The morning news featured Yochi Matsuzoe’s last writhings before being politically decapitated as Mayor of metropolitan Tokyo. The evening news announced the Brexit result. Unusually generous for this right-wing newspaper, the Sankei Shimbun was distributed free, outside Shinjuku Station with 5 inch headlines “BREXIT! UK quits the EU!”
“What are the English thinking?” my taxi driver scratched his head. The Japanese continue to scratch their heads over Brexit, if rarely admitting that the implications are fearful and alarming. Those fears were articulated by Lebanese-Brazilian immigrant Carlos Ghosn, Chairman of Nissan, who declared that UK membership of the EU: “makes most sense [for] jobs, trade and costs …because the condition of stability is preferable and more rational than a collection of unknowns.” Britain took a leap into a dark pit without weighing the risks – or even a miner’s torch and canary.
Thirty-five percent of Japanese financial companies’ non-yen earnings are dealt with in London. The commercial sectors in Tokyo and Osaka are blunt about the “dislocation”, averring: “London is a financial centre, not commercial or industrial. Sure, it will have implications.” The view in the financial Marunouchi district is that Brexit endangers a safe-haven for Japanese companies; 1000 Japanese companies in Britain will lose access to the European market, and they set up shop in the UK primarily for that link.
The Japanese know full well the perils of disengagement when you’re angry and desperate and feel imperilled by ‘foreigners.’ Japan’s acute self-awareness post-World War II involves a suspicion of themselves: for nativism, racism, the island mentality. In the same month as Brexit, a new law on the banning of ‘Hate Speech’ was passed in the Diet – to discourage recent xenophobic demonstrations in inner-city Korean neighbourhoods in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Disengagement is not in Japan’s mind and interest. Not at all. East Asia is a region of increasing openness, transcultural flows and culturally oriented commodity trade. Japanese TV programmes are watched in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand; Baby Metal and AKB48 spin-offs do their stuff in Jakarta, Pusan and Taipei. Ramen-sushi-obento, theatre, art and fashion shows, anime, comics, and consumer lifestyle opportunities all signal an increasing embrace of cultural diversification. Japan wants in!
Regional alliances and formations are not permanent geographical facts, said cultural theorist Arjun Appadurai, but rather themes and cultural flows that generate geographies. This makes sense to Japan as it diversifies into East Asia. The disappointment and puzzlement continues over what Japan views, almost universally, as British petulance and misjudgment.
Part of our Culture Crunch: Brexit edition – global perspectives on Brexit from our partners across the globe.