More 仏国/日本 (France/Japan) Similarities

Back when I lived in Strasbourg, I wrote this article about similarities I saw between Japan and France - the two foreign countries where I've lived with a homestay family. In the many months since then, I have continued to see interesting similarities between the two countries, though unfortunately I failed to write many of them down. Here, however, are a few more I've thought of:

The Japanese and French are particular about having homegrown food. Many developed nations have subsidies supporting their own domestic agriculture, but Japan and France seem to be (or were) a cut above the rest. Things may have changed a lot in the last several years in terms of agricultural policy, but even so, the French and Japanese are still especially proud of their homegrown products: Wine and cheese in France and rice and beef in Japan are just the most famous examples.

Both the Japanese and French have love/hate relationships with Paris. The history of France is in some ways the history of Paris - or rather, the history of Paris conquering and assimilating the surrounding regions, creating what we know of as France. The city and its metropolitan region dwarf any other city (or cities) in France, and it is undeniably the country's center of art, transport, trade and power. Understandably, this creates love/hate relationships between some non-Parisian French and the elephant in their room of a country.

The Japanese perspective is quite different: Paris is the world's most visited city, and the Japanese are some of the world's most well-travelled tourists. Along with that status as world's most-visited, Paris has a global reputation as the city of arts, lights and love, and the Japanese are well acquainted with this. However, Japanese people have their own perspective on what constitutes splendor and civilization, so apparently there is a phenomenon known as "Paris Syndrome" where Japanese visitors are shocked by the city's violation of their sensibilities and failure to live up to their expectations. (Watch this clip from the British show QI about it.)

France and Japan have historically had highly persecuted castes or social minorities that few outsiders know about. I only discovered last summer that western France used to have groups known as cagots who were widely discriminated against in the Middle Ages and even into the 19th and 20th centuries. Back during  my freshman year at Georgetown, we read a book in one of my classes called The Broken Commandment, which deals with the burakumin, people who were considered unclean and impure because of their occupations, very similarly to the cagots. As with the cagots, the burakumin occupy mostly the western part of the country, and discrimination against them lasted even into the 20th century. Today in Japan there are still isolated and recognizable burakumin communities.

Both countries were bullies in Southeast Asia, and had failed settler colonies closer to home. Thailand was threatened, bullied and in part conquered by France and then Japan. France conquered several territories in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that had been a part of or claimed by the Kingdom of Siam, later Thailand, and the French fought quite a few wars with the Thai, the last in 1941. While Thailand had much better relations with Japan over its history, Japan actually fully invaded Thailand and occupied it during World War II. Vietnam, of course, had a long and bloody history of French colonization and fighting to be free of it, but again during World War II, the Japanese invaded the country and the Vietnamese fought against that occupier as well.

Mostly one thinks of colonies as distant places, far from the colonizing country. Japan and France, however, also had colonies that were pretty close to home - Korea for one, Algeria for the other. Both these places were a short distance across the sea, and experienced intense settler colonization before making dramatic breaks with their colonial rulers. Most similarities may end there, however, as the circumstances of Korean and Algerian independence were very very different.

North Korea, South Korea, and Algeria's flags
That ends my comparisons for the day! Let me know what you think, and be sure to read this article's predecessor as well.

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