The Father of Japanese Engineering: Yozo Yamao

The next of our five-part series celebrating the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the 'Choshu Five' in the UK introduces Yozo Yamao who came to be known as ‘the Father of Japanese Engineering’.

Yozo Yamao together with four other men of the Choshu domain were smuggled out of Japan to travel to the UK in order to study at University College London. After his time in London, In 1866, Yamao traveled to Glasgow and studied shipbuilding for two years. He was an apprentice at Napier Shipyard during the day and attended Anderson College (now University of Strathclyde) at night.

Upon his return to Japan, he became a high-flying civil servant in the new Meiji Government, and contributed towards, among others, the establishment of the Imperial College of Engineering, which later became Faculty of Engineering, The University of Tokyo. He is now called the Father of Japanese Engineering. The newly established College’s curriculum was largely based on the ideas of Macquarn Rankine, Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Glasgow, and Rankine recommend one of his students, Henry Dyer, who had studied Anderson College and University of Glasgow, as the Head of Japan’s first College of Engineering.

Yozo Yamao

As Dr Andrew Cobbing (Professor of Japanese History at the University of Nottingham) writes in Biographical Portraits Volume VII (*): "Yamao's educational activities were not limited to engineering, as he also devoted considerable energy to the creation of Japan's first schools for blind, deaf and dumb children. His interest in this field can be traced to his years at Napier's Shipyard in Glasgow where he was surprised to find some workers using sign language." Dr Cobbing goes on to conclude that although Yamao was not such a conspicuous figure as Ito Hirobumi or Inoue Kaoru, also of the Choshu Five, "his consistent determination to foster education for young engineers and children with special needs ensured his efforts would last and lay the foundations for subsequent generations to follow. His vision for the future stretched beyond immediate political concerns to encompass the well-being of society at large."

Continuing Japan-UK links in engineering and deaf education

Engineering seminar in Glasgow

Yozo Yamao's links with Glasgow have never been forgotten and to commemorate the special anniversary this year, Japan Desk Scotland wil host a free seminar entitled 'Yozo Yamao:an apprentice at a Glasgow shipyard who became the Father of Japan's Engineering' at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow. This forms part of the Japan Matters Public Lecture Series and is organised with cooperation from the Glasgow Museum.

In commemoration of the historical link between Glasgow and the establishment of Japan’s Engineering Education, Professor Shigehiko Kaneko of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Tokyo will be the guest speaker. A professor of Mechanical Engineering and a native of the same town as Yamao, Prof Kaneko could not be a more perfectly suited speaker for this event. The venue for this public lecture, Riverside Museum, is also ideal, as it is Scotland’s Transport Museum, covering the history of Scotland’s engineering history, and is situated opposite the site where Napier Shipyard was located.

Details of the seminar are as follows:

Friday 19 July 2013 from 2.30 pm
Riverside Museum, 100 Pointhouse Place, Glasgow G3 8RS

Seminar on deaf education in London

A seminar about deaf education and Japan-UK ties is planned for the evening of 10 July as Yozo Yamao established the first deaf education institute in Japan after his experience in the UK.

(*) Biographical Portraits Volume VII was compiled & edited by former Ambassador to Japan (1980–84) and prominent Japanologist Sir Hugh Cortazzi.