Harold White Fellow Presentation by Keiko Tamura: 26 November, 2002 at the National Library of Australia
I am going to talk about Westerners in Kobe in the first half of the 20th century, with a special focus on three men and their experiences in Japan. My research is based on the material in the Harold Williams Collection, which was donated to the National Library of Australia by Harold and Jean Williams. I can only cover limited aspects of the research I carried out over the last four months, but I appreciate this opportunity to share them with you. At this stage, I am relying mainly on Harold Williams’ writings, and the research notes and other historical documents found in the Williams Collection about the lives of Westerners living in Japan, but I hope, in the future, to develop this research further in order to incorporate other perspectives—particularly a Japanese one.
The first Kobe Westerner I mention is an Australian, Harold S. Williams who arrived in Japan in 1919. The second is Williams’ respected friend and business partner Ernest W. James, born in Japan in 1889. The last is Harry J. Griffiths, who reached Kobe in 1907 and was also a close friend of Williams. These three men lived in Kobe for many years and died there. Although they lived in the same community of Westerners at around the same time, the ways in which they saw Japan, and related to it, were very different. By following their lives, it is possible for us to glimpse their engagement with the Japan of more than 60 years ago.
Before I go into the lives of these three men, I would like to present some background for those who are not familiar with the place or the time.
Present day Kobe
Kobe is located about 40 kilometres west of Osaka. The current population of Kobe city is just over 1.5 million, with about two-thirds of those people living in the urban area south of the Rokko Mountain Range. Other than the narrow strip of land along the coastline, most of the new development has happened on the foothills of the range, which saw large-scale destruction in the earthquake of 1995. New land has also been created in the harbour by shifting soil from the mountains to the sea. The resulting new islands, such as Port Island and Rokko Island, have been developed for residential and business purposes. In spite of the high population density, the view from the hills, on a clear day, is out to the Inland Sea, so there is often a feeling of openness in the area.
Kobe gained a reputation as a cosmopolitan city and an international port due to its early, enduring foreign population. Foreign communities included Europeans, Chinese, Indians, Jews and Russians, each having a distinctive presence. I grew up in Osaka, but had a close affinity with Kobe for many years. Although Osaka is known for its ‘value-for-money’ attractions, Kobe offers more fashionable stores in which to shop and more cosmopolitan eateries. A day in Kobe would offer a chance to shop for imported goods and fashion, as well as dining at a Chinese, Indian or Mexican restaurant. You can also buy baguettes at a French bakery or sausages at a German delicatessen. I have fond memories of spending Sundays visiting Kobe from Osaka, to shop and eat out.
In 1995, the Kobe area was hit by strong earthquakes that caused the deaths of 4500 people. Almost 70 000 buildings collapsed completely, and large-scale fires erupted in many parts of the city. Seven years after the disaster, it is now difficult to see its scars in the city. However, some vacant blocks of land in back streets tell us that the previous owners did not manage to return and rebuild after the earthquake.
Kobe’s development as an international port
Kobe was opened as a treaty port for the outside world in 1868 and rapidly developed into an international port that thrived on trade and transport. The port facilities expanded as Japan’s industry and trade grew. Yokohama was another international port, similar to Kobe, but Kobe was closer to Hong Kong and Shanghai where Britain had already established trade centres in the Far East. Kobe also benefited from the two wars Japan fought and won against China and Russia as those wars stimulated industries and trade. World War 1 provided further opportunities for expansion. The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 brought more business to Kobe, as many trading firms shifted their offices and operations from Yokohama. In the 1930s, the military and colonial expansion of Japan to the Asian continent also stimulated business in Kobe because a large volume of goods went through the port.
