Aberdeen home of ‘Scottish Samurai’ to be revamped as R&D centre

A view of Nagasaki City.(Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

A view of Nagasaki City.(Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

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He was the “Scottish Samurai” credited with laying the foundations of modern Japan and the global Mitsubishi empire after leaving Aberdeen in the late mid 1800s.

Now the legacy of industrialist Thomas Blake Glover is to drive a new era of innovation and investment between the North East and the Land of the Rising Sun.

Thomas Blake Glover. Picture: TSPL

Thomas Blake Glover. Picture: TSPL

This week, it was announced that Glover’s former Aberdeen home will be turned into a new research and development base to promote economic links with Japan.

Energy, academia, golf, whisky and tourism are all being touted as possible areas of collaboration and growth.

Councillor Jenny Laing, leader of Aberdeen City Council, said Glover’s achievements would act as a “springboard” for a refreshed relationship with Japan as the city looks beyond the oil and gas years.

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Our aim is to use the home of the Scottish Samurai as a springboard to widen our skills base and to encourage innovation as we look to the years beyond North Sea oil and gas.

Councillor Jenny Laing, leader of Aberdeen City Council

She said: “By transforming his family home in the Bridge of Don area into a R&D facility for future industries and technologies, we are potentially developing ideas which will help us diversify our own economy and attract inward investment. It will also help us cement partnerships with Japanese companies.

“Our aim is to use the home of the Scottish Samurai as a springboard to widen our skills base and to encourage innovation as we look to the years beyond North Sea oil and gas.”

Japan boasts an astonishing 1.9 million millionaires - of a population of around 126 million - with $12.8 trillion (£8.8trillion) in net financial assets held by households.

The UK Trade and Industry Team in Japan said Aberdeen - and Scotland as a whole - was in an “ideal position” to meet the needs of Japanese consumers, who typically have high levels of disposable income, given their love of high-quality goods that carry both authenticity and tradition.

People visit Glover Garden in Nagasaki. Picture: Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

People visit Glover Garden in Nagasaki. Picture: Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

And with both Japan and Scotland having ageing demographics, opportunities for joint academic research and healthcare innovation are other possible routes to growth, the UK Government body said.

Using Japanese expertise in securing patents for products devised by Aberdeen’s two universities has also been flagged up as another advantage of the new link up.

And with the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019 and the Tokyo Olympic Games the following year, it is hoped that businesses in the North East will be well placed to bid for contracts linked to the events if strong economic ties can be forged now.

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Aberdeen has recently drawn interest from large Japanese companies - including Toyota, Honda, Panasonic and Hitachi - over the city’s fleet of hydrogen buses scheme, the largest in Europe.

Crucially, it is anticipated the city will be able to us its expertise in energy production to take Japan beyond its reliance on nuclear power.

Ms Laing added: “Scottish Enterprise is working directly with the Japanese Government and key Japanese industrialists. The focus of interest centres around Japan’s over-dependence on nuclear power and the need to establish an oil and gas industry. Aberdeen-based companies are very well placed to assist Japanese companies in the development of an oil and gas industry.”

Renewables are also considered a vast area of growth in Japan, the fourth biggest source of foreign aid investment into Scotland in 2014. Scottish exports to Japan totalled £370m in the same year.

Thomas Blake Glover’s vast childhood home was gifted by Mitsubishi to the city in the late 1990s in honour of his contribution to modern Japanese society.

The Glover Garden in Nagasaki, in which his former residence sits, is one of Nagasaki’s top tourist attractions and attracts around two million residents a year.

He helped develop and modernise Nagasaki Shipyard and Takashima Coalmine, both which went on to become founding pillars of Mitsubishi, created the first mint and provided the first ships for the Japanese Navy.

His former Aberdeen home has sat empty and boarded up for a number of years after a museum in his name floundered but, now back in the hands of the city council, it is hoped the Glover legacy will prosper and inspire once again.

Mitsubishi, which employs more than 900 people at is plant in Livingstone, has stressed that at least one room of the house must be kept as a museum in Blake Glover’s honour. The new research centre is expected to house both council and private sector staff with plans also to create accommodation for visitors from Japan.

Stephen Baker, Japan Country Head, Scottish Development International, said: “This new R&D facility with its historic ties is well positioned to build on the time-tested partnership between Scotland and Japan. Our two countries have had close ties for many decades and enjoy a strong contemporary working relationship, with Scottish innovation attracting Japanese investment and Japanese companies in turn opening Asian markets for us.”

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