Intercultural delusions – Paris syndrome, dating, work, bread
It is my second time in Japan and I am at a point where everything is great. Food, people, safety, everyday convenience. It is easy for me to idealize Japan. We live in a spacious house (Japanese standard applies), we meet friendly and helpful people, we eat out and enjoy ourselves in many of the fun locations of Tokyo. No cubicle work stress either.
On Tuesday night Airbnb – one of our main portals to search for a home on the road – hosted an evening of free booze, food and fun for hosts, guests and their friends at hip IDOL in Tokyo’s Minato district. IDOL is sort of a gallery, a store, a café, hosting special events.
It was pretty crowded with over five hundred people at the event, according to the airbnb host. There was some interactive stuff (like getting your postcards posted, your picture taken, your favourite location in Tokyo pinned to a wall-map) and on another wall people could look at projections of Tokyo’s coolest places. I noticed a lot of pictures that could have been mine – like the most popular Hanami spotsin Tokyo – which was kind of cool.
Location: IDOL, B1F 5-11-9 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
It was an opportunity to meet new people, socialize and live the phrase ‘without borders’.
Tomek inviting friends to the event. Nomihodai at the bar. The line to the drinks was going all the way down into the main hall.
In Japan, when you meet someone, business cards are commonly exchanged, which are given and received with both hands holding the card to show respect. Even if you do not do any work related business it is a way to introduce yourself.
We did meet a bunch of cool people.
The crowd was mostly Japanese hosts or gajin who live and work in Tokyo. While we small talked with many Japanese people, we naturally clicked with other gaijin on a deeper level.
With two gorgeous red heads, Yuko from Tokyo and Andrew from Australia living and working in Tokyo. Yuko looks like a Japanese beauty from the 20s. Japanese girls do know style.
Apart from voicing a rooted fascination for Japan, after many years of everyday life in Tokyo, gaijin experiences seem to mirror a sort of reversed Paris syndrome.
Paris syndrome is actually a medical term to describe various states of disillusionment – most common to Japanese people, who have visited Paris and whose expectations created by Japanese media clash with reality.
Japanese people nurture an idealized image of Paris, stigmatized as the city of romance around here. French writing on clothes and accessories, French phrases and products (made in Japan) and beautifully photoshopped pictures of Paris are a popular sight in Tokyo. This may lead many to believe that Paris is heaven, the lush garden of love and pristine beauty.
Sadly, not all French girls are fashion models, the food is mostly European average fare, service sucks when compared to Japanese waiter-excellence and the idealised Parisian city picture is disturbed by street beggars, crime and trash.
After almost two months of Japanese comfort I must say that modern Europe must be quite shockingly backwards to Japanese people.
All of our Japanese friends who have been abroad mentioned that French and Italian food (include the service) was crap in comparison to Japanese standard at restaurants, which are highly stylized and popularly labelled French or Italian.
To illustrate the dilemma, here is an excerpt of a Japanese-English phrase book, the food section: ‘I think this check is incorrect‘ and ‘What is this charge for?’ are indeed useful in Europe.
‘My glass is dirty‘ and ‘Can you clear the table?’. This was a small survival guidebook with essential phrases for Japanese tourists, I might add.
So what were gajin contemplating about in Tokyo? Let me brainstorm through some deeper (more like typical Western tipsy) conversations last night:
On working in Japan – many do complain about their job, the work around the clock attitude, strict rules to follow, little room for self-expression, no possibility to criticize established work procedures, lack of taking personal responsibility for projects which take long due to work as a group ethic.
On dating in Japan (disclaimer first: this is just what I picked up so far from gaijin singles and mixed couples, therefore not the almighty rule) – I learned that dating moves slower than in Western societies, cultural differences and misunderstandings can be an obstacle (to overcome), such as kissing and hand holding being viewed as an expression of romantic intent or a way to determine compatibility by the Westerner – misinterpreted by the Japanese as a sign of sole physical interest, sort of tedious high school kids dating style, not showing feelings in public, shyness of Japanese individuals, dolled up girls, increased fakeness factor, little spontaneity and passion in relationships, lack of deep conversation, more immaturity and childish behaviour.
If you like, dig deeper into Japan’s erotic culture here.
But hey, what would Japan be without its pink Lolis! Where would I be – just alone on Jingu Bashi bridge functioning as Harajuku’s fashion catwalk.
Interestingly, I have not heard anyone complain about the costs of living nor lament about micro-spaced flats or that the metro stops at around midnight without any alternative night transport (except taxis).
Last train – run!!! This is sort of what it looks like when we are going out, having fun and then trying to board our last chance to get home to Setagaya. We missed our last train only once so far and it was walking around Tokyo up till around 5 am…
Now the bread issue. Bread is where I wrongly generalised my impression of Japanese baked goods as being inferior to European pastries.
My image of Japanese cuisine is that of the culinary world class leader, therefore I was disappointed to mainly find soft white toast or buns filled with cream labelled to be bread at local supermarkets and Japanese convenient stores.
Don’t get me wrong, those snacks are delish but not the kind of crusty base I was looking for to spread my butter and jam on.
Turns out, I was looking in the wrong places – considering the fantastic baking fare we get from Japanese bakeries these days – most have French names… By now French know-how has turned Japan into the master of bread and baking products.
Our favourite bakery in Setagaya, near our house. French name, bien sûr.
Location: Boulangerie La vie Exquise, 5-32-7 Funabashi, Setagaya-ku
Delicious bread samples from our Japanese friend Saori who (probably fed up by me lamenting) has been to the fancy Maison Kayser bakery (with French background). They have got many branches in Tokyo, you can see all of them here http://www.maisonkayser.co.jp/3.shop.html.
The long bun is awesome chestnut bread from La vie Exquise. The smaller fig bun, apple-walnuts-honey bun and white chocolate-cinnamon-nut bun is from Maison Kayser.
I am relieved that Japan knows how to do delish variations of German Mehrkornpumpernikelvollschrotbrot – I think I can stay for good now.
So there you have it. My intercultural experiences in Japan.
And I am learning…. coming up next is Japanese Ikebana and the secrets to longevity.