Foreign residents in Kobe
There has been a thriving community of Westerners in Kobe ever since the port was opened in 1868. The foreign concession was established close to the harbour and foreign residents were supposed to live and work in the settlement until its abolition in 1899. Presently, there are few remnants of the concession in the area, but the name, Meriken Hatoba, (American Warf) is still in use. Many Western traders brought Chinese clerks from Hong Kong and Shanghai as interpreters to facilitate their business with the Japanese, and a Chinese community subsequently emerged in the area. When Williams arrived in Kobe, many Western residents were living outside the concession area, mainly on the northern hillside of the city, known as Kitano-cho.
Harold Williams’ trip to Japan
Harold Stannet Williams was born in 1898 in Hawthorn, Melbourne, the second son of a pharmacist. Williams attended Trinity Grammar School and then Melbourne High School. After working for the Commonwealth Government for a year as a junior analyst, he entered Melbourne University in 1917 to study medicine.
As a student, his father suggested Harold should learn Japanese to ‘take his mind away’ from his study. His father’s motivation was quite specific. He had a strong view that ‘Japan would eventually become a menace’ and he thought that it would be good to know the language. The father arranged for a Japanese man, Moshi Inagaki, who live in the neighbourhood and worked in a laundry, to tutor Harold each Sunday.
As Harold absorbed the language quickly and eagerly, Inagaki suggested Harold should be sent to Japan to improve his language skill. His father agreed and Harold went to Japan in November 1919 for a summer holiday. While he was touring the country, he decided to apply for a job with a Scottish firm, Findlay Richardson & Co., in Yokohama. Williams wrote that he applied for a job from curiosity—to explore a hong (trading company) in Japan—thinking he would not be offered a position. However, according to his wife, he was asked to apply for a position after the company noticed his sharp brain and language skill. Whatever the circumstances, Williams found a job and decided to stay in Japan instead of returning to Melbourne to resume his medical studies. In fact, he did not go back to Melbourne until 1925, and never returned to university. This was the beginning of Williams’ long engagement with Japan.
Australian perceptions of Japan
It was unusual for a young Australian man to learn Japanese at that time, and the teaching had to be private as there was no other way to learn Japanese in Melbourne. The teaching of the Japanese language and Japanese culture began in Australia in 1917 when James Murdoch was appointed as a foundation lecturer at the Royal Military College, Duntroon and took the Chair in Oriental Studies at Sydney University. In Monogatari, Osutoraria no Rekishi (A Story of an Australian History), the Japanese scholar, Isami Takeda, asserts that Murdoch’s appointment was not for academic research or cultural understanding but to collect and analyse intelligence information on Japan. He points out that the appointment was made during World War 1 and that it was made by the Department of Defence and not the Department of Education. According to Takeda, Murdoch’s visit to Japan in 1918 and 1919 was to collect information as a spy, not as an academic.
Although academic teaching on Japan was just beginning in 1917, interest in Japan among the general public had been quite high for some time. The appreciation of Japanese arts and crafts was quite advanced in Australia towards the end of the 19 th century. A series of expositions held in Australian cities, such as Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, between 1875 and 1889, provided ample opportunities for Australian people to glimpse Japanese culture with their own eyes, and those exhibits were generally well received. In addition, Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, The Mikado, was a big hit in Australia around 1885, and helped to increase the fascination with all things Japanese.
As the Australian public became more familiar with Japanese (high) culture, they also became more aware of other aspects of Japan, such as Japan ’s victories in the Sino–Japanese War (1894–95) and the Russo–Japanese War (1904–1905). When the Anglo–Japanese Alliance came into effect in 1902, Japan also became an ally of Australia. Yet, there was strong uneasiness among the Australians about Japan ’s rapid development, particularly in the military and the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 was used to help to control the influx of Japanese into Australia.
Japanese participation in World War 1 as an ally of Britain and Australia brought more attention. Although the First World War has been commonly known as Oshu Taisen (European Great War), Japan was an active participant and came out of it early as a victor. Japan decided early to participate in the war as an ally of Britain because it wanted to replace Germany as a colonial power in the Pacific. Japan declared war against Germany on August 1914 and by November it had occupied the German-controlled Pacific islands north of the equator and the German base in Qingdao.
