OVER 150 years ago, a 21-year-old Scottish merchant arrived in Nagasaki. Thomas Blake Glover was to become one of the most influential industrialists in the history of Japan.
The Fraserburgh man played a part in the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, earning him the name the “Scottish Samurai”. His place in history was confirmed with the honour of becoming the first non-Japanese recipient of the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun.
This week I am in Japan representing the Scottish Government and Scottish Development International, strengthening our existing business, trade and cultural connections and helping to open doors for ambitious Scots who want to build relationships with Japan. Our exports to Japan are worth £295 million, and as I will set out this week, our countries can work together to build on our shared interests, challenges and mutual respect.
Glover established the first deep coal mine in Nagasaki and introduced western mining techniques to Japan. At the time he was at the forefront of using technology for energy production and he helped drive Japan into the industrial era.
Today the energy market is very different. The industrial revolution of 150 years ago has been replaced with a new energy revolution, as developed nations are reducing their carbon emissions and looking towards renewable energy for energy security.
Scotland has set itself world leading targets for renewable energy. Only this week statistics confirmed that Scotland achieved record levels of green energy generation in 2014, with almost half of all electricity used coming from renewables.
Japan is looking to divest from its reliance on nuclear power and reduce its carbon emissions. Scotland has the expertise to help them. As Thomas Glover did in the 19th century, Scottish firms can use their knowledge of new technology to support Japan to meet its energy needs today.
The potential of new links between Scotland and Japan extend beyond energy. Glover helped to set up the Japan Brewery Company, now the Kirin Brewery Company, a major player in the Asian market.
Food and drink is an important export to Japan from Scotland, and the value of our food and drinks exports to the country is growing. Our quality food products are sought after the world over, and Japan is no exception, with Scottish seafood and whisky seeing recent growth there.
Looking to the future, as developed nations our two countries face similar issues. We both have an ageing population and a need to develop healthcare solutions. Collaboration between Scotland and Japan’s life sciences industries has been boosted by an agreement to develop joint projects in the field of regenerative medicine. This will benefit both countries for years to come.
Glover’s influence is still felt at home. There are 80 Japanese businesses in Scotland employing more than 5,000 people. One of these, Artemis Intelligent Power, is owned by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Glover was a senior advisor to Mitsubishi for 40 years.
Aberdeenshire recently announced a new Thomas Glover trail, a permanent exhibition and a booklet to boost his profile and attract new tourists to the area. While in Japan I look forward to sharing this work with the custodians of the Thomas Glover House in Nagasaki.
Scotland has enjoyed close connections with Japan for many years and opportunities for cultural exchange are strong. Japanese musical company Okinawa Sansan returns to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. In return the International Theatre Festival for Young Audience Okinawa has booked two Scottish plays for 2015 and the National Theatre of Scotland’s innovative production of Macbeth will tour in Japan next month.
When Japan first opened up to foreign investment, Thomas Glover was there to work together with the Japanese to build their nation and create economic growth for both Japan and Scotland.
Thanks to his work and generations of hard work Scotland’s bonds with Japan remain strong. The conditions are here right now for the emergence of 21st-century Thomas Glovers.
• Fiona Hyslop is Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs