Covid-19 May / June 2020

Stoic under stress

Despite pain, Japan expats in UK adopt stiff upper lip and cheer NHS spirit

Japanese nationals under lockdown in towns and cities across the UK have adopted the stiff upper lip of their hosts as Britain waits out the coronavirus crisis.

There were more than 60,600 Japanese regis­tered as living in Britain before the first corona­virus cases were reported in late January, according to the latest figures from the Embassy of Japan in the UK. Some returned to Japan before the intro­duction on 23 March of a broad lock­down that banned all non-essential travel and contact with other people, but plenty opted to tough it out.

Two months later, those who stayed behind admit that the restrictions have been like none they have ever experienced. The coronavirus has clearly been a health concern in its own right, but the impact of Covid-19 on businesses, day-to-day life and children’s education has been far reaching.

And they are aware that they are not out of the woods yet, even as the UK embarks on a phased exit.

Kazufumi Kurosawa with his family in Acton, West London

Life under lockdown

“I’m lucky because I work from home, but only two regular patients are still coming for treatment, once a week each,” said Kazufumi Kurosawa, an acupuncturist and shiatsu practitioner. He is originally from Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, but has lived in Britain for 21 years.

“Other than that, I’m not working at all,” he told ACUMEN from his home in Acton, West London. “I have been staying home with my English wife, Claire, and our three children, cooking, watching television together, doing a bit of housework and going to the park once a day with the children to get some exercise”.

The biggest concern, 56-year-old Kurosawa said, is “not being able to work, not being able to make money like usual and simply worrying about running out of cash if the lockdown continues for a long time”.

The other big headache has been shopping, as a lot of shops have closed and there are often long queues at the supermarkets that are open. That, in turn, makes it quite difficult to keep two metres from other shoppers, he said. “And some people don’t even bother trying”.

Kurosawa said he agrees with the implementa­tion of the lockdown, but believes it probably came too late and that the sudden U-turn from plotting to get through the crisis with a strategy of herd immunity to full lockdown over the course of a weekend caused confusion.

“It made a lot of people go out and panic buy, and that has affected businesses badly,” he said.

Everything has changed

Ayako Nishino is a Japanese expatriate whose husband was posted to London three years ago. She said “everything has changed” in the past couple of months. “The hardest thing is not knowing—and nobody knows—how long this thing will last”.

Nishino, who is originally from Saitama Prefecture, said the introduction of the lockdown was “the most effective” recourse open to the government to try to halt the spread of the virus. But the constant routine of household chores and making meals three times a day for her family has begun to grate. “It’s making me a bit annoyed,” she said.

Kazuko Martin, who is married to an Irish national and has two children, said her life has become “much busier” since lockdown, and admits that she has “put on lots of weight”.

“All my time is just dedicated to kids’ home learning and chores, so I have no time for myself,” said the 47-year-old who is originally from Tokyo. “It has been much busier than in the normal days before lockdown.

“I would have loved to be able to go back to Japan before the lockdown was introduced, but we didn’t have anywhere to stay long-term,” she said. “If we had our own house, we would definitely have gone back to Tokyo, as I would rather be having a difficult time in my own country”.

Britain is home

Noriko Brewster, however, said she never contem­plated leaving the UK as the coronavirus took hold “because, after 20 years, my life is here now”.

Managing director of Bognor Regis-based MD10 Ltd., which provides professional dog shampoos, Brewster said she has lost business as a result of the lockdown and misses meeting friends and clients at dog shows around the UK. But, she added, at least her earlier fears that there would be food shortages have not been realised.

Noriko Brewster never contem­plated leaving the UK after the virus hit.

“I would say that I have been a little worried, as I suffer from asthma, but there has been little hardship on the physical side of life under lock­down,” she said. “In fact, our life under lock­down is not hard at all, as we have food and a roof over our heads. It’s hard for people who are working for the National Health Service.

“And I do not expect the lockdown to be lifted soon,” she continued. At least not quickly or fully. “I do not think that it is a good idea to do this thing half-heartedly. You have to do it properly or it will not be effective”.

Worker support

Brewster has been following developments with the coronavirus in her homeland and said she has been disappointed by the lack of support that healthcare staff have received from the general public.

“I feel that doctors and health workers should be appreciated more by the public, just like they are here in the UK,” she said. “What I am reading in the news is that the Japanese public seems to be complaining quite a lot”.

She expressed her admiration for former NHS workers who had heeded the government’s calls for them to volunteer to return to hospitals as the crisis deepened. “I think that is a real British strength”.

She added: “The most important thing right now is to unite worldwide, to help each other with ideas and information and to fight against this virus. This is no time to fight over silly things. Everyone has to work towards the goal of defeating the virus”.

Firm impact

Japanese firms with offices and manufacturing facilities in the UK have also felt the impact of the lockdown, although some are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. has announced that it will resume phased production in early June at its Sunderland factory, the biggest car plant in the country and where nearly 350,000 vehicles rolled off the lines last year.

Operations at the plant were suspended on 17 March, although a pilot programme involving about 50 staff to examine safety measures at the facility commenced in late April.

Hitachi Rail Limited only had one Japanese member of staff working at its Newton Aycliffe factory when the pandemic struck, and he requ­ested to be permitted to return to Japan in February, said Nina Harding, a spokesperson for the firm.

The factory and the depots have at no point halted operations, although they have been working with a much-reduced team during the restrictions, she said.

“Everybody who can work from home has been asked to do that, and in our train-maintenance centres and factory we have implemented social distancing controls to ensure that we can continue to deliver for our customers”.