After the victory against Germany, Japan provided support to its allies. It is well known that a Japanese cruiser, Ibuki, escorted the Australian convoy in the Indian Ocean when it was heading to Gallipoli. In addition, the Australian War Memorial in Canberra exhibits a mortar that was originally forged in Osaka and used in Gallipoli. In this way, Japan played the part of a loyal ally of Britain and Australia during World War 1. However, for Australia, although Japan was an ally in the war, it became at the same time a more realistic threat as it widened its territory to the south.
To sum up, some ambivalent feelings existed among Australians towards Japan. Japanese traditional art and craft were refined enough to impress the Australian public. At the same time, Japan ’s industrialisation was progressing rapidly through its adaptation of the Western model. Japan was not trapped in the past. Australians in general interpreted the rapid industrial development and military expansion of Japan as a sign of its intention to join the ‘civilised’ world. Yet, at the same time, industrialisation and militarisation brought about anxiety and a sense of threat to Australia. The view Williams’ father had, ‘Japan will eventually become a menace’ was not an unusual opinion at that time. We do not know the view Harold Williams had towards Japan when he arrived in Kobe in 1919, but it is certain he was exposed to ideas similar to those of his father before leaving Australia.
Harold Williams in Kobe
Kobe had experienced great expansion in its business and port facility during World War 1, not long before Williams was sent there by Findlay Richardson & Co as a junior clerk. The company exported silk fabric and acted as an agent for shipping insurance companies.
Photographs of Williams’ earlier years in Japan show that he played a lot of sport (hockey, rugby, and swimming) at Kobe Regatta and Athletic Club—a sports club for foreign residents. He was a keen hiker and he spent a New Year’s Eve hiking across the snow-capped mountains from Kobe to the Sea of Japan with his friends. He was also a member of the Kobe Club, a gentlemen’s club for mainly British businessmen, but he seemed to have enjoyed casual socialising at the sports club rather than at the bar of the Kobe Club.
When Findlay Richardson & Co. folded, Williams went back to Australia for six months, but he soon found employment at another firm in Kobe, Cooper Findlay & Co., which also traded in silk. He joined the company as a manager, but later became director. By 1934, he was the representative director of the company. He had thus achieved considerable success in his business by his early thirties.
He went back to Australia in 1934 for a holiday, and met his future New Zealand wife, Jean, on a boat from Australia to New Zealand. They were married in Auckland only five weeks after they first met and went on their honeymoon before returning to Kobe.
Jean said that Harold had given her a glowing account of the people and the country and she became very interested in Japan. However, she was not impressed with Kobe when she first saw the city. She said, ‘I was prepared to like it [ Japan], but I wasn’t prepared when I saw Kobe, I thought it was the most dismal town. All the roofs were grey tiles and it looked grey, everything looked grey... the shops, the streets were I thought very very old, about a hundred years before. I wasn’t pleased.’ (National Library of Australia Oral History interview with Jennifer Gall, 1989, TRC2448)
The situation in Japan became more difficult for foreigners towards the end of the 1930s, as the war became imminent. Jean, who was pregnant with their second child, left Japan with their first daughter at the end of 1940. When the Japanese Government froze American and British residents’ assets in July 1941, Harold Williams left Kobe for Australia, with a minimum amount of luggage, by a Dutch cargo vessel.
As soon as he returned to Australia, he joined the Australian Army and served in Africa, the Pacific and Burma and attained the rank of major. I have not managed to carry out detailed research of Williams’ military career, but he was closely involved in areas related to Japan. When the prisoners-of-war breakout occurred in Cowra in August 1944, Williams was flown in to Cowra on the same day and was involved in the investigation. He was also a member of the inquiry into the breakout.
