In the fall of 2006, several US and UK newspapers ran stories concerning psychological breakdowns experienced by Japanese citizens traveling in Paris, France. In an average of a dozen cases a year, Japanese travelers would undergo extreme depression and cultural rejection, sometimes culminating in hallucinations and traumatic shock. The most extreme cases were repatriated permanently to Japan. According to these articles, it was Professor Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist living in France, who was the first to identify this condition as “Paris Syndrome.”

Journalists located the syndrome’s origins in the cultural differences between France and Japan. Japanese travelers often held idealistic views of Paris, mostly concerning culturally specific expectations of service industry customs, societal manners, and urban hygiene. When Paris did not live up to these expectations, a small group of travelers would descend into depression. Often, depression turned into psychosis, and lead to medical treatment. The cultural shock has been so regular that, as reported by the BBC, the Japanese embassy in Japan created a 24-hour hotline for those suffering from the syndrome.

Paris Syndrome is a short, cinematic essay analyzing the cultural implications of travel-related mental illnesses. The project places the syndrome within an ongoing history of cross-cultural relations; the emergence of a global tourist industry; and the creation of psychiatric schools of thought devoted to inter-cultural relations. In addition to the Parisian illness, Paris Syndrome also looks at a number of related issues: Stendhal Syndrome, an ailment experienced by traveling viewers of art (identified in Florence, Italy); the history of psychiatric portraiture; 19th-century mad travelers; and the changes in travel-related mental illnesses throughout history.

For more information: johnmenick.com/projects/paris-syndrome

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