2023 JET Pre-departure Reception

We were very pleased to attend the JET Pre-departure reception on the 11th of July, hosted by The Japanese Consulate in Edinburgh. This year sees 56 young students from all over Scotland and the North of England heading off to Japan. Consul General Fujiwara wished them well and Japan Society of Scotland Chairman Ian Gow, JETAA Scotland Chair Zeljka Letica, JETTA North East Chair Naomi Crosbie-Iwasaki, and Director General Matsutani of CLAIR (Japan Local Government Centre) the organisation responsible for placing all JET students throughout Japan, were all on hand to offer congratulations and words of support. The students will be winging their way to different prefectures in Japan in various teaching capacities.

For more information about the JET programme, please visit https://jetprogramme.org/en/ For more information about JETAA, please visit https://www.jetaa.org.uk


Special Bulletin

On Thursday 23rd June, Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado during her visit to the area, took time to hold a gathering at the Consul General’s official residence Edinburgh.

On the introduction of Consul General Mr Fujiwara, five distinguished persons who have contributed to the strengthening of Japan-UK relations and the promotion of mutual understanding over many years joined the friendly meeting for around one hour.

The Japan Society of Scotland was honoured to have been invited and was represented by Mrs Katy Gow.  Other guests included Mrs Sayoko Smith from the Japanese Women’s Association of North East England and Mr Kingsley Smith, Ms Sara Stewart from The Japanese Garden at Cowden and also Dr Mike Rands, Master of Darwin College Cambridge.

Colin Alexander McVean – One of the Scots engineers who modernised Japan – 7th June 2023

Thank you to Colin Houston for a most interesting talk (7th June 2023) about his Great Grandfather’s time spent in Japan in the mid-19th century. Colin Alexander McVean’s tremendous contribution to the development and modernisation of Japan during that period, was immense and Colin Houston highlighted this with well documented photographs of the projects he was involved with and the people he met, as well as the lifestyle he led.

It was most interesting to note the important part his Great Grandmother, Mary McVean also made. Colin’s powerpoint presentation included photographs taken at the time, of the notable Japanese and Scottish people he worked with and befriended. On the lighter side of social interaction, the “Bill of Fare” and “Toasts” at the St Andrew’s Day celebration, made for interesting reading.

Click here for the original event notice…

Colin Alexander McVean – One of the Scots engineers who modernised Japan

By Colin Houston, Great Grandson of Colin Alexander McVean 

WHEN: Wednesday 7pm – 7th June 2023

WHERE:  University of Edinburgh, 50 George Square, Project Room 1.06.  Click here to sign-up for the in person event

ZOOM:  This event will be streamed on zoom, click here to sign-up for the online event

Colin Alexander McVean (1838 – 1912) was the son of a Free Church minister on Iona. He trained as a civil engineer and following some time with the Admiralty survey and the building of railways in Bulgaria and parts of the Ottoman Empire, he headed to Japan as one of the first civil engineers from Scotland at the time of the Meiji restoration. He was involved in the construction of lighthouses, had his own foundry business, for a period of time, and latterly was then appointed Surveyor in Chief to the Emperor of Japan. He was responsible for the first surveys of Japan, the building of roads and bridges, mapping out Tokyo and in particular supervising the construction of Ginza district. He was involved in the building of primary and secondary schools and also the first engineering technical college. He founded the meteorological society, also the astronomical society, brought in the first seismographs and in his spare time, as a keen bird watcher, published some works on the ornithology of Yedo (Tokyo). He spent 8 years in Japan from 1868 to 1876 and achieved an enormous amount in that time, passing on his skill and enthusiasm to a young team of Japanese recruits in the survey department. Never forgetting his Scottish roots, he took every opportunity to celebrate Scotland and share with others his traditions and culture. However, what is also fascinating is the social aspects of his time in Japan. His wife entertained the wives of many high-profile Japanese officials, and they shared tips on many aspects of being a good wife! The McVean’s were privileged to live in Yedo (Tokyo) in a small area of the ministry of public works with another 9 westerners, primarily Scots and their families, and not be part of the foreign legations/enclaves where the majority of westerners lived.

Colin will give some background to McVean’s time in Japan but also highlight the unique lifestyle and Japanese contacts that he and his wife made in their time in Japan.

Colin Houston has worked in tourism in Scotland for over 47 years. He is currently an international tourism consultant and co- founder of Aurora Spirit Distillery, situated in Arctic Norway. Colin has a keen interest in genealogy and tracing his family history, one particular fascination is in his Great-Grandfather, Colin Alexander McVean who spent eight years in Japan. When Colin’s aunt died in1998 he discovered boxes of diaries, papers and also a unique photo album from his Great -Grandfathers time in Japan. Colin has set about transcribing and digitising much of this archive material.

Also see our facebook page 


Edo Castle: The Glittering World of the Shogun’s Court – 24th April 2023

We welcomed author Lesley Downer to Edinburgh to talk to us about the Glittering World of the Shogun’s Court at Edo Castle. The live and zoom audience were treated to a journey through the location, perimeters, outer and inner sanctums of the extensive castle complex and meeting the courtiers and workings of this most mysterious and magical world. Lesley illustrated her story through a series of wonderful Japanese woodblock prints showing grand and colourful processions ending in the women’s only accommodation where the only male visitor was the Shogun. After her talk we offered Japanese hospitality at a local restaurant and a trip to the Edinburgh-Kyoto Friendship Garden the following day to view the lovely Sakura. Very surprisingly we bumped into another garden visitor who knew Lesley’s work on Japanese cooking and had a friend in common. Thank you, Lesley, for a splendid evening.