Harold Williams in post-war Japan
When the war ended, Williams returned to Japan in September 1945 as a member of the 2 nd Australian War Crimes Section, attached to the Legal Section, GHQ-SCAP in Tokyo. He was involved in investigating war crimes and war crime suspects in Japan.
Throughout the war, the Australian Government desperately wanted to locate Australian servicemen who were transferred out of Rabaul in 1942. It was Harold Williams who found the passenger list of an ill-fated ship, Montevideo Maru, that was sunk by an American submarine on the way to Japan. All the Australian POWs from Rabaul who were on board perished in the sea. Williams managed to find the passenger list that was written in katakana soon after he arrived in Japan, though it was amazing that he was able to find it in the chaos. Yet, his background in trade and insurance, as well as his knowledge of the language, the bureaucracy and business structure, must have helped him in his mission. As a methodological and analytical man who did not mind acting alone, he must have been the ideal person for the job.
Williams secured his discharge from the Army in 1949 and returned to Kobe with his family to resume his business career. Originally, he was going to resurrect his company of the pre-war period, but Ernest James who was the proprietor of A. Cameron & Co., asked him to join that company as managing director. After the death of Ernest James in 1952, Williams eventually became the proprietor of the company, which acted as an agent for cobalt imports to Japan.
By that time Williams had established his social and financial standing in the community and he wanted to devote more time to his ‘hobby’ of historical research and writing. Nonetheless, he continued his business involvement well into his seventies. In an interview with the Mainichi Daily News on 4 April 1971, he said that he worked in his office for six hours a day, in his library for eight hours, in his garden for eight hours, spent two hours over meals and tried to sleep eight hours a night. Thus, he had a 32-hour day!
Harold Williams and his research
Williams started his historical research career in 1953 by contributing articles for a series, ‘The Shade of the Past’ in the English newspaper the Mainichi Daily News. In these articles, Williams wrote about foreigners’ encounters with Japan and its people in the mid to late 19 th century. It was the period when foreigners were living in the foreign concession and new Western goods were introduced to Japan. He continued the series until 1976 and, in total, 66 articles appeared in the paper. He also contributed many articles to numerous English magazines in Japan. In all, he published more than 100 articles.
As his 70th birthday was approaching, Williams decided to donate his monographs and manuscript collections, as a whole, to an institution in Japan or overseas. The National Library of Australia was very keen to receive the material and the arrangements were made in the early 1970s. The collections were shipped to Canberra in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His longevity was really a fortunate factor for the collection as Williams spent many hours after he retired from active research and writing, cataloguing the material and organising and indexing his research files. It is a pity that PC’s and database software came too late for him. He could have utilised a database software to its fullest extent by indexing and cross-referencing a mine of information. However, what he was able to do manually is still amazing.
‘A shade of the past’
Harold Williams died at his home in Kobe on 15 January 1987 at the age of 88. He was buried in Shuhogahara Cemetery in a spot he chose a few years before. As he was a witness to many expatriates who died in Japan without sorting out their affairs, he was very well prepared for his passing. He even had a manuscript ready for his last contribution to the ‘Shades of the Past’ series in Mainichi Daily News—to be published after his death. The article, with the title ‘A Shade of the Past’ was published a month after his death and the essay starts as follows:
This is the last article in the series ‘Shades of the Past’. It must of necessity be the last, because recently I died, and so I am now, myself, a shade of the past.—Manichi Daily News, 16 February 1987
This particular article summarised Williams’ philosophy of his research on Japan. He felt his mission was to provide accurate information on the history of foreign residents in Japan. He wrote that ‘I... determined to tell the history of the past with strict regard to the truth, so far as it was in my power to do so, and without thought as to whether the result might be pleasing to Japanese readers or acceptable to foreigners.’ [op.cit] Here, he is expressing the most important value he believed in, namely the historical truth. This historical truth is in many ways limited for us, who live in the post-modern era. For him, to locate the written records in old newspaper articles and letters was a quest for the truth.
