I told you once it was a strange feeling to leave Paris after the years spent here. Coming back (or passing by) feels equally weird. Now you are a guest rather than a local. I cannot say “I am going home”, as my home at the moment happens to be somewhere there, in the land of the rising sun. It surprises and shocks somewhat, and reminds me I can tell you about the phenomenon that many Japanese are said to suffer when they come to Paris for the first time.
Have you heard about Paris syndrome? Paris syndrome owes its origins to the Stendhal syndrome, which the famous writer experienced when visiting Florence. Essentially, a person suffers a collection of physical and psychological symptoms, like rapid heartbeat, sweating, dizziness and confusion when exposed to experience of great personal significance. In case of Paris syndrome the worst cases led to hallucinations, fainting and even transportation back to home country under medical supervision.
Paris is very popular in the Japanese culture and, no surprise, tends to be idealized in the Japanese advertising. The image would be that all people in the streets look like models, all women wear high fashion brands and life here is nothing less than a never ending romance or “la vie en rose”. No surprise that Japanese embassy even runs a 24 hour help line for tourists suffering from a great disillusion and shock having discovered that Paris is a rather regular place with noise, unclean areas (compared to Japan), unfriendly Parisians, not well organized or even hectic, quite different from life they are used to in Japan or the ideal Parisian life they had imagined.
I haven’t heard that a Tokyo syndrome would exist, but foreigners do tend to experience some kind of shock when coming or (even more so) moving here. When my boss asked me after the few first weeks in Japan what was my first impression, I hesitated to reply. He helped: “my wife at first said it is grey, don’t you think?”… Here, I must note that he is not Japanese.
True, at first you are overwhelmed by the endless ocean of buildings, put together without any order or special consideration to aesthetic appeal. Busy streets and railways often run right next to the buildings and the later seem squeezed in as randomly as possible. When looking from above, the green areas get lost among hundreds of concrete skyscrapers and indeed, the city looks grey.
If you stay here longer, sooner or later you will experience some kind of cultural shock, e.g. will be frustrated about language barrier, some written or unwritten cultural norms, or address system that does not follow the logic we are used to in the Western world. For that matter, this was what surprised me most. In a country that is crazy about rules and order, buildings are numbered as they are built; thus, do not expect that if you go along the street, you will get to the number you are looking for…
Eventually we do adapt and find our way around, be it in Paris, in Tokyo, or wherever we happen to be. I would be glad to continue discussing the forms of cultural shock one may experience in one country or another, but my plane is about to start boarding. Tokyo is calling.