Built in the 1930s by British trader Ernest W. James, Shioya, or as the locals call it, “James Yama”, is an exclusive expat residential community that overlooks Osaka Bay, and is one of Japan’s truly unique expat communities. The large western-style homes were developed for, and are rented exclusively to, Western expats and their families in Kobe, and Shioya is one of Kansai's best kept secrets.
Ernest W. James was born in Kobe in 1889. He was the fourth child of Captain H.D.James and Elizabeth Jane James. His father was a ship s pilot who worked on foreign ships in the Inland Sea. Ernest James joined A.Cameron & Co. in 1915, when he was 26 years old. By then, he already had about 10 years experience working in trade. His fluency in spoken Japanese must certainly have helped. It was generally said that James built his fortune through dealing in the futures market around the time he joined A.Cameron & Co.
In the early 1930s James embarked on a lifelong project to which he wholeheartedly dedicated his passion and capital. He purchased a large area of hills (23 hectares) in Shioya, about 12 kilometers west from Kobe, in order to develop it into an exclusive housing estate for foreign residents. The land was covered by undeveloped hills and valleys, but the area was vast by Japanese standards.
James first chose a site for his own residence building his mansion in 1934. The house still stands in immaculate condition after 70 years, surrounded by an extensive garden. After that he started to build 55 Western-style houses. These houses were built with higher ceilings and bigger windows than houses in the traditional Japanese style, and they were designed to suit a Western lifestyle. He planted many cherry trees and azalea throughout the grounds.
Shioya Country Club was built next to his mansion. A large British lion, carved in granite was set at the entrance to the estate. The original lion has disappeared, but a replica crouches in the same spot to guard the estate.
James believed that Kobe would develop further as the trade centre of Japan. He was convinced that the involvement of more Westerners was vital to facilitate growth.
From a wider perspective, it becomes clear that James vision was not just a quaint venture by an enormously wealthy Englishman who wanted to create his own little kingdom. James get his inspiration by a housing development in Rokurokuso, in the nearby city of Ashiya, with begun in 1929. He wanted to offer similar or better facilities for the Western residents, since Rokurokuso was for wealthy Japanese businessmen and their families. He did not sell off the blocks and houses separately, but retained ownership, this demonstrated both the depth of his pockets, and his desire to keep everything under his control in order to realize his vision.
The Shioya estate was developed for and rented exclusively to Westerners. The only Japanese on the estate were the live-in servants and gardeners, whose cottages were usually located behind the main residences. The different social status of Westerners and Japanese was clearly marked, foreign residences were content to live among their compatriots and to socialise with their own at the country club.
In 1940 as Japan was about to enter the Tripartite pact with Germany and Italy, Ernest James and his brother Fred were arrested on espionage charges by the Japanese police. Ernest and his brother were released from detention after five days. The mass arrests stirred grave fears among , as those who had been arrested were well known and highly members of the community. As the tensions increase James and his family left Kobe in September 1941 for Canada, after the Japanese government had frozen British and American assets in July. In an interview with a Canadian newspaper in 1943, James stated that 65 per cent of the Japanese people were against the war. In mid-1947, James finally managed to return to Kobe. He had wanted to return earlier, but as a civilian it was difficult to obtain an entry visa from the occupation forces. In addition, the occupation forces General Headquarters, which authorized entry visa for civilians, did not want him back, since his estate provided valuable accommodation for its personnel. When he returned to Shioya, he found his private residence and the estate had all been requisitioned by the occupation forces, even though an estate which had been owned by an Allied national should not have been requisitioned.In the meantime, with nowhere to stay, he had to sleep on a billiard table in the Shioya Country Club, even though he privately owned the whole estate and the club, it has been wrote that James was even asked to pay rent for making his bed on the billiard table.
When the occupation forces returned his home to him, his enthusiasm for developing the estate and extending it was not waning. He purchased a further 22 hectares of land north of the original estate, and planned to build a heliport in the area and to develop a golf course as well as residential blocks.
Ultimately, James would not have enough time to realize his dream. He died in 1952 of heart failure, a year after his wife s death. It became obvious to Williams his associate in A.Cameron & Co. and James daughter that the estate could not be maintained as he had initially intended. First to go was the private mansion, sold to Toshio Iue, the founder of the Sanyo Electric Company, in order to pay the hefty inheritance tax. At the end they made the decision to sell the estate to the Shioya Real Estate Company, a Sanyo keiretsu property development company. There are no longer any close relatives of Ernest James in Japan.
History of Shioya Tochi Co., Ltd.
・1957 - Company established.
・1961 - Shioya Tochi took over the James Yama Foreigners’ Residence management.
・1979 - Shioya Tochi Head Office moved from Kobe’s Chuo Ward to its current locationin Tarumi Ward.
・1993 - Paramount Rokko (commonly known as the Rokko Apartments) opened.
・1997 - Operation of a large scale commercial complex, with retail facilities, in Kobe’s Tarumi Ward.