Moving forward, not backwards  

Monday, 31 December 2007

I have just returned from Japan from a short trip over the Christmas period. Having spent nearly all of it in bed with flu, it wasn't exactly the best trip I've ever done, but it certainly provided plenty of food for thought in terms of our plans for 2008.

Apart from the obvious reason for travelling, spending time with the family, I wanted to return to Japan with the benefit of a couple of year's "cooling-off" since my last visit to guage how I felt about moving there permanently. Visiting any country recreationally - particularly one that is quite different culturally - I think always inspires thoughts of whether we could actually live there or not. I think relocating abroad is probably something that most people consider at least once. Especially as the UK continues to come apart at the seams. But doing it for real is quite a different matter. For me personally it's a big decision, and I wanted to go there again and look at the place dispassionately and obectively.

Upon landing at Narita, I was immediately struck by the difference between Japan and the UK. And I'm not talking about the obvious ones of language and culture. What I'm talking about is the fact that Narita - like Japan generally - is clean, modern and efficient. Border officials are courteous and prompt. Everything is organised properly and even though border controls are much tighter than they have ever been (they now scan your fingerprints and take the picture of every foriegn national entering the country)the whole process is so effortlessly efficient that it caused no delay at all. Contrast this with the procedure at Heathrow: No fingerprint scan or picture, yet the queue for even UK passports stretched from one side of the hall to the other. Surly-faced, scruffy officials of non-British ethnic descent viewed everyone with suspicion. Passports snatched out of hands and grubbed through roughly with no respect for either the individual or the document. I think most of what you need to know about the differences between Japan and UK are expressed within that comparision.

My overwhelming feeling when arriving in Japan is still one of relief - a feeling of homecoming. I used to feel indignation when the wife referred to the UK as a "backward country". But I can see her point even more clearly now than a couple of years ago, and she is absolutely right. While countries like Japan move forward, the UK is moving backward at an alarming rate. Like a faded poster of Big Ben covering a fetid patch of mouldy wall, we continue to cling onto this idea of our historic importance in the world with increasing desperation, hoping against hope that nobody will spot the rot underneath. Unfortunately, the game is up: The world knows the truth about the UK, and I for one am quite happy to disassociate myself with the grubby, confused and laughable parody of itself that the UK has become.

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