There was a recent report from Reuters stating that about a dozen Japanese tourists each year are so emotionally devastated when they travel to Paris to find that the real city isn’t quite as they had envisioned it they need psychological treatment. The article seems to indicate that this goes beyond the usual culture shock. I think we can all sympathize with traveling to a destination and finding that the reality is a little different from what we were hoping for but I’m hoping that we are able to cope without lapsing into psychoses.
Many of the contributors and readers of this site are gaijins who have left hearth and home to establish lives in a foreign land. I would have thought that the gulf between the English-speaking western cultures and Japan would be pretty large but apparently it’s not large enough to cause a namable psychological disorder.
I think we all have stereotypes and mental images of foreign lands but I like to think that I’m made of sterner mental stuff so that I won’t completely break down when I visit New Zealand and find that it’s not populated exclusively with sheep and hobbits. Why are the Japanese tourists so disillusioned with Paris but able to cope with the inevitable disappointments of other destinations? According to the brochures tour companies are promising that the world outside of Japan is a veritable paradise of lush nature, crystal blue skies, clear oceans, classic architecture and twinkling skylines. Of course the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a Niagara Syndrome, Guam Syndrome or Whistler Syndrome would imply that either these destinations are everything that the travel literature say they are and the Japanese tourists aren’t disappointed and disillusioned upon arrival or tourists have a suitably low expectation of these places and bad vacations are par for the course.
The naivety of the Japanese who suffer from the syndrome is actually rather touching in a way. Somehow they’ve managed to retain their idealized image of Parisians as polite, congenial sophisticates despite the abundance of readily available news stories that would contradict this. Why is this? Despite the fact that Japan is a modern nation with modern education and access to a host of information through the media and Internet a frighteningly large portion of the populace still remains willfully blind to reality and holds to some odd beliefs about other countries and cultures.
I can sympathize with the general desire, if not the specific city the Japanese have chosen, to think of some far off land as an exotic paradise. Unfortunately, the land of courteous Frenchmen riding bicycles along the Seine, carrying croissants in one arm, showering gifts of Louis Vitton handbags to lonely vacationing women while quoting and composing sonnets doesn’t actually exist anywhere but in the minds of the Japanese. When confronted by the reality that they just don’t want to face or accept that differs from the mental image the mind snaps and we have this very unfortunate syndrome as a result.
Japan isn’t cut off from the rest of the world in an isolationist stance anymore and news feeds from around the world can provide actual images, videos and reports of what outside countries are like. Of course it’s ultimately up to the individual to choose to accept the reports as accurate and real or to keep their head buried in the sand and cling to a fantasy.
The solution to Paris Syndrome is relatively simple. I would give the same advice to Japanese tourists as I do for my dates; Keep your expectations low and you won’t be disappointed.