Thomas Blake Glover: The founder of modern Japan

Thomas Blake Glover: The founder of modern Japan

Thomas Blake Glover: The founder of modern Japan

THOMAS Blake Glover was among the first westerners to establish a business in Japan, and played a pivotal role in awakening what is today one of the world’s leading economies.

Born at 15 Commerce Street, Fraserburgh in 1838, Thomas was the fifth son in a family of seven boys and one girl. His father served with the Royal Navy and later became Chief Coastguard, while his mother looked after the home. Thomas’ family relocated to Bridge of Don, near Aberdeen in 1851.

Taking advantage of his father’s seafaring contacts, Thomas found work with a trading company, Jardine, Matheson & Co and arrived on Japanese shores for the first time in 1857. During this era, Japan was very much a closed society, one which was skeptical of the west. Aspiring businessmen from Great Britain were ill-advised to visit.

Unperturbed, Glover, working for Jardine Matheson, managed to strike a deal in Nagasaki aged just 21, securing a contract to import Japanese green tea. Within a couple of years he had set up his own firm in the city, which he named the Glover Trading Company.

Glover went on to generate huge sums of money providing seagoing vessels and arms to rebellious factions within the Japanese government – some of whom were keen to breakaway with the stifling traditions of old.

Statue of Thomas Blake Glover in Nagasaki.

Statue of Thomas Blake Glover in Nagasaki.

By the 1860s, Glover’s power and influence was growing steadily to the point that he was able to play a part in the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate during the Meiji Restoration, and in 1869 he had struck a deal to bring Aberdeen-built warships to Japan. Glover initiated the construction of Japan’s first coal mines and its first dry dock in the process, as he sought to introduce the country to the wonders of the Industrial Revolution.

Despite facing bankruptcy in the 1870s, Glover would go on to found a shipbuilding firm that would eventually transform itself to become the world-famous Mitsubishi Corporation. In another venture, he founded a brewery that would one day be renamed the Kirin Brewery Co. To this day it remains one of Asia’s most successful alcohol producers.

Thomas Blake Glover died in 1911 and is buried at Nagasaki’s Sakamoto International Cemetery.

The Glover family home in Aberdeenshire is now a dedicated heritage centre, celebrating the life of the eminent locally-born businessman. However, his Fraserburgh birthplace was completely destroyed during a World War Two bombing raid. As an astonishing coincidence, Glover’s residence in Nagasaki was one of the very few houses in the city to remain standing after the atom bomb was dropped in 1945.

Glover’s Nagasaki house attracts around two million visitors every single year – a testament to his legacy and the regard in which he is held to this day in his adopted country.

Related articles