In the centre of Nagasaki you can find one of the nicest gardens in town: Glover Garden (グラバー園). This place is named after the Scot Thomas Blake Glover (1838-1911) who had a beautiful house built here in British/Japanese style. His significance for the city, but also for Japan, was great. He is one of the most important Western people who helped industrialise and modernise Japan. But it did not happen without a struggle. In this article I explain what Thomas B. Glover meant to Japan, why he was called the Scottish Samurai and why you should visit this beautiful garden. Let’s go to Nagasaki… (when Covid-19 is gone of course)
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His early years: From Scotland to Japan
Thomas Blake Glover was born on June 6, 1838 in the town of Fraserburgh, Scotland. He was the fifth child in a family of eight and his father worked as a coast guard officer. This led to the family having to move frequently, and little Thomas was therefore educated at various schools. After his school life, young Glover decided to work as a shipping clerk for the Jardine Matheson trading company in Hong Kong.
At the age of 21 he went to work in Nagasaki, buying and selling Japanese green tea. This was the start of his career in the city, which became his home for the rest of his life. At the age of 23, he founded his own company Glover & Co and had a beautiful house built. Of course, you can visit it at Glover Garden.
Why is he called the Scottish Samurai?
Thomas Glover came to Japan at a time when the country, more or less under pressure, was opening its borders to foreign powers. The shogunate, the system of landlords and samurai, was coming to an end and Thomas Glover played an important role in this. As a merchant of weaponry, his company supplied rebellious rebels who disagreed with the policy of Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinombu, the then ruler of Japan. It led to the Boshin War in 1868-1869, during which the shogun stepped down and Emperor Meiji became the most powerful man in the country. Because of his somewhat rebellious attitude against authority, Thomas Glover was also called the Scottish Samurai.
The businessman Glover and the Japanese industrialisation
Now you might think that Thomas Glover was not popular with the new government in Tokyo under Emperor Meiji because of his weapon deliveries. But nothing was further from the truth. As a businessman, he was responsible for importing automobiles and the steam locomotive to Japan, and he helped set up the first coal mine on Hashima Island near Nagasaki. He was also responsible for the establishment of the Mitsubishi company and the Japan Brewery Company. The latter we now know as the Kirin Brewery Company. If you have a beer of this brand while on holiday, take a look at the logo and judge for yourself. Doesn’t that weird bird look a lot like Glover’s moustache? Probably a kind of tribute to the businessman. In 1908, Glover was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun for his contribution to Japan. Thomas B. Glover passed away on December 16, 1911 at the age of 73 in Tokyo.
The island and coal mine of Hashima, also called Gunkanjima can be visited with a tour. It has the nickname Battleship Island and that has to do with its shape: a battleship.
A review of Glover Garden
Glover Garden is beautifully situated on the Minamiyamate hill overlooking Nagasaki harbour. Every year 2 million people come to this garden to catch a glimpse of the beautiful estate of Thomas Glover. Nor should one underestimate the role that this Scot played in the modernisation of Japan. That is also the reason why many locals like to come to this place. I too found this a nice attraction that you should definitely see in Nagasaki. When I was there, it was raining cats and dogs and I felt like being in Scotland…
By the way, most of the buildings found on the Glover Garden estate have been moved to this spot. Only the Glover house itself has always stood here and is one of the oldest buildings in the city.
Practical information for visiting the Glover Garden in Nagasaki
How to get there? Glover Garden is situated south of the Nagasaki Eki mae railway station and is a 30-minute walk away. By tram first take line 1 towards Shokakuji-shita and then change to line 5 Ishi-bashi. Finally, it is about a 5-minute walk to Glover Garden.
Opening Hours: The park is open daily from 8am to 6pm. Check out the Glover Garden website for more information and prices.
Do you have more tips, comments or ideas about Glover Garden in Nagasaki? Then feel free to leave a message below.