Our History

When did we start?


The Society actually started life as The Japan Scottish Friendship Society in November 1985, when, at a public meeting held at the Centre of Japanese Studies at Stirling University, the enthusiastic response of those attending resulted in an organising committee being formed. Over the winter months that followed, a constitution was drafted and a number of prominent individuals were approached with a view to becoming ex officio honorary office bearers. The Society was formally inaugurated in March 1986. The first Chairman was Stuart Picken, at that time Director of the Centre for Japanese Studies at Stirling. Among corporate participants were representatives from Standard Life (Ken Forman), Bank of Scotland (Jim Roy), Royal Bank of Scotland (Jim Wardrop), Clydesdale Bank, Morrison Bowmore Distillers (Jim Howat), Allied Distillers as well as individuals. The main aim, as the original name would suggest, was to promote friendship and understanding between Scotland and Japan, both at corporate level and on a personal basis. The Secretary of the Society was Marion Moir and the Treasurer, Jim Roy.

At that time, Japan was in an expansionist mood, and many of her banks had established representative offices, or indeed full branches, in London. Other Japanese corporates were also looking at establishing themselves in United Kingdom, using the country as a potential entry to mainland Europe. The UK government was also anxious to promote the UK in Japan, and entities such as ‘Locate in Britain’ and ‘Locate in Scotland’ had set up offices in Tokyo. The Scottish Council (Development and Industry) also promoted ‘Scotland’ and led business groups to Japan to promote Scottish goods and services. In 1987, the JET programme was established (Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme), an official Japanese government programme aiming, among other things, to improve foreign language in Japanese schools. All in all, there was much going on by way of promoting business, education and culture between Japan and United Kingdom, and, as regards the Society, Scotland.

Our Chairman, Stuart Picken, left his position at Stirling University and took up a fresh post at the International Christian University in Tokyo. He was succeeded by Professor Ian Gow, both as Chairman of the Society and as Director of Japanese Studies at Stirling University.

In 1989,The Right Honourable Malcolm Rifkind MP visited Japan as Secretary of State for Scotland and visited a number of Japanese companies while he was there. During a conversation with the Japanese Foreign Minister he was told that it had been decided to establish a Consulate Office in Edinburgh. There were a number of Japanese firms either established or looking at locating in Scotland, so this decision reflected the increasing links between the two countries. Although the decision had been made, it would be another couple of years before the Consulate Office in Edinburgh opened.

In 1990, it was decided to change the name of the Society to its present one, and it was relaunched as such at a reception held in the City Chambers, Edinburgh in March of that year, with the guests of honour being His Excellency the Japanese Ambassador Kazuo Chiba and Madame Chiba.

March 1991 saw the appointment of Seiichiro Otsuka as the first Consul General to take up the post in Edinburgh. He would be here for just under eighteen months or so. All succeeding Consul Generals have been resident for, normally, two to three years before moving on to another posting.

Celebrating Burns Night 1992 hosted by Charles Kennedy President of the World Federation of Burns Clubs – Consul General Seiichiro Otsuka, Peter Morrison, John Souter, Mrs Otsuka, Christine Souter and Ian Gow

The Society has always had an excellent relationship with the Consulate Office. The current Consulate General, Nozumu Takaoka, is the eleventh to take up residence here, and a list of past holders of that office can be seen at the end of this article.

1993 saw Professor Gow leave Stirling University to take up a fresh appointment at the University of Sheffield, and he was succeeded by Jim Howat as Chairman of the Society. Jim continued in that post until June 1996, when Paul Pia took over the reins of the Society. In turn, he was succeeded by Sandy Cameron, then Ian Harkness, who was Chairman until his untimely death in 2007. A list of past Chairmen of the Society is given at the end of this article.

The Society has always tried to hold interesting events to help satisfy part of its original ‘raison d’etre’ – namely to promote friendship and understanding between Scotland and Japan.
In the early days a considerable amount of time and effort was spent on providing ‘education’ to the business community and to individuals intent on visiting Japan. This might be on what to expect on arrival in Japan, customs, business ‘etiquette’ etc. and generally explaining the cultural differences between both countries.
There were also a limited number of Japanese companies operating in Scotland, and much effort was taken to encourage them to participate in the aims of the Society.
There were many presentations and talks, mainly at the campuses of either Stirling or Edinburgh University. There were annual dinners and St. Andrews nights….. for example a memorable one celebrating our 20th Anniversary was held at the Dunblane Hydro; there were visits to The Burrell Collection in Glasgow, Paisley Abbey, many a visit to Auchentoshan Distillery in Glasgow and to Morrison Bowmore bottling plant at Springburn in Glasgow. Even more memorable were the Burns Suppers with participation at them from Consul Generals’; for example, one which springs to mind was the participation by Matsushiro Horiguchi, when it was held at the Hilton Hotel in Livingston in February 1997. Horiguchi san, dressed formally in kilt, gave an almost faultless rendering of Tam o’ Shanter to the diners. Mention should also be made of the first Consul General, Seiichiro Otsuka, who became quite renowned for his bag pipe playing at Society events during his relatively short stay in Scotland. Continuing on the lighter side, we’ve had social evenings and dances at the Royal Scots Cub in Edinburgh, and we’ve even had a McGonagall Evening at a restaurant in Leith. Numerous events have also been held at the Consul General’s residence in Murrayfield, Edinburgh. One mustn’t forget Aberdeen; the Glover House is there, and the occasional event has taken place in the north east over the years, promoted by the Society.

James (Jim) Howat. (1926- 2008)
It would be remiss not to elaborate on this past Chairman. Jim was a supporter and founder member, not only of the Japan Society of Scotland, but also of The Japan-Scotland Society, based in Tokyo. Business links took him to Japan initially, but thereafter, he supported both Societies financially throughout many years. A true benefactor in all senses of the word. In recognition of his contribution in promoting Japan/Scotland relationships, the Japanese Government awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold rays with Rosette and this was presented to him by Consul General Hiraoka at a ceremony in Edinburgh in June 2003

Jim also established a trust (The JTH Charitable Trust), the income from which flows through to the Society and helps to encourage more knowledge and understanding of Japan and Japanese culture amongst young people in Scotland.

Edinburgh-Kyoto Friendship Garden
It would be a mistake not to mention the above garden. It was created to celebrate the twinning of Edinburgh and Kyoto and was opened in 2002. Designed by Japanese garden designer Takashi Sawano, it is located in the grounds of Lauriston Castle, at Davidsons Mains in Edinburgh. Entrance to the garden is free and there are great views over the Firth of Forth to Fife. A number of Society events have also been held in the grounds of Lauriston Castle, which in itself is well worthy of a visit.