Recognition sought for musician who lived in Montrose and went on to create Japan’s first national anthem

Alex Johnstone outside Montrose Museum
Alex Johnstone outside Montrose Museum

Recognition in Angus for a musician who composed the first Japanese national anthem and lived in Montrose in the 1800s is being sought.

John William Fenton was a solider in the 19th century.

He is considered Scottish because he lived in Montrose in around 1881 with his American-born wife Jessie P Fenton and daughters Jessie and Maria, but he is also considered Irish because he was born in Kinsale, County Cork, in Ireland, in 1828.

Angus North Conservative candidate Alex Johnstone is calling to have Fenton’s achievement of initiating the process through which ‘Kimi ga yo’ came to be accepted as the national anthem of Japan acknowledged in Angus.

Mr Johnstone, who founded the Cross Party Group on Japan in the Scottish Parliament, said: “This remarkable man had previously served in Yokohama to protect the small foreign community there, just as the Shogunate was being overthrown.

“He would later form the first Japanese military band, and also composed the first ever Japanese national anthem, which he performed for the Emperor in 1870.

“Even when his unit left Japan in 1871, he remained there as a bandmaster with the Japanese navy, and then with the band of the Imperial Court.

“Today, a monument stands in his memory at the Myoukoji Shrine in Yokohama, and although the national anthem has since changed, Fenton’s piece is played annually at a concert in his honour.

“John Fenton remains highly celebrated in Japan, where he is considered to be ‘the Father of Japanese band music’. I think it would be a welcome gesture if his achievements were better acknowledged in the town he called home for a time.”

He hopes a display could be installed at Montrose Museum and for it to be opened by the Japanese Consul.