Helsinki-Vantaa, gate to the Orient

Japan, Helsinki and the journey of a lifetime

Sometimes that's just how it goes: you find your place in the world quite by chance. 
Hundreds of tables, light sculptures, the library corner and the blend of Asian and European faces, yet of all the aspects of Helsinki-Vantaa airport, what really stays with you is one man - the chef of the Two Tigers - with his expression that is the true embodiment of someone fully aware of being in harmony with life.

Here, they call him the "master", a nickname he has earned from his feats in the kitchen; he is calm - applying the measured precision of a Buddhist monk - as he prepares the fish, and as you watch him everything else fades into non-existence: the aeroplane you are to catch, the journey in which you are immersed and even the fact that you are there to eat, not to admire.

It is not a short break, it is a dive into a different continent: at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport, the 60 seats of the Two Tigers are still a dimension in their own right. The wood cladding the walls, the aromas that fill the air, the sharp click of chopsticks, the almond-shaped eyes, the rapid flow of words from the world's east: a micro cosmos of the Orient in the heart of the north.

If the Helsinki-Vantaa airport is where an increasing number of Orientals take their first glance at Europe, this restaurant is an excellent point of contact. Also thanks to the chef's mastery. 

Yet Hiroshi Tanaka - because this is his real name - could never have imagined that his ancient passion, sushi, would have taken him quite so far from his homelands. He left Kyoto as he turned twenty, driven by the curiosity to discover the world outside Japan, armed only with the noble art that sushi masters have handed down for generations. He reached Europe with the idea of touring a little, paying his way with jobs he would find as a waiter or general assistant in restaurants here and there. He would have thought about the future later, when he returned home.

Barcelona, Milan, London, Amsterdam: ten years spent touring the capitals and learning about a world he yearned to discover. Wherever he went, his talent saw him through: a chef of a Japanese restaurant needing a hand could be found pretty much everywhere.

But change often sneaks up on you, without you seeking it out. Yet another journey, the brave decision to go with a feeling that had just begun, born of a meeting in Amsterdam, took him straight to Helsinki. A glance, a taxi, a flight and everything is different. And it is precisely here, in the airport that uses its polar route to bring Asia and Europe ever closer1, the discovery of what it means to be a Japanese in Finland.  

The present: the Baltic Sea and the decision to put down roots. He was inspired by the locations, so able to offer the spectacle of uncontaminated nature, and by love. But his meeting with Kim is another story.

The story with which we are concerned is that which takes us along the corridors of Helsinki-Vantaa, where the growing flow of Asian travellers has made the birth of a place like the Two Tigers and - behind that counter - the presence of someone like him, able to make everyone feel at home, a natural result.

What matters, is that it is here that Hiroshi found meaning. This is how he puts it and as you watch him perform his art behind the counter, you cannot help but believe him. Japanese and European, just like the Two Tigers, just like Helsinki Airport: this is Hiroshi.

Between Asia and Europe, if we look around - with a plate of sushi or a portion of noodles in front of us - it is clear here that everyone is in harmony.