Saturday, 30 October 2010

Croissants and Kimonos

When you think about France and in particular Paris, it conjures up a whole range of mental images usually associated with food, wine, fashion, art or architecture. We certainly loved experiencing as many of these things as possible while we were there. However, it seems that nowhere in the world is French culture regarded in such high esteem as here in Japan. All things French are unquestioningly placed on a pedestal and held up as the pinnacle of sophistication. Many fashion arcades are dedicated to the giants of French couture, while lesser local clothes shops simply brand their establishments in French in order to suggest their stylistic credentials. When walking through a food area you are hard pressed not to come across a patisserie or boulangerie, complete with a catchy French title (often spelt incorrectly). If you peer through the windows you see high-hatted bakers producing delicate pastries and crunchy French sticks that could be straight from the streets of Paris. Similarly, the local liqueur stores proudly boast a wide selection of wines from major wine regions such as Champagne, Provence and Bordeaux (highly recommended). There also seems to be an endless number of homeware stores encouraging the Japanese to switch to the French provincial style. Of course the major galleries here heavily promote their French collections of paintings, even if they seem to consist of lesser known works. If you want a souvenir of Paris itself, why go there, when you can easily pick up a fridge magnet, postcard or even a replica Eiffel Tower! Possibly the strangest thing we came across was in Kobe, where we found a complete full size replica of an old style French village on a busy city corner. The facade not only came with traditional windows and signage, but in a dedicated attempt for authenticity, it had been artificially aged with faded paintwork and chipping plaster. The old style French oil lamps further sought to complete an illusion that was never really going to work, as numerous high-rise buildings tower over the scene. Jules and I, are constantly amazed with this strange fascination and always looking for further evidence of ‘Japanese-Francophilia’.

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