Click here for the original event notice…

JETAA Cherry Blossom Viewing Picnic 2023 – Sunday 23rd April 2023

JSOS were happy to take part in the JETAA Scotland Cherry Blossom Viewing Picnic that took place on Sunday the 23rd of April at the Edinburgh-Kyoto Friendship Garden at Lauriston Castle. Event hosted by JETAA Scotland, and co-hosted by Connecting Japanese and Japan Sakura in Scotland.

Despite the weather being overcast, there were lots of activities and opportunities to dress in Yukata. A wonderful display of Hina Matsuri dolls, Koinobori streamers and origami practise. It was super to meet Scotland Jetaa members and their Chairperson Željka Letica. Plus of course, the magical Sakura blossoms in full bloom … it was like being transported back to Japan. Thank you to everyone who helped to stage this event … ありがとうございました!

JSOS Eventbrite launch

We have launched our Eventbrite organisation page!

Eventbrite is a website that makes hosting events easy and allows us to reach more people and increase the online presence of the society. All of our future events will be posted on Eventbrite in addition to our usual communication channels.

Our event scheduled for April 24th is available to sign-up to on Eventbrite now. Please note that there are two separate events, one for in person attendance and another to attend online.

Do not worry if you do not wish to use Eventbrite, information about these events will be sent out through the usual channels as well.

Check out our Eventbrite page through this link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/the-japan-society-of-scotland-32523426415

Edo Castle: The Glittering World of the Shogun’s Court

By Lesley Downer

WHEN: Monday 7pm – 24th April 2023

WHERE: University of Edinburgh, 50 George Square, Room: Project Room 1.06

EDO CASTLE was Japan’s Versailles, from where the shoguns governed Japan for 250 years. I will take my audience on a guided tour back in time and reveal the secrets of the outer and middle palaces and the mysterious ‘Great Interior’, where the shogun’s 3000 women lived lives of cloistered luxury. I will also talk about the westerners who visited Edo Castle and recorded their impressions, first a succession of Dutch merchants and then the American Townsend Harris who visited in 1858. Finally in 1868 Emperor Meiji entered Edo Castle and it became the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. 

Sign up for the in person event here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/edo-castle-the-glittering-world-of-the-shoguns-court-in-person-event-tickets-602735767907

Sign up for the Zoom version here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/edo-castle-the-glittering-world-of-the-shoguns-court-online-event-tickets-602745055687

About the speaker

Lesley Downer lived and travelled in Japan for many years and spent long stretches of time in Gifu, Tokyo, Kamakura, Kyoto, Tohoku, Kagoshima – pretty much everywhere, in fact. She has dabbled in tea, flowers, the incense guessing game, aikido, even wielded a samurai sword – a real, not a wooden, one. She writes on Japan, both non-fiction and fiction, including four novels set in the extraordinary and dramatic 19th century bakumatsu period, The Shogun Quartet. She has presented television programmes on Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North for Channel 4 and NHK and a cooking series, A Taste of Japan, back in 1991 on BBC2. She gave a series of lectures aboard The World, a giant residential ship that circles the world, and was the Japan/geisha consultant on a ballet for Northern Ballet entitled Geisha. She also appeared on Netflix in the series Age of Samurai and taught Creative Writing at City University. For more see www.lesleydowner.com

Japan’s Quiet Leadership: Reshaping the Indo-Pacific

UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH Asian Studies Seminar Series 2022/23

by Mireya Solís

(Director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies and Philip Knight Chair in Japan Studies, Brookings Institution)

Wednesday, April 5 2023, 16.00 – 18.00

(including a networking reception)

VENUE: 7 George Square, S.1

Abstract: In her forthcoming book, Dr. Solís tells the story of Japan’s reinvention as a network power to overcome the harsh realities of diminishing relative capabilities. In reshaping the Indo-Pacific, Tokyo deployed a robust economic strategy of trade integration and infrastructure finance; and a proactive security diplomacy cultivating new partnerships with regional and extra-regional actors and deepening the alliance with the United States. Nevertheless, acute geopolitical rifts, Japan’s pandemic insularity, and the securitization of international economic relations are testing the mettle of Japan’s statecraft of connectivity. In this new era, Japan-Europe relations have deepened with shared concerns over protecting rules-based trade, more diplomatic activity in the Indo-Pacific, and joint efforts to respond to the Ukraine crisis.

Bio: Mireya Solís is director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Philip Knight Chair in Japan Studies, and a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. Prior to her arrival at Brookings, Solís was a tenured associate professor at American University’s School of International Service. Solís is an expert on Japanese foreign economic policy, U.S.-Japan relations, international trade policy, and Asia-Pacific economic integration. She is the author of  Banking on Multinationals: Public Credit and the Export of Japanese Sunset Industries (2004) and Dilemmas of a Trading Nation: Japan and the United States in the Evolving Asia Pacific Order (2017) as well as co-editor of several edited volumes. Dilemmas of a Trading Nation received Masayoshi Ohira Memorial Award in 2018. Solís has offered expert commentary to the media and major newspapers. Solís earned a doctorate in government and a master’s in East Asian studies from Harvard University, and a bachelor’s in international relations from El Colegio de México. She is trustee of the Japan-America Society of Washington DC.

Our next event, see the news and events page for more details.