Our flourishing relationship with Japan
Scotland’s relationship with Japan has continued to flourish in the 18 months since my last visit. Our ties with regard to industry – particularly energy renewables, biotechnology and subsea, education and culture have grown, and this visit will ensure that continues.
Our long history with Japan dates back to the 19th century – shortly after Japan decided to open its doors to the world. The Scottish merchant Thomas Glover’s relationship with Japan has been widely publicised and celebrated in both countries, and I had the pleasure of visiting Glover Garden in Nagasaki in 2015.
The 20th century increased exchange and collaboration, and in 1919, Rita Cowan, from Kirkintilloch, married visiting Glasgow University student Masataka Taketsuru, who went on to open Japan’s first whisky distillery.
The couple’s story is very much part of Japanese popular culture, as their relationship and influence on the Japanese whisky industry were chronicled in a period television drama Massan, broadcast in 2015. This story raised Scotland’s profile, underlining the importance of the culture in our work to strengthen relations between our two countries.
Our cultural ties with Japan are strengthened by our shared links with the V & A Museum of Design Dundee. This will be the first building in the UK to be designed by the internationally renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who used Scotland’s north-eastern coastline as inspiration for the exterior of the building. Kengo Kuma was hugely influenced by the work of Mackintosh and I’m looking forward to visiting one his designs when I meet with the Major of Toshima on Sunday and I’m eagerly awaiting his designs for the Olympic stadium at Toyko 2020.
There are many tales to tell about our historic relationship with Japan, and while I will celebrate these links on my visit, my focus will be on the present as well as the future. The EU referendum has sent ripples of uncertainty throughout the world, and a large part of my job next week will be to reassure trading partners, investors and cultural partners that Scotland remains an open, progressive nation that treasures diversity.
Since I was last in Japan the Nippon Foundation I met have now sent students to Robert Gordon University in a newly launched exchange programme for subsea engineering. Several Scottish companies have been working in a co-location space called ‘Scotland House’ in Nagasaki, as we continue to work together and share expertise in marine and renewable energy. I was pleased to open ‘Scotland House’ during my 2015 visit there.
A full programme of academic exchange is underway between Nagasaki and Scottish Universities, and Scottish Rugby has confirmed that their holding camp will be based in Nagasaki during the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Through the Japan Scotland Association, Toshima Ward – one of Tokyo’s most diverse and cultural areas – hosted a Scotland Day in November, encouraging people to celebrate all things Scottish and our cultural links.
As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics draw near, audiences in Tokyo are keen to hear how we capitalised on the opportunity of the 2012 London Olympics to grow our tourism numbers, using our world-renowned festivals as an attraction. This will also be a fantastic opportunity to highlight the 70th Anniversary of Edinburgh’s International Festivals this year, as well as our themed Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology – through which we are encouraging visitors from Japan and around the world to visit Scotland.
As they prepare to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympics, I will also be telling our friends in Japan how we used the Commonwealth Games as an opportunity to enhance the lives of those who live here, as well as to promote Scotland as a highly attractive place to visit.