This is a guest post by David Billa of Ogijima.
French people love Japan and Japanese people love France. Or at least, the younger generations do.
Photo by sogni_hal
Both young French and Japanese people love each other’s countries, but it’s all a big misunderstanding.
See, young Japanese people (and by ‘people’ I mean ‘women’) are enamored with France, except that the France they’re in love with exists only in their dreams. It’s a France where Marie-Antoinette is the most revered woman of the nation. A France where everybody is rich, beautiful, polite and romantic. A France that is reduced to Paris, and not even all of Paris, just two neighborhoods of the city. The Champs-Elysées, where the Louis Vuitton store is, and the Opéra Garnier area, mostly because of the Galeries Lafayette. They think this is where all French people shop (they don’t; only tourists do).
Similarly, young French people (and by ‘people’ I mean ‘men’) are obsessed with Japan, but for very different reasons. They think that Japanese girls always wear sexy and outlandish outfits and that they’re so pretty with those very big eyes. And guys? They carry huge swords, have tons of special powers, and always look so cool with their capes and long hair floating in the wind. Oh, and did I mention those giant robots?
Should I underline that everything young French people know about Japan, they’ve learned in manga (France is the second biggest market in the world for manga)? Definitely the best source to learn about Japanese culture, isn’t it?
Of course, French people too reduce the whole country into two neighborhoods — Tōkyō’s Harajuku and Akihabara.
And if you say to any of them (both French and Japanese) that there are whole countries extending beyond the Galeries Lafayette or Taleshita-dori; either they won’t believe you, or they will tell you that they don’t care about cows.
Yet, when Japanese women move to France and French men move to Japan, the expected major culture shock turning these people into complete wrecks rarely happens. You may have heard about the Paris syndrome, but it touches only a handful of people a year. I’m sure those people where not too psychologically stable in the first place.
Why is that?
Because, surprisingly, and despite all of their differences, France and Japan are curiously similar. The first time I went to Japan, I expected the biggest culture shock in my life, as if I landed on a different planet or something along those lines. However, despite the many cultural differences, I found a few key similarities that made me realize that French and Japanese people were not that different after all.
Here are a few of them
I always thought the French were the people for whom food mattered the most on Earth. That was before I meet Japanese people. Of all the many countries I’ve been to, Japan is the only one where I feel that the locals understand me when it comes to food. I’m actually afraid that some may think that I don’t care enough about food.
One of the things I hate the most when I travel to certain countries *cough* Anglophone countries *cough* is how uninteresting food is, how underdeveloped people’s taste buds are and how eating seems like a waste of time to some.
I know none of that will ever happen in Japan, and just that can ease any culture shock.
Tradition and modernity
Before going, I always heard how Japan was so special in the fact that it wasa country where ‘tradition and modernity cohabit seamlessly.’
Once there, I looked, but I just couldn’t find what was special about that. Sure, there’s advanced technology and extremely old temples next to each other. Just like in France then. France is pretty much as technologically advanced as Japan, and 400 year-old houses and 1,000 year-old churches are so common that nobody really pays attention to them.
Japanese people are said to be very religious and so are the French. Truth is that neither of them really is. Sure, Japanese people go to temples as often as they can, and France, despite being a secular country, still bases most of its bank holidays on the liturgical calendar. Yet, in both cases, religion is really just part of tradition, of history. It’s not a dogma, barely a belief, just a habit.
Capital city vs. rest of the country
Whether I go to Tōkyō or Paris, people are quite the same—too busy to care, not very nice, definitely full of themselves at times.
In Japanese and French small towns, however, people are more relaxed, friendlier, and care mostly about the good things in life, not the vain and superficial ones.
I’m sure the list could go on and on. I’m also aware that some of these traits are not purely French or Japanese but simply universal.
I guess this is the important part here, despite the differences in cultures, people are people and when you experience some sort of culture shock in Japan or anywhere else, try to think about the things that bring both cultures closer. It may help.