Williams’ interest in Japan was specifically in its past, and particularly the involvement of Westerners in Japanese history. Although he lived in Japan for many years and made his living there, his intellectual focus was always on the country’s past. In that sense, his engagement with Japan was limited, but within the term of reference he set for himself, he accomplished a great deal. He was a chronicler, rather than a historian. He left many written articles and also a huge number of research files that can be utilised by researchers after him, myself included.
Ernest W. James
Ernest James led a very different life. His was more flamboyant. He achieved immense wealth and invested it for Japan’s future as he believed in its further economic development.
Ernest William James was born in Kobe in 1889 as the third son of the 11 children of Captain H. D. James and his English wife. Captain James arrived in Japan a few years before Ernest was born to work as a master pilot in the Inland Sea. Around that time, Lloyds of London’s insurance covered only those vessels navigated by a foreign (non-Japanese) licensed Inland Sea pilot.
While Captain James worked away from home, the family resided in Kobe. Ernest went to an English school in the area but he could speak Japanese fluently and had many Japanese friends. He started his career in business early, at a foreign firm. He soon established himself as a respectable businessman in the Kobe–Osaka area and, by 1930, he was one of the wealthiest foreigners in Japan. It was said that he made his fortune in the cotton futures market. His company, A. Cameron & Co. was an agent for various mining companies in North America and Belgium as well as for Nobel’s Explosives of London.
Ernest James was an active member in the Kobe foreign community through his commitment to sports. As a member of the sports club, he rowed, swam and lifted weights. He married an English woman, Winifred Hanna, and together they lived with their two adopted daughters in Kobe.
Williams knew the James family very well as he initially lived in a boarding house run by Mrs. James (Ernest’s mother) when he arrived in Kobe in 1919. Williams became very good friends with the younger children of the James family as they were about his own age. By 1919, Ernest had already left home to start his business career, but Williams was a friend to the whole family.
As an immensely wealthy businessman in Kobe, Ernest James was able to commence an extraordinarily ambitious project in the 1920s. He started to purchase land in Shioya, about 10 kilometres west of downtown Kobe. As Kobe is an area where the mountains come very close to the sea, most of the land James bought was hills and mountains. He gradually increased his holdings over the years to 230 000 square meters (70 000 tsubo) which was equivalent to 57 acres. By Japanese standards, this was a huge area to own privately.
James wanted to develop the area as an exclusive residential estate for Westerners. James believed that the Japanese economy would develop further in the future. Consequently, he anticipated more Westerners would move to Kobe to engage in business, since Kobe, not Osaka, was the centre of overseas trade at that time. He was also aware that desirable housing for Westerners was becoming scarce in and around Kobe city. Thus, he wanted to develop the estate by building Western-style houses with large gardens, lawns and modern facilities. He believed that the establishment of this type of residential area would benefit Kobe as it would attract more Westerners and foreign investment to Kobe. He started to excavate the hilltops and removed the soil to fill the valleys in order to create the housing estates.
The James estate was designed to be more parkland than suburb. He built 55 houses for tenants, established the gardens with hundreds of cherry trees and azaleas, constructed sealed road throughout, and set up a private water supply for the estate. The roads were lit by streetlights at night and all the electricity cables were buried underground to preserve the picturesque scenery of the estate. There was a children’s playground with birdcages, a monkey house and a fishpond. An immense British lion, carved from granite, protected the grounds. Everything was privately owned by Ernest James.
The James family lived in a magnificent mansion, equipped with a swimming pool and a gym, within the estate. For the residents, he set up a club, the Shioya Country Club, where a clubhouse, gym, swimming pool, tennis courts and bowling green were provided. Membership of this club was regarded as a sign of prestige in the foreign community. As the estate was exclusive to Westerners, the only Japanese who were allowed in were servants and workmen. For security purposes, two Japanese policemen guarded the entrance to the estate. They were paid and housed by James.
