation decarbonization research center, to which the Japanese companies have assigned their staff permanently who are highly motivated and carry out the relevant study and analysis. Here we can see the mutually reciprocal relations whereas companies respond to trust given by a community, and at the same time, a community trusts companies.

3. Jante’s law and Danish modesty
    When I asked some Danish colleagues how Denmark would achieve 70/30, often they answered sincerely that they should do it but nobody knew how to do it. I assume that this may be another expression of the Danish modesty. The 10 commandments of Jante’s law reminds me of a Japanese saying that the more matured ear of rice plants become, the lower it bows.

    I have heard that a typical Danish “hyggeligt” life could be described as follows. In the morning, a husband and a wife go to respective working places and finish the works around 16:30, then watch Danish Radio TV news at 18:30 before having dinner with their children. And there is Act 2 if we ask further question. At 20:30, the parents send children to bed and activate one’s personal computer in the study to prepare for the works next day. This is not very well known and a little bit heart-warming second chapter of the life.
    Then it makes me wonder maybe Danes state that they don’t know how to reach 70/30, however they know that there are ways to do it. The latest proposal of CO2 tax could be one of such prepared scenarios. This is one aspect of Danish people who are so heart-warming, modest and in fact greater than their rhetoric.

    Thank you for reading these personal observations. I look forward to meeting you in May next time somewhere in Denmark or on this page. 

Yours sincerely,

Embassy of Japan in the Kingdom of Denmark