Don’t worry, we’re not getting into international relations and whatnot (we leave that to the news media). The problem that Japan has with Paris, which we’ll address in this blog article, is more societal and psychological than political. It’s called the Paris Syndrome, where Japanese people who love Paris are disappointed by it when visiting it. While it’s not unique to Japan, reports show that Japanese tourists are most susceptible to it.
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What is the Paris Syndrome?
When we think of Paris, some of us think of “the city of lovers”, elegant architecture, quaint little cafes, and romantic alleys with cobblestoned streets. However, after much globalisation and technological advancements over the last few decades, Paris isn’t quite the same as the stereotypical image that many of us have in our heads. Large, bustling crowds and loud traffic disrupt the quiet and serene sidewalks we’d imagined, and hordes of like-minded tourists take away the charm, romance and mystery of Paris and its attractions.
While we might be disappointed, we’d probably just take it in stride, move on, and have a great time in Paris regardless. However, a number of Japanese tourists, albeit a small number, are so shocked by the difference between real Paris and the Paris they had romanticised in their heads that they experience psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety, hallucinations and paranoia. Some feel so sick or dizzy that they may even throw up. This is known as the Paris Syndrome.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lists every known and recognised psychiatric disorder, and while it currently doesn’t include the Paris Syndrome, health officials such as psychiatrists believe that it is in fact a psychiatric disorder (Davidson, 2019), and not just an extreme form of culture shock.
Why are Japanese people more susceptible to it?
Japanese society is a lot different than Parisian society. For example, Japanese society has a philosophy known as omotenashi which is the philosophy of striving for excellence and beyond in hospitality, to act before asked, to be considerate of others’ feelings, to please the customer. In Paris, while wait staff are not necessarily rude (like the stereotypes portray them to be), they do appear more cool, reserved and distant, as opposed to the Japanese wait staff that is eager and meek.
Another example is the crime rate. Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world (United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, 2018), whereas in Paris, pick-pocketers are a common and growing threat (RFI, 2019), and they target Chinese, or Asian-looking, tourists in particular (CNN, 2013). Moving from one country where crime essentially never happens, to another country where you are the prime target for pick-pockers is sure to traumatise or shock an individual.
Japan is also one of the cleanest countries in the world (Forbes, 2010), and there is more litter in Paris than in Japan or even in the dense capital of Tokyo. These numerous differences between Japanese and Parisian society/culture is likely what makes the Paris Syndrome more detrimental to the Japanese in particular.
What we can learn from this Paris Syndrome issue is to manage our expectations and to enjoy films and TV shows for what they are: fiction. In the context of Japan, it’s not uncommon for some people to visit Japan expecting it to be technologically worlds ahead of other nations, with AI manning every store and for every train to be sleek and futuristic.
Or, perhaps fans of Japanese pop culture expect Japan to be exactly like it is in Japanese cartoons and comic books, where almost everyone’s hair is a wild colour and they are dressed in bizarre costumes (more on those enthusiastic pop culture fans here).
Japan, and Paris, are a lot more than the stereotypes given to them, and while they may not be as perfect as their romanticised versions, it’s that rawness that gives them more personality and what makes them worth visiting.