Perth born right half James Buchan began his senior football career with local professional club St Johnstone, from where he was signed by Hibernian in 1902, making his debut for Hibs against Celtic that August. He scored 6 goals in 50 appearances for Hibs over the next two seasons and in his first season at Easter Road he was a part of the team which won the 1902–03 First Division title. He was signed by newly promoted First Division club Woolwich Arsenal in April 1904 and made his Football League debut at Newcastle United the same September, but managed only 8 appearances for The Gunners before falling out of favour and moving north to join Manchester City in March 1905.
Buchan became a regular in the first team and remained at Hyde Road for the following six years and after their relegation to the Second Division at the end of the 1908-09 season, during which he was an ever present, he helped the club to an immediate return to the top-flight at the end of 1909-10 winning the Second Division Championship. Back in the top flight Buchan dropped out of favour during the 1910-11 season making only 6 appearances and returned to Scotland to with Motherwell in the 1911 close season, spending less than a season at Fir Park scoring once in 17 appearances. He then joined Kilmarnock in March 1912, making 20 appearances before a move to Forfar Athletic in 1913 and he finished his playing career with a second spell at St Johnstone.
During the First World War Buchan attested as a reserve private in the Highland Light Infantry n 8th December 1915, He was mobilised on 28th August 1916 and transferred to the Army Pay Corps a matter of days later. Buchan was transferred to the Ayrshire (Earl of Carrick’s Own) Yeomanry on 29th September 1917, with whom he served until being transferred to the Army reserve in March 1919. After the War he managed St Johnstone from 1920 to 1922.