The first piper in Japan

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Summer school in Tokyo. Dr Masame Yamane is fourth from the left

By Jeannie Campbell MBE

Dr Masami Yamane, who founded the Tokyo Pipe Band in 1975, and is credited as being the first piper in Japan, died in February 2022 aged 91. Dr Masami was professor of mechanical engineering at Waseda University in Tokyo and a Piping Times article (Vol 35 issue 12, Sept 1983) said he was an inventor of a Tuning Trainer for pipe bands, which: “… is revolutionising the tuning of pipe bands at crowded contests.”

Dr Masami Yamane

Dr Masami’s reason for forming a pipe band in 1975 was the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Tokyo. After placing an advertisement for pipers and drummers in the English language newspaper, The Japan Times, Dr. Masami Yamane was able to muster a band of six pipers; one Scottish, one Australian, two Americans and two Japanese.

Tokyo Pipe Band, Japan

Dr Yamane attended the College of Piping Summer School in California six times prior to 1982 when he invited Seumas MacNeill, Principal of the College of Piping to teach in Japan for two weeks. By this time he had a group of eighteen pipers, so it was large enough to have a school of its own.

Seumas MacNeill in Japan

The Pipe Major of the band was John Urquhart, an Australian, and there were two other non-Japanese in the band. One was John Nicol from Greenock, who had learned with the Boys’ Brigade, and the other was an American, Julie Fuhuda who was married to a Japanese man. Julie had tried to learn with her local band in America but had been refused as they would not accept girls. She had then purchased a chanter and tutor book from the College of Piping and taught herself. When she had beaten some of the band members in solo competition they realised their mistake.

Thomas Pearston, Ronald Lawrie and John Weatherston all taught in Japan prior to April 1988, when Dr John MacAskill travelled to Japan for two weeks to teach in Tokyo. By this time the band had 16 pipers, three side drummers, two tenors and one bass. In addition to Julie Fuhada, who was still a piper with the band, there were two more North American pipers, Hector MacDonald from Toronto who was ex-78th Fraser Highlanders and Michael Green from Washington, ex-USAF pipe band.  As well as John Nicol, from Greenock, who was still in the band, another Scot had joined, Harry Lawson, who previously had been a member of the Annan Ex-Servicemen’s Pipe Band.

Summer school in Tokyo. Dr Masami Yamane is fourth from the left

The leading drummer was Keith Learmont from Manitoba who was married to a Japanese woman. Dr Masami’s son, Atushi Yamane, was the acting Pipe Major. Atsushi, with Hirokazo Ichikawa, Hector MacDonald, Michael Green and Harry Lawson had formed a quintet to compete at the Jakarta Games the following month and John MacAskill said it was of a standard to do well in Grade 2 in Scotland.

In later years the band was tutored by James MacLean, formerly Strathclyde Police. James went to Japan for the first time in 1987 and returned there many times over the years to tutor the band and tutored them in Scotland prior to their competing at the Worlds. Seumas MacNeill visited Japan again in 1993.

In 2000 the band played in the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York. In 2001, 2003 and 2005 the Tokyo Pipe Band, under Pipe Major Atsushi Yamane, competed in Grade 4B at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow.