This post is also available in: Japanese
I was dismayed to find that the Japanese restaurant in the London station I regularly use to eat at before catching my train, or to buy a bento, has started closing at 6pm, and is for takeaways only. A change in fire and safety regulations had caused it to close down for a month, and only reopen in a limited way.
The previous day I ate at another Japanese restaurant, in Slough, a town an hour west of London. It had changed hands since my last visit, and is now run by Filipinos. The staff at the hotel I was staying in mostly seemed to be Filipino too. Five years ago, such hotel staff were usually East European, but now Brexit has ended freedom of movement of labour, we are seeing more and more Asian and African nationals coming to Britain to work.
I was surprised at all these changes – but the man behind the counter at the London Japanese restaurant told me this was not a recent development. This made me realise that I had not visited them as regularly as in the past. I am not travelling so often as much of my training is now online, so people working from home, or in other countries can join the sessions.
As a result, I am busier than I have been for many years, but other British small-medium size enterprises (employing up to 249 people) are facing a tough time at the moment. A recent survey showed their confidence is the lowest it has been since the start of the pandemic. They don’t have the resources, especially after the pandemic, to cope with changes in regulations, labour supply, trade with the EU or rising energy prices.
The UK’s SMEs employ 60% of the British workforce– the same percentage as in Japan. Like Japan, the UK’s SMEs have had various kinds of government support through the pandemic and now for the energy crisis. But the government’s energy bill support will halve after March.
As a consequence of this, and the train strikes, the hospitality and retail sectors are particularly gloomy. The strikes are, I hope, a short term problem, but in the longer term, SMEs are having to rethink their business.
I sense a return to face to face happening – both at work and socially. Companies want staff to meet each other, for morale and team building and people want to socialize. But this might happen outside the big cities, rather than forcing everyone to commute in.
The local authority in my region wants to implement 20 minute neighbourhoods – communities where people can walk to and from – within twenty minutes – shops, restaurants, schools and healthcare. Perhaps the Japanese restaurant in the London station will return to its roots. I first ate there when it started in Brighton, a town an hour south of London. I am sure it will be welcomed back by the increasing numbers of hybrid workers living there.
This article by Pernille Rudlin first appeared in Japanese in the Teikoku Databank News in March 2023
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