Scottish Independence: The View from Japan

I am definitely somewhat late in adding my voice to the online discussion of Scottish independence. However, since I promised to write about it, and since the referendum was a really big moment for me despite being so far from home, I’m going to go ahead and write this anyway.

One major surprise to me as soon as I arrived here in early September was just how much attention the referendum was getting. Almost every news programme I saw touched on it at some point, and I don’t think there was a single person I met who, when I introduced myself as Scottish, didn’t immediately ask about it.

Things got even more interesting at KGU, when constant 自己紹介 (self-introductions) were met with a variety of responses from my teachers and fellow students. While my thoughts up until then had been focused almost completely on the meaning of independence just for Scotland and the rest of the UK, it soon became clear to me that the debate had caught the attention of people all round the world. Overwhelming, people were supportive of a yes vote and assumed I would be too. As I hadn’t actually made up my mind yet this led to a little awkward squirming, but I still appreciated the sentiment of people wishing Scotland luck. It was also a great way to learn new vocab, although I may have tested the patience of a few people with my prolonged struggles to explain the situation! Still, realising how important it is to have the right words with which to express yourself felt like a real learning experience, and one which highlighted to me how much more motivation you have when there’s no other way to make yourself understood. Back in Edinburgh, I may not have had much motivation to learn words such as ‘independence’ and ‘referendum’, but I doubt now that I’ll ever forget them!

As for what I voted, I don’t think this blog is the place for me to say. What I will say, however, is if you’re ever in the position of needing to vote from abroad, apply for a proxy rather than a postal vote. For some reason I was told to get a postal vote, but since it turned out that all the post offices in Nishinomiya are closed on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, I highly doubt the ballot paper I sent on the morning of Tuesday the 16th reached Edinburgh in time to be counted.

Along with teaching me a little about Japan’s postal system, the time around the referendum also taught me a valuable lesson about not becoming too immersed in news from back home. Although I’m definitely not prone to homesickness, if I had somehow had the chance to be back in Scotland for just the night of the 18th I would have jumped at it. Perhaps it would have been better if there had been someone else who was equally interested in the news who I could talk to, but in any case, reading friends’ accounts of the atmosphere in Scotland once the result had become clear was simply depressing and definitely made me lose motivation to do things like practise Japanese and explore Nishinomiya. While there’s no way I wouldn’t have followed the news during such an important time, I definitely need to be careful in the future not to get totally wrapped up in things going on outside my life here. The UK General Election next year is going to be a challenge!

As for how the impact was felt in Japan, it seems that not many people followed the news right up till the result! Many people I meet say with great excitement something along the lines of, “Oh, you’re from Scotland! You’re independent now, aren’t you?”. While it’s mostly just quite amusing, I also get the feeling that I’m disappointing people when I tell them we’re not. Still, there have been some excellent responses from those who did pay attention – my favourite being the response of one of my Japanese teachers, who said in the most serious, emphatic way, 「お疲れさまでした」- a phrase often said at the end of a day’s work which is usually translated as ‘Thank you for your hard work’ or sometimes ‘You must be very tired’. To me, the sentiment seemed spot on!

Although I missed the main Japanese news around the 18th, fortunately a friend of mine also living in Japan took quite a lot of pictures and has said I can use them. Actually, of these are mine from when I first arrived here, but either way I think they’re fairly interesting – if not for the actual content then at least to see how different the aesthetic of Japanese TV is from that of the UK. It really does take some getting used to!

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