Innocents Abroad: Japanese in Paris — The culture shock that puts victims in hospital

Charles Bremner – The Times (London)

The culture shock that puts victims in hospital
A JAPANESE woman in her 20s stopped a well-dressed Frenchman in the Opera metro station yesterday afternoon and asked him in broken English for help with a public telephone. He replied with a finger in the air and walked on, leaving another potential candidate for “Paris Syndrome”.
The term has been coined by Dr Hiroaki Ota, a Paris-based psychiatrist who specialises in a state of depression which hits Japanese who come to live in the City of Light. The condition mainly afflicts young Japanese women and is brought on by the collision between the Japanese dream of France, and the rough reality of Paris life.
The symptoms usually appear after three months in France and a quarter of the cases require stays in hospital, said Dr Ota. Japanese residents in London, with a higher Japanese population than the estimated 20,000 in Paris, do not suffer so much.
“The phenomenon manifests itself among those who do not have the capacity to adapt to France because of the shock between the two cultures,” said Dr Ota, who recently practised at St Anne’s, the city’s main mental hospital. Patients, who are usually determined to stay in France, make complaints such as: “They (Parisians) laugh at my French”, “they don’t like me”, “I feel stupid in front of them”, Dr Ota told Libération newspaper. Japanese residents confirmed that adapting to French life is harder for them. “The syndrome exists,” said Issaki, 28, who works for a Japanese media company in Paris. “We don’t have the habit of expressing ourselves so forcefully as the French. They can be aggressive. We are more sensitive even than other Asians. The Chinese and Koreans have thicker skins.”
Tadahiko Kondo, 59, a conference organiser, said he fell ill when he first arrived in France. “Everything was unpleasant. People were cold, rude and never smiled. It is completely different in Japan. Especially the girls who come to France thinking it is all about Louis Vuitton and gastronomy. They become depressed because France is not like that,” he added.
The Japanese are often hurt because the French show no interest in their country while France is an obsession in Japan, the ultimate destination for romance, refinement and art. Bernard Delage, president of the Young Japan organisation, said that Paris Syndrome, which has become a talking point in Japan, was exaggerated. “There are some girls who dream about France as the land of shopping, courtesy and lovers. They are naive and not as sensible as they should be.”
Young Japanese women are always shocked to find that Frenchmen want to head for bed rather than discuss culture said Yuriko, a Japanese assistant at a department store. “We have this idealised picture of France, the reality can be hard to accept. But we still love it and don’t want to leave.”

1 thought on “Innocents Abroad: Japanese in Paris — The culture shock that puts victims in hospital”

  1. Well, as a French male this report is embarrassing but it certainly rings true. The man in the street in France thinks of Japan as a place of unending drabness and uniformity. One misconception is that old Japan was so utterly destroyed during the war it has nothing left to offer. And the minds of Parisians have been numbed by endless busloads of camera waving Japanese tourists making hurried pitstops at the usual places. But if you dig a bit deeper you’ll find many ties, especially in cultural circles. From the sixties on there have been close exchanges in the area of art and cinematography (a trend started by “Hiroshima mon amour” and later continued by “l’Empire des sens”). The French tend to rank countries according to an idiosyncratic and sometimes odd index of “cultural value” – and Japan ranks up there with, say, China or Persia. As a visitor to Tokyo for a business meeting a few months back I was surprised to find so many signs of France – bistros, French music in shops etc …. especially around Aoyama – Omotesando – Shibuya – Harajuku districts. I also found that there is a rather large French contingent in Tokyo. I avoided the French places during the first part my stay – but after my meeting was over I spent the next few days wandering around the city – exhilirating but I found the utter lack of social interaction debilitating (not unlike the japanese visitors in Paris, minus the rudeness -people were not rude but I was never in any position to talk to them). After five days of this regime I was craving social interaction and went to a French bistro. I met a few French people and a Japanese girl who showed me around the city for the rest of my trip and the rest as they say is history. I found the Japanese people to be remote at first contact , but extremely warm and funny and inquisitive after introductions were made. This is not unlike the French who are also very private. In fact, I found many similarities between French and Japanese societies – the obsessions for privacy and social protocol, for example.

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