For many Japanese, Britain has long been something of a western mirror and model nation, a land whose geographical and cultural character were recognisable and achievements often admirable: a doppelganger off the coast of another continent and equally rich with tradition, history and parochial pride. At least, until Brexit.
Only three months after the June 2016 EU referendum, the Japanese government voiced its displeasure over Britain’s choice in unusually un-Japanese language. A 15-page memorandum issued in September 2016 by the otherwise soft-spoken ministry of foreign affairs “strongly requests” that the UK consider the facts: Japan invests a lot of money and employs a lot of workers in the UK, but Japanese businesses can’t and won’t stay in the UK if it exits the EU without the single passport and sustained immigration. In other words: with no deal.
Three years later, Japan is still pleading the case. This June, the foreign minister, Taro Kono, said that he bluntly told Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt: “’Please no no deal. Please no no-deal Brexit.’”
Since then, Johnson has made a no-deal Brexit seem like a no-brainer – a fait accompli for Brexit cheerleaders.
“I think most Japanese look at Britain today with disbelief, shock and horror,” Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Tokyo’s Sophia University told me recently. “There are quite a few of us who are Anglophiles, but the Britain a lot of Japanese came to like and admire is open, cosmopolitan and increasingly integrated in Europe. The fact that Britain is inflicting on itself tremendous economic damage for what seems like a very un-British extremist ideology is astounding.”
Seen from the relatively stable shores of Japan, its western mirror image is not only cracking up – it’s no longer recognizably British.
• Roland Kelts is a Japanese-American writer and author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US. He lives in Tokyo.