Ernest James was a generous man, not a businessman who tried to maximise his profit by minimizing the investment, so the houses were often built according to the tenants’ requirements.
James was a well-built man and very keen on physical training. He employed an Italian ‘personal trainer’ and ran aerobic classes to music in his gym. After the participants collapsed with exhaustion, a hot bath, followed by scrumptious snacks and drinks, was waiting.
He did not anticipate the problems that might occur with Japan shifting to militarism and war and continued to expand the estate, until 1939, by buying more land.
As the war approached, and foreign residents in the Kobe area became a target of intense suspicion, his grandiose plans suffered a severe blow. Fifteen British residents in Kobe, including James, were arrested in July 1940 for interrogation. Around this time, a Reuter’s correspondent, M. J. Cox, was arrested by the Japanese police and died while being questioned. The police said that Cox committed suicide by jumping from a window in the two-story building, but some members of the foreign community thought he was pushed. The community members became frightened and many left Japan towards the end of 1940. Eventually, as the Japanese Government froze all the assets of British and American residents in July 1941, there was no option for James but to leave also.
The James family left Japan in September 1941 for Canada via Hong Kong and remained there till the end of the war. As soon as the war ended, Ernest travelled to Shanghai to wait for a permit from the Occupation Forces to get back into Japan. However, he had to wait till 1947 to set foot in Kobe again. During the war, Germans, Italians, Vichy French, other neutral nationals and Japanese citizens had lived on the estate. James’ mansion was used as a recreational hall for the Imperial Navy. Luckily, the Shioya area did not receive the air raids that devastated downtown Kobe in 1945. After the war, the estate was taken over by the Occupation Forces, the mansion was converted to the US Officers’ Club and a large dance hall was built next to the house.
Even though James owned the entire estate—his mansion, the clubhouse, and 55 houses—he had to wait a long time to secure his own residence. In the interim, he had to sleep on a billiard table in the club house he had built for the estate, and was asked to pay rent for that accommodation. The return of the estate to James was carried out slowly as residential properties for the occupation forces were extremely scarce and personnel needed to be accommodated before they could move out.
In the post-war period, James was not only busy regaining control over the estate and bringing it back to its pre-war glory, he was planning to expand it further. In 1948, he bought about 220 000 square metres of land to the north of the estate with a dream of building a nine-hole golf course, a helicopter landing space, and a recreational ground.
However, this dream was not realised as he died in 1952, soon after his wife. By that time, Williams had joined James in his business. He was also a family friend and had been a tenant of the estate since pre-war days. He carried on the compensation claims for the estate as its sole executor and was also given the task of managing it as well as the company.
Eventually, Williams realised that running the estate as a business was almost impossible. The wooden Western-style houses James had built before the war were gradually eaten away by white ants. The roads were badly damaged by big American army trucks during the occupation period and had become too narrow for cars. As the estate was on a hill, seasonal typhoons damaged the houses and gardens. In addition, the inheritance tax in Japan was very high, sometimes 60% of the property’s value. It was not possible to retain the estate as well as pay off the tax. Even the granite British lion that guarded the estate was given some monetary value and was taxed.
So James’ mansion was sold to a local businessman. Then, in 1961, the whole estate was sold to a local developer. Williams managed to remain on the estate and lived in the house (no. 38) of ‘James-yama’ until his death. The new section of the estate set aside for a golf course and a helicopter landing space was eventually turned into residential land by a local developer. The mountains were razed, the valleys were filled and there appeared a vast expanse of flat land where thousands of matchbox-size houses were built in the 1960s and 1970s. In spite of those changes, Williams’ 2-acre property retained the original style of the estate surrounded by a large garden with many shrubs and cherry trees. After Harold’s death in 1987, Jean Williams decided to return to Australia and the house and land were sold to a developer who planned to build 36 townhouses on the property. The estate James dreamed of has now disappeared.
