This post is also available in: Japanese
I’m writing this in the cafe of the Royal Academy, having just visited the Summer Exhibition. This annual art exhibition is one of the events of the London Season, a summer of parties and events such as the Chelsea Flower Show, the Epsom Derby and the Henley Royal Regatta.
You might expect the Summer Exhibition to be very traditionally British, but this year, to mark the 250th anniversary of the Summer Exhibition, the not very traditional, self-described “transvestite potter” Grayson Perry was asked to curate the exhibition, on a larger, more diverse and inclusive scale than ever before.
Just as in previous years, the members of the Royal Academy – professional artists – exhibit their recent work at the exhibition and non-members are also invited to submit works of art. Perry and his team viewed a record 20, 000 works for selection and as a result the rooms were crammed with all kinds of paintings, sculptures, videos, embroideries and architectural models created by people of many nationalities, including some Japanese artists such as Katsutoshi Yuasa.
It could have been an incoherent mess, but actually I think it succeeded in capturing the UK right now: creative, humorous, political, multicultural, celebrating the amateurish and the outsider, but also the British countryside, cityscapes and people.
Before visiting the exhibition, I attended a lunch at which a British trade minister spoke. He was trying to be positive about Brexit, emphasising that the UK would continue to be a good place to invest because of our excellent research-oriented universities, skilled and creative workforce and stable legal and financial infrastructure. He pointed out that Rakuten and Fujitsu have both invested in UK based fintech and technology initiatives in the past year.
He did not of course mention that manufacturing operations in the automotive supply chain are beginning to shift to the EU. Jaguar Land Rover announced it will move production to Slovakia, which is also where at least one Japanese automotive components supplier with production in the UK has set up a plant in the last year.
Most of the questions from the audience of Japan-related businesspeople were about immigration however. The cap for visas for non-EU immigrants (which includes Japanese intra company transfers) has been reached every month for the past 6 months and EU immigrants have started returning to their home countries or not coming to the UK in the first place.
UK unemployment is at a historic low. One Japanese recruitment agency told me that their UK vacancies have increased 50% year on year. Firms are worried that after Brexit it will become even more difficult to recruit EU and non-EU workers.
One proposed solution, which will take some time, is to train low skilled British people in higher levels of skills and replace low skilled labour with robotics. But as the Summer Exhibition proved, diversity and multicultural influences are what have defined and made the UK an attractive place for innovation in the first place.
The original version of this article can be found in “Shinrai: Japanese Corporate Integrity in a Disintegrating Europe” available as a paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon.
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