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The Scotsman who founded modern Japan,

Today Japan boasts one of the largest modern economies in the world, home to many famous international corporations such as Toyota, Honda, Canon, Kubota, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Nintendo, and many others.  Much of Japan’s success is based on advanced technology and advanced manufacturing processes.  However, Japan was not always so advanced in terms of technology and industrialization.  The rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603 led to a very strict policy of isolationism in Japan.  While this policy sheltered Japan from the ambitions of western colonial powers, it also prevented Japan from adopting the many scientific and technological advances that were occurring during the industrial revolution.  

Japanese isolationism ended in 1854 when Commodore Matthew Perry steamed into Tokyo Harbor with a fleet of American warships, and demanded permission to present a letter from President Millard Fillmore. When the Japanese refused, Perry threatened war.  With obsolete weaponry, there was little the Japanese could do but give in to western demands.

Shortly afterwards Japan opened her ports to western trade.  Thousands of foreign merchants traveled to Japan seeking opportunity and wealth.  One such person was a Scottish merchant named Thomas Blake Glover, who settled in Nagasaki in 1858.  When Glover set up business in Japan he immediately became wealthy buying and exporting Japanese green tea.  Glover was an especially successful businessman in Japan because of his humble, respectful attitude and reputation for fair and honest dealing.  This was in contrast to many foreign merchants who were obnoxious, racist, overbearing, and had a propensity to cheat their Japanese clientele.   In addition, Glover was fascinated by Japanese culture, quickly learning their language, social customs, and mannerisms.  His fascination with the Samurai earned him the nickname “Scottish Samurai” by his Japanese clients and business partners.

During the Boshin War, Glover sided with the Satsuma Clan and the restoration of the Meiji Emperor by supplying them with discount weapons, in particular modern rifles from Europe.  Unlike a regular arms dealer who sold to the highest bidder, Glover was an enthusiastic supporter of the Meiji cause.  As it turned out the Tokugawa Shogunate was overthrown and the Emperor was restored to power.  The Meiji victory resulted in Glover earning incredible profits and high respect from the new Japanese Government.

After the Boshin War Glover strived to become a wealthy captain of industry by industrializing Japan.  Using his wealth, he sponsored scores of Japanese students to travel to Britain to be educated in modern technology and engineering.  When they returned, those students would become the engineers who would help him build his industrial empire.  In the next few decades Glover financed numerous industrial programs all over Japan.  He built some of the first modern coal mines in the country as well as the first modern shipyards.  In 1868 he introduced the first steam locomotive to Japan, then financed the building of the first Japanese railroads.  He erected telegraph lines and also instituted the construction of the first modern sewage and water systems in Japan.  He also founded the Japan Brewing Company, now known as the Kirin Brewing Company, which is a major conglomerate today dealing in alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, food products, and pharmaceuticals.  Glover’s highest achievement occurred in 1870 when he co-founded the Mitsubishi Corporation with the Japanese businessman Iwasaki Yataro.  

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Throughout the 19th and 20th century Mitsubishi would grow into the largest corporation in Japan, supplying Japan with ships, locomotives, automobiles, and other industrial goods.  Today Mitsubishi is one of the world largest multinational companies, with over 350,000 employees and a $7.2 billion quarterly profit.  Enterprises conducted by Mitsubishi include mining, shipbuilding, telecom, financial services, insurance,electronics, automotive, construction, heavy industries,oil and gas, real estate, foods and beverages, chemicals, steel, aviation and others.

By the late 19th century Glover was the wealthiest man in Japan and among the wealthiest men in the world; comparable to industrialists such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and George Westinghouse.  For his part in developing Japan’s industrial infrastructure Glover was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor.  He passed away in 1911 at the age of 73.  His grave is located at he Sakamoto International Cemetery in Nagasaki.