The Scottish Samurai
By Patrick Barnham
A man dubbed the Scottish Samurai who is revered in Japan and all but forgotten at home is finally being honoured by his countrymen.
Thomas Glover founded Mitsubishi, introduced the first trains to Japan and even married the original Madame Butterfly.
But the Aberdeenshire-born adventurer is little known in Scotland.
Now MSP Alex Johnstone is fighting to keep the pioneer’s memory alive.
The Tory politician is behind moves to celebrate Glover’s legacy at the Scottish Parliament on his birthday, June 6.
Mr Johnstone has been working with the Japanese authorities to educate new generations about Thomas Glover and now they want to hold an annual event in his memory.
Scotland’s Japanese Consul General Shuhei Takahashi said Glover is a well-known figure in his country.
He said: “Thomas Glover is one of the most famous figures in Japan.
“His contribution to Japanese modernisation and society is still remembered and appreciated by many Japanese people.”
Mr Takahashi said he was sorry Glover did not receive the same recognition in Scotland.
Glover House in the Japanese city of Nagasaki boasts two million visitors every year but his home in the Bridge of Don area of Aberdeen is not even sign-posted and visitors must call ahead to book an appointment.
Mr Takahashi said he visited the house 18 months ago and was surprised local people did not even know where it was.
But in Japan, he said, even the youngest school children know about Glover and his exploits.
Alex Johnstone said he was working hard to make sure Glover will now get the recognition he deserves.
The first step is the event in Edinburgh in June which will include displays of Japanese art and music.
But he also wants to encourage greater trade and tourism links by holding an annual event in the Scot’s name.
He said: “I am delighted to be bringing about this celebration of Glover’s achievements and look forward to working with the Japanese Consul General and Aberdeen City Council.”
Aberdeen City Council has now taken over the house and has agreed to pay 50,000 Pounds to keep the building open full-time during the peak season.
Curator of the house Peter Hendry said he hoped more people would come to Aberdeen to learn more about Glover.
He said: “Hopefully we can now open the place on a more formal basis.
“There will be staff here full-time, which will make a huge difference because we can only open two days a week on an ad hoc basis at the moment.
“We are also hoping to get a sign for the house. There is a small sign, but we need to get proper signposting.
“We are waiting to get flag poles and want to put the Scottish and Japanese flags on them.”
Thomas Glover was born in Fraserburgh in 1838 but his family moved to Aberdeen when he was 13.
After leaving school he travelled the world working for a trading company and settled in Nagasaki, where his home is recognised as the oldest western-style house in Japan.
He helped samurai warriors overthrow Japan’s leader the Shogun and restored the Emperor to the throne.
Glover was at the forefront of the modernisation of Japan and introduced the first mechanised coal mine and railway.
He commissioned three warships for the Japanese navy from Aberdeen shipyards and then built up his own shipbuilding company – which later grew into car giant Mitsubishi.
The Scot settled down and married a samurai’s daughter named Tsura who was thought to be the inspiration for Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly.
Thomas Glover died in 1911 at the age of 73 – he is still remembered as a hero in Japan.