Paris Syndrome, Japanese Tourists, and Modern Journalism

June 13, 2011

There is news going around that seems to reference a 5 year old BBC article that calls up 20 year old research and has been recycled into an article on the internet that points out that nearly a dozen (nearly a dozen! That could be 10 whole people or more!) Japanese citizens are treated for stress after finding Paris to be different from their expectations. For the record, I have also seen articles that talk about as many as twenty (out of the teens!) people needing help.

The “sickness” is referred to as Paris Syndrome and was first described by a Japanese psychiatrist working in France. I am sure he was not just doing it to drum up business or get some papers published.

Some thoughts on this latest hot news story:

  • Most of the current articles circulating refer to Paris Syndrome as having been identified “20 years ago”. This is a good indicator that people are referring to the BBC news article from 2006. I say this because Hiroaki Ota first reportedly identified the “syndrome” in 1986… 25 years ago.
  • This is more of the pop-Japanology silliness that pervades modern journalism and even academia these days. I wonder if it would hurt the credibility of a journal to publish something true but contrary to the mistaken preconceptions about Japan that pass for common knowledge. Those Japanese tourists… man their country is so clean and everyone is so polite that when they get to a place like Paris, raw, they just have these little breakdowns.
  • Although the articles are specific enough to refer to numbers of people effected and even specify that women in their 20s seem to be the most susceptible, I have not come across any real research into the matter. Difficult finding an adequate sample size, considering it would take almost 10 years to get 100 people who’ve experienced the syndrome?

I know people who have been places that weren’t what they expected. They had a terrible time, reported it to the travel company, and it even affected some of their time after getting back. It also is tiring to be in a place where you don’t speak the language. There is plenty to be stressed out about when traveling to a new country without also being disappointed by the food, service, or sightseeing.

I have a highly uneducated opinion that “Paris Syndrome” may be no more than a case of a very small number of people hating Paris or having some negative or stressful experiences there and wanting to talk to someone about it, or complaining to the consulate who referred them to a psychiatrist who spoke their language and was located in Paris.

Traveling can be stressful. I am surprised it’s such a small number of people that want a little emotional counseling after traveling abroad. Sometimes I feel like I need someone to talk to after eating at Yoshinoya!

The article that set me on this train of thought can be found here in the USA Today travel section.


1 Wu Ming June 19, 2011 at 12:05 pm

In the early 1990s I had a British newspaper article about Japanese with “Paris Syndrome” on my refrigerator in Paris, so I know that the info is old. I’m getting pretty bored with all the people sending this around the net as if it’s new.

2 jay@newzjapan July 19, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Wu Ming – Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I apologize for getting to it.

Yeah, as I get older and start paying more attention to the news, the recycling of stories and the impudence of some of the media bores me too. Thankfully as the world gets more open and communicative, we can learn more about each other and are less vulnerable to the power the media holds over what we know or can find out.