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An Uncertain Future? Working in Japan and Brexit

What are the knock-on effects for U.K. citizens currently based in Japan?

By 4 min read

Recent political events have served to remind me of an argument I had with someone at work here in Osaka a couple of years ago. The issue was one of national identity.

As we prepared to have our annual Osaka City English Day event, I was rather dismayed to see that my country, Scotland, had been omitted from the list of represented nations. The U.K. was there, but its constituent nations of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland were not. When I raised this issue, one rather outspoken colleague told me, in the tone with which an overbearing parent speaks to a petulant child: “Your passport says ‘British’ so you are British! Deal with it!”

Our Japanese manager seemed stunned that such perceived trivialities were even an issue for two educated adults.

It’s perhaps difficult to understand for those not born into it, but for a number of both political and personal reasons, I have always identified as a Scottish European. The idea of a “Great Britain”, with its false notions of supremacy and historic human rights abuses isn’t exactly compatible with my ideals of being part of an inclusive Europe built on equality and mutual respect.

“On the contrary,” I responded. “While the issuing authority may be the U.K. Passport Agency, my passport is a European Union passport — as it clearly says at the top.”

Angry though we both were, this was, ultimately, an argument of simple semantics and neither of us was clearly right or wrong. In the end, Scotland was given its own place at the event the following year.

Now, this little pre-amble may seem somewhat off topic, however in light of recent events I feel it is important to make my own position clear, for the sake of balance and fairness.

I refer, of course, to Britain’s decision to leave the EU, which was decided by a clear majority in a referendum last month. Even if I do think it’s a form of socio-economic seppuku, the will of the people will, I am sure, be respected and in due course the UK, or perhaps what’s left of it in a few years, will indeed leave the European Union. As indeed it should given the clear democratic mandate.

Suddenly, my little spat with my colleague about the origins of my passport took on a whole new dimension. In the fullness of time, he may be right and my EU passport could be superseded one from the U.K.

The crucial question is:

First off, as both the U.K. and Japanese governments have been keen to point out, nothing at all will change for at least two years.

As an official at the U.K. embassy in Tokyo told me directly this week: “For the time being, the U.K. remains very much an active member of the EU. Even once the process of leaving the EU (invoking Article 50 of the EU statutes) begins, it will be at least another two years before this process is formally completed. During this time, nothing changes and all current visas remain as they are for any U.K. nationals coming into Japan.”

So, there’s no need to panic people, at least not for another two years.

And with nobody in the U.K. government looking especially keen to pull the proverbial trigger at the moment, perhaps “Brexit” may take considerably longer. My source at the embassy elaborated further: “Whilst the Japanese government will decide the exact nature of their relationship with the U.K. once we leave the EU, we do not envisage any major material changes in how our two countries continue to cooperate with each other.”

Indeed, the U.K. ambassador to Japan, Tim Hitchens, in stark contrast to many of his parliamentary colleagues back in Westminster, has been very quick to step forward and reassure both the Japanese government and business community that the U.K. remains keen to build upon the present relationship.

Again, my source was keen to emphasize this point: “The U.K. remains very much open for business and we continue to welcome all Japanese visitors, students and investors.

This is something that we all strongly want to see continue long into the future.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said before the referendum vote that he would prefer the U.K. remained in the EU, echoing the sentiments of U.S. President Barack Obama. His position was also supported by most leaders in the Japanese business community. However, now that it’s done, there may actually be a few bright spots for the Japanese, especially for tourists.

With the value of the pound seemingly in free fall and showing little sign of recovering anytime soon, there probably hasn’t been a better time to holiday in the U.K. This is, of course, not only of benefit to Japanese tourists but also those employed in Japan such as teachers like myself who may wish to go back for the Christmas holidays.

So, in summary, if you are British and living in Japan — don’t panic.

As Simon Pegg once said, it might be a good idea to: “Head down the pub, have a pint and wait for this all to blow over.” And if you’re Japanese and interested in the U.K., go book yourself a holiday now before the pound recovers!

  • Beth says:

    Erm… since the U.K. was there, at the English Day event which includes it’s constituent nations ( currently including Scotland ) then wasn’t your country already there too? Perhaps this reveals that in your mind you’re already thinking ( like a lot of your countrymen and countrywomen ) that Scotland is not included in the U.K. ? Yep. You have to deal with it …at least for the time being.
    I doubt that British in Japan are panicking. It’seems to be the least panic prone place to live in the world,

    • Liam Carrigan says:

      Beth, thanks for commenting. Now if i may address your point. With all due respect, Scotland is a different country. The UK itself is a union of 4 countries. How much longer that union lasts is a debate for another time. The UK it could be argued as a member of the UN is the state to which Scotland belongs, but as I said in the article this is an issue of semantics. I think we’ll just have to accept that we have differing views on that one.
      I and a great many others in Scotland, Wales and NI have not and never will identify as British. This is not an issue of simple politics or national pride but one of personal identity.
      You are free to decide if you wish to identify yourself as British, English or wherever it is you identify with. All i ask is that I and other Scots like me be afforded that same respect.
      So, respectfully, I will not just “deal with it” when I deem necessary I will point out respectfully to my colleagues that I am not British. The vast majority of them have no problem with that and in fact seem interested to know more.

  • John Dunsmore says:

    Liam, Totally agree, in my broken Japanese trying to explain that i was from Paisley in Scotland really only brought on the reply “your english”.. Until i kind of drew the UK on a napkin and pointed out what countries actually exist in the UK.. Im back over in Osaka next month and totally expect the same thing too! Here’s hoping the ¥ comes back down.. ¥1000 was about £5.20 last year.. now its £7.20+
    Who cares tho.. I’m going to enjoy myself anyhow!

    • Liam Carrigan says:

      Ive had similar issues, especially trying to explain to friends where Glasgow is.
      I usually find that once you tell Osakans that Glasgow is like Osaka and Kyoto is like Edinburgh they seem to get it 🙂

  • AConcernedCitizen says:

    Well to be fair I’ve never met a Japanese who understands what the UK actually is, they just know England, Scotland etc and look initially baffled then suspicious when I try to explain to them the arrangements. I’m afraid I too would have had to (politely) ask you to at aside your burning national pride for the day for the sake of their education. I have no idea what they get taught in their geography classes but it seems to be about as good as their ones for English…

    • Liam Carrigan says:

      Thanks for commenting. If i could refer you to my comment above. The issue was not one of national pride, but of personal identity. Thankfully my boss was accomodating and the students were able to enjoy an aspect of Scottish/British culture that otherwise would have been denied them. It is complicated, but diversity is, i believe never a bad thing, especially in a place so lacking in cultural diversity as Japan.

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