Paris – City of Lights? Not so for Japanese tourists!

City of Lights?  Japanese tourists see a different picture..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.

11 thoughts on “Paris – City of Lights? Not so for Japanese tourists!”

  1. Its hard to believe Japanese people are this fragile! I wonder how many mental people there are after visiting other attractions like the Grand Canyon.

  2. About 15 years ago I remember running into a psychiatrist who had gone to Melbourne, Australia to study a similar thing. He was investigating the large number of suicides amongst the wives of chuzaiin sent to Australia to work. I’d like to believe that it is different today, but at the time the Japanese community in Melbourne (especially for okusama) was apparently so small that the isolation drove them stir crazy. Apparently the most common method was to drive the family car off a peer into the Bass Strait. I had thought this was pretty hard to fathom… until I read the article that Green is talking about. Perhaps Japanese need a little more psychiatric help than they are getting. After all, I can’t remember meeting another Japanese psychiatrist since that guy (who I met overseas). I wonder how the number per head of population compares to other countries…

  3. I wonder if the advent of the Intenet and access to information and realtime chats with people back in the home country has lessened the feeling of isolation.

    As the article says, the Japanese can just watch TV or check on the Internet to get a fairly honest view of the outside world. I like to think that sites like can help by highlighting the differences in culture and showing that there’s a community of like-minded people.

  4. This phenomena is not unique to Paris. Not all Japanese are strong enough to cope with life outside Japan. Also not all Japanese are mentally stable. What sometimes happens is that people are on medication in Japan but stop taking their medication when they are overseas. The results can be very sad.

  5. When I read about “Paris Syndrome” in my local paper in Australia, I thought it was pretty funny- mostly because the French are certainly living up to their rude and laissez-faire stereotype (I can say that cuz I am French. A visit to Paris might be overwhelming for many people, even from similar backgrounds. I also thought of the incredibly pleasing and helpful people I met in Japan, who went out of their way to show me things or assist me, even when they hadn’t the foggiest what I needed. And always with a smile. Imagining these two vastly different worlds and cultures colliding is kind of hilarious. Perhaps the French could use some more time spent in Japan? But then, we would also be losing the endearment only found in a culture that couldn’t care less. I think all we can do with this situation is take from it the humour it provides, as was done by the author of this blog. Nice work.

  6. “Already this year, Japan’s embassy in Paris has had to repatriate at least four visitors — including two women who believed their hotel room was being bugged and there was a plot against them.”

    Exactly the same kind of thing happens to some Japanese people visiting Sydney Australia.

    As I said this phenomena is not unique to Paris. Indeed I suspect it has nothing to do with Paris and is more likely to be related to the number of mentally unstable people who travel overseas.

  7. What?! They do suffer from freaking what? They actually suffering? Emm now that make them more human. Btw if the Frenchy provide a love hotel or love camp underneath that tower, the Japs will be fine. Just like home. Mew!

  8. I have a certain ‘view’ of Japan, through various programming and NHK World. I’d love to visit the country some day… but consider this: I live in France. On an ex-farm. My neighbours are half a mile away and they have four legs and oink. Actual real people? Further yet.
    No doubt my vision of Japan is somewhat idealised (though, at least I’ve worked out that the cute Miyazaki girls aren’t real). How would I feel being dropped into Shibuya? I bet I’d be scared as hell. How much of anything will be in a language I can recognise? How will I, used to spending lots of time alone, cope with a crossing where half a billion people march between the lights?
    I doubt (and hope!) that therapy won’t be necessary, but there will be some degree of shock. I’m not certain whether therapy is actually required or if its a bit namby-pamby? Maybe it is getting over the way people in Paris drive, or perhaps the result of being given the bill for a coffee you took in that quiet little bar… I’ve no doubt Paris is a beautiful place, but I’ve heard enough horror stories that I don’t plan to visit until I have lots of money in my bank account. And when I have that, why go blow it all in Paris when Japan is within reach?

  9. Hahaha Rick:)
    I’m sure you won’t need counseling.

    Funny to read about the people being disappointed after their visit to Paris.
    In fact, after visiting many cities around the world, I found Paris the one who really lived up to it’s fame.
    I also did not find parisians particularly ill-mannered. True I am not asian.

  10. Are you guys constructing a theory on 12 given cases per year? Do you know how many thousands of Japanese visit Paris and other destinations every year? And yet it seems, after reading this text and some of the comments, that most Japanese visiting Paris or other destinations will freak out as if the whole nation was mental or something. You ask (for instance), “Why are the Japanese tourists so disillusioned with Paris but able to cope with the inevitable disappointments of other destinations?”. Well, err… sorry, “THE Japanese tourists”? Or just TWELVE Japanese tourists each year? That’s what the original article talks about. That represents nothing, it’s just exceptional trivia, a one-in-a-million example to look at and say, hey guy that’s curious, not to theorize about or ask ourselves general questions. But it seems that someone read something about 12 random people -of unknown background- and later decided they should be representative of an alleged problem affecting the whole nation! Wow.

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