A Japanese Auld Lang Syne

Searching for new interesting tales to tell I stumbled upon a fact which was new to me and of such interest as to lead to a further tale.

However to start at the beginning, we all know of Robert Burns famous song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which is frequently sung at the end of a Burn’s supper and also at the closing of many an event, was set to the music of an old Scottish song.

Now on one New Year’s Eve some Japanese visitors to Scotland were surprised at the music as it was well known to every Japanese child as the tune to a song called ‘Light of the Fireflies’ which is sung at the conclusion of school graduation ceremonies. But not only that, it was also normally played in supermarkets and village streets to indicate closing time. Now how did the music to an old Scottish song taken by Burns for ‘Auld Lang Syne’ have become the theme in Japan to herald the end of an event, similar to its use in Scotland.

One such reason may be in the adventures of an intrepid Scot, Thomas Blake Glover from Fraserburgh. Back in 1859 Glover, in the employ of Jardine Matheson Trading Company, found himself in Japan which at that time was emerging from an isolation of some 300 years from contact with the west. Glover set about selling arms, ships and locomotives to the Japanese founding the Mitsubishi shipyards, the first of the great manufacturing concerns on which industrial Japan is based. Glover also established a brewery which produces Kirin beer and his face still appears on the label.

Thomas Blake Glover, who became known as the ‘Scottish Samurai’, was the founding father of modern Japan and the first non-Japanese person to be awarded the ‘Order of the Rising Sun’.

He arranged for young Japanese children to be brought to Scotland for education and perhaps this is where they picked up the music of Auld Lang Syne taking it back with them to Japan. We are all aware of Robert Burns’s influence around the world and this may be another instance, but to continue with the second part of the tale. Glover married a Japanese girl, Tsura who always wore kimonos decorated with butterflies and they settled in Nagasaki in 1863 in a house built by Glover overlooking the harbour. It was this house and this lady on which Puccini’s ‘Madam Butterfly’ was based . It is amazing how one tale leads to another and then to another, but Thomas Blake Glover must have been some man to have achieved all that he did in those far off times when communications were very basic. See you next week.