Harry John Griffiths
Harry Griffiths was born in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, England in 1882. At the age of 15, he became an assistant to a chemist and worked in Exeter, London and Torquay. In 1905, he obtained a qualification in pharmacy from the London College of Chemistry. He found a job at J. L. Thompson (chemist) in Kobe and arrived in the city in May 1907 at the age of 25 years. Griffiths eventually became the manager of the store in 1915. He also ran a bookstore on the same premises and became a publisher of books on Japan. One of the books he published was Western Barbarians in Japan and Formosa in Tokugawa Days by M. Paske-Smith. This book includes beautiful colour illustrations.
Griffiths was a close friend of Harold and Jean Williams as all three shared an enthusiasm for Japan. Both Williams and Griffiths were interested in collecting books on Japan and they built up substantial libraries. Griffiths and Jean shared a keen interest in Japanese art, craft and temples, and he often took Jean out to Kyoto and Nara to visit the temples.
Traditional Japanese culture was of most interest to Griffiths. He spoke the language and read the scripts in books and art works. He took lessons in Noh dancing and the tea ceremony with Japanese teachers. A photograph of him in a kimono proved that he practised those arts seriously. The kimono was not only made to match his stature, it also featured, on the sleeves, the family crest that he designed for himself. Griffiths jokingly described the crest as four clutched fists, with the motto ‘Anything I can get, I hold!’ To attend his lessons, he travelled to Osaka from Kobe on the train dressed in his kimono. This must have attracted a lot of attention from the locals.
Griffiths was eager to involve himself in the Japanese life style. He was particularly interested in the traditional side which, he believed, retained the essence of Japanese culture. He thoroughly enjoyed the company of geishas among whom he was affectionately known as ‘Caramel-san’ because he gave them caramels to signal his appreciation of their talents. Around that time, caramel was still very much a novelty in Japan. Griffiths did not smoke or drink but he enjoyed delicacies that were served at exquisite Japanese restaurants. He also appreciated the entertainment geishas gave at those venues. The geishas Griffiths was willing to mix with were accomplished artists who could sing, play instruments and dance beautifully.
The photograph I chose for the flyer of my talk is titled Moon Viewing with a Geisha, with Griffiths sitting next to a beautifully dressed companion. There is an interesting story about this photo. When Griffiths’ uncle asked all his nephews and nieces to send him their photos, this is the one Griffiths provided. Obviously, his uncle was not impressed with the photo and Griffiths was the only one who was not included in his will.
The Westerners who arrived in Kobe dropped in at the bookshop Griffiths ran, particularly if they were interested in Japanese culture. He was a friendly man and chatted with all sorts of people who came into his store, something that eventually caused trouble for him.
Griffiths was arrested in 1939 and jailed for six months on suspicion of being a spy. There was an Australian connection here. An Australian man, Vincent Peters, apparently boasted at a Kobe downtown pub that he was a spy. Peters was reported by a Russian who happened to be there and was arrested by the police. During the police interrogation, he ‘confessed’ that he met and talked with Griffiths in his store. Griffiths was just chatting with a customer who visited his shop and did not even know Peters’ name, but he was suspected as a co-offender. Eventually, Griffiths was released after paying a fine for publishing a book without a proper permit, but this experience affected his health.
The war being imminent, many foreign residents decided to leave Japan. However, Griffiths decided to stay on. It is not clear why, but it was probably because he did not have any close family to go to, other than his brother and sisters in England. In addition, all his assets, which included business and real estate, and most importantly his precious book collection, were still in Kobe. The collection consisted mainly of books on Japan—2300 items in total. He had decided to donate the collection to the University of Bristol and packed it in 34 tea chests with a detailed catalogue; however, he did not manage to send them before the war broke out.
