Japanese love of all things French endures

25th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

TOKYO, March 25 (AFP) - Whatever the political weather, Japan's love affair for things French has endured with the Japanese seeing France as a source of luxury bags, fine wine and, for some, a proxy for opposition to America.

TOKYO, March 25 (AFP) - Whatever the political weather, Japan's love affair for things French has endured with the Japanese seeing France as a source of luxury bags, fine wine and, for some, a proxy for opposition to America.

The Japanese were angry in 1991 when then French prime minister Edith Cresson said they lived "like ants". France's 1995 nuclear tests in the South Pacific triggered a boycott of French goods in the world's only nation subjected to an atomic bomb.

But in both cases the antipathy quickly sank into oblivion and when French President Jacques Chirac arrives in Japan Saturday for an official visit, he will see signs of his country's march through the Japanese consumer market.

"France has a fashionable image," said Hitomi Nakashima, a 20-year-old student emerging from the world's largest Chanel boutique in Tokyo's glitzy Ginza shopping district. "I also feel a sense of luxury in France."

She pays no heed to irritants in political relations such as a plan championed by France to end the European Union embargo on selling arms to China or a dispute over whether France or Japan should host a multibillion-dollar experimental nuclear project.

Mieko Okamichi, strolling at the store of another ever-popular French luxury mark, Louis Vuitton, said she liked France all the more because of its politics.

"It's good to have somebody who can say 'no'" to the United States, said the 56-year-old public servant, who regretted Japan's support for the US-led war in Iraq.

"French people seem to have high pride in themselves and their rebuttal (of others) makes me feel good," said Okamichi, who does not know any French people personally.

The images of Paris which enter Japan are filtered through magazines, designer labels, music or other cultural assets, said Japanese psychiatrist Hiroaki Ota.

This can lead to cultural shock and disillusion among Japanese when they actually visit the city, said Ota, who has written a book on the phenomenon he calls the "Paris syndrome".

Jun Fujiwara, a Japanese woman who has lived in France for seven years, said, "In Japan, we are so used to getting what we want without pressing.

"In France, you always have to ask and be vocal and when you can't manage to be vocal you no longer exist."

Ota said that of the 500 to 600 cases of the syndrome he had seen in 20 years, most were women in their 30s who "have information that is very superficial" about France.

Psychoanalysis expert Shu Kishida said the Japanese had "a big illusion about France, believing it has an advanced, sophisticated culture and excels in arts."

Japan opened up from isolation in the 19th century and rapidly modernized amid the shock of seeing the rest of the world, leading to feelings of both adoration and antipathy, he said.

"People pushed ahead with modernisation in admiration of the West. On the other hand, they had to abide by Western standards, which are different from traditional Japanese norms," Kishida said.

The gravitation toward France rather than other Western countries can be explained by the history of Japan, which fought against Russia in the early 20th century, Germany in World War I and the United States in World War Two, he said.

France also "satisfies a Japanese mentality against America," which dropped atomic bombs to flatten Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the final days of World War II and is now Japan's closest ally, Kishida said.

"France, whose population and economy are smaller than Japan, does not yield to America, drawing some sense of respect from Japanese people," he said.

Major novelist Naoya Shiga went so far as to propose Japan adopt French as its national language in April 1946, less than a year after Japan's surrender.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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