Thomas Glover – Scotsman in Japan

Many of you may look at this person’s name and wonder why I have chosen a foreigner in my Japanese history blog to write about. Yes Thomas is a foreigner to Japan but he made it his home when he arrived in Japan in 1859 and became one of the most influential people during the Meiji Restoration.


Thomas came from Scotland and was posted to Japan on behalf of a British trading company, Jardine, Matheson & Co. Glover set up in Nagasaki, which was the only open port in Japan used for foreign trade as the Tokugawa central government (bakufu) had closed all ports off to foreigners back in about 1639. The Tokugawa bakufu knew the port was open, and collected taxes from it, but as it was located far from Edo (Tokyo) it enjoyed relative freedom from the domineering bakufu.

Glover statue outside of his house in Nagasaki.

Glover initially began exporting tea to Britain but it was the increasing hostilities between the Satsuma/Choshu rebels and the Tokugawa central government where Glover began his rise to fame. The lords of Satsuma began modernising its own army and navy and used Glover and his trade relations with Europe to do this. Glover began importing modern weaponry for the Satsuma and Choshu domains and Sakaomoto Ryoma who owned the Kameyama Trading Company funded by the Tosa domain in Shikoku. These three domains became the main force to topple the Tokugawa central government in 1868.

During this period Glover befriended Mitsubishi founder Yataro Iwasaki. Iwasaki was also from Tosa domain as was Sakamoto and he represented the Tosa clan in Nagasaki. He was in the market for ships and armaments for his clan for the impending clash with the Tokugawa bakufu and Glover was the premier broker of those items in Nagasaki.

The successful Boshin War of 1868-69 ousted the last of the Tokugawa Shoguns and 268 years of isolation had ended. The new Meiji Government was made up of mostly Satsuma/Choshu and Tosa delegates and as Glover had supplied them with ships and weaponry he was called on again to supply the new Japanese navy with ships built in Scotland.

Glover with Iwasaki Yanosuke c1900

In the 1860s Glover brought shipbuilding and the technology for a dry dock to Japan which would later become the central Mitsubishi ship yard. In 1885 he joined a group of investors including his friend Iwasaki Yanosuke (Yataro’s younger brother) that bought a bankrupt brewery in Yokohama which later became the Kirin Brewery. Glover contributed immensely to the industrialization and modernization of Japan. Emperor Meiji recognized that contribution by naming the Scotsman to the Order of the Rising Sun in 1908.

Glover died in Tokyo in 1911 and is buried in Nagasaki. His home in Nagasaki is now a museum.  Out of all the foreigners that have spent their lives in Japan, Glover is one of my idols.  I sometimes wish I could have lived in that era and stepped into the shoes that Glover wore.  How exciting.