Griffiths was arrested with some other Westerners who remained in Kobe when the war started in December 1941. He was sent first to Tachibana Prison and was later interned in the First Detention House (Internment Camp) in Kobe as Internee no. 46. The living conditions at the detention centre became more difficult as the war progressed. Some detainees who had Japanese families were in a better position as they received extra food and goods, but on the other hand, for those who did not have any family, it was hard. Two periods of imprisonment affected Griffiths not only physically but mentally as well and he suffered from depression. Williams later speculated that the fact Griffiths did not know the fate of his collection did not help as he could imagine its tragic end. His health deteriorated and he died in detention on 1 April 1944 from heart failure.
He had a small but decent funeral arranged by a local funeral director. However, the ceremony was far from what Griffiths had really wanted. Griffiths told Williams before the war that he wanted the two best geishas in Kobe to walk in front of his coffin, instead of the grave-faced funeral director whom he did not like. Williams wrote that he would certainly arrange that even though some people might regard it as improper.
As a loyal friend, Williams tried to find out what had happened to Griffiths’ collection of books. The Japanese authorities told Williams that the collection had been sold to a Tokyo second-hand book dealer for a small amount of money and that it was destroyed in air raids towards the end of the war. However, to Williams’ dismay and annoyance, the books that used to belong to Griffiths continued to turn up in second-hand bookstores. Williams managed to receive some compensation from the Japanese Government on behalf of Griffiths and divided the amount between the University of Bristol and Griffiths’ remaining family in England. Most of the amount went to the university as he had intended.
Different styles of engagement with Japan
Harold Williams, Ernest James and Harry Griffiths loved Japan in different ways.
Griffiths probably came closest to the Japanese culture and lifestyle. He was happy to dress in a kimono, practised Japanese arts, and enjoyed geishas’ company. His interest was narrowly focused on the traditional aspects of Japan, similar to the hobbies and entertainments rich Japanese masters would have enjoyed. Tragically, his close association with Japanese people might have aroused the suspicion of the Japanese authorities. He suffered terribly in the war and died a broken man.
James believed in Japan’s future as a trading nation and he committed his wealth to it. For him, the future of Japan depended on the presence of Westerners. What he attempted to do was to re-create a foreign concession as an exclusive residential and social venue for Westerners. However, World War 2 affected his grandiose plan disastrously and he died before regaining his status of pre-war days, and before achieving his further dream. Had he lived longer, his plan to create a golf course would have brought more financial success as we now know how keen the Japanese are to play golf.
Williams remained as an observer of expatriates, including himself. Later in the 20 th century, he knew that Western entrepreneurial activities in Japan in the early period of contact had already become a faded memory. The mission he gave himself was to record the past as accurately as possible for the future. He was also keenly aware that he, too, would eventually become a shade of the past, as the title of his last article indicated. As he predicted, James, Griffiths and he, himself, became a distant memory for those who live in Kobe. Their shadows remain only in his research files, and these remain in Australia—the country where he kept his sense of belonging throughout his stay in Japan.
All three men experienced difficult times during World War 2 because of the hostility towards them. It must have been a shock when they realised that the long-term associations and contributions to the local Japanese community were quickly forgotten once the war between Japan and Britain was imminent. Yet, both James and Williams returned to Japan and rebuilt their lives there. If Griffiths had survived the war, I believe he would have continued to live in Kobe. Whatever the level of understanding and the characteristics of their relationships, the three had a close association with Japan.
I would like to go back to the photo of Griffiths with a geisha. I do not want to be over-interpretive of this image, but it seems to symbolise some aspects of the three men’s engagement with Japan in the first half of the last century. In the image, Griffiths sits next to a geisha, with his back to the camera. In this sense, he was sending a message that he had put his back against the West and had identified himself with Japan. I sense some formality between him and the woman, not a close intimacy. They are not looking at each other but they are both staring at the same thing—the moon. Their relationship was as close as it could be by sitting next to each other and looking at the same thing. However, how they saw and interpreted it could have been very different, and would have remained that way.