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Yokohama Yankee: My Family's Five…

Yokohama Yankee: My Family's Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan (2013)

by Leslie Helm

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6218270,964 (4.11)40



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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Very interesting family saga. Well written and informative. ( )
  Rayaowen | Jul 26, 2013 |
When Yokohama Yankee: My Family's Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan by Leslie Helm was released in 2013 by Chin Music Press, it immediately caught my attention. I tend to keep my eye on Chin Music Press--the books it publishes are always interesting in addition to being beautifully designed. Yokohama Yankee is no exception. I was delighted when Chin Music Press offered me a copy of Yokohama Yankee for review. Helm was born and raised in Yokohama, Japan and served as foreign correspondent for Business Week and The Los Angeles Times in Tokyo for eight years. Currently, Helm is the executive editor of Seattle Business. Although he holds masters degrees in both journalism and Asian studies and has a background in political science, giving Helm significant expertise from which to draw, Yokohama Yankee is a much more personal work exploring his family's history in Japan and his and his wife's adoption of two Japanese children.

Coming from a multicultural family of German, American, and Japanese ancestry, Leslie Helm's personal relationship with Japan is a complicated one. When he and his wife Marie decided to adopt Japanese children, Helm decided to reconnect with his family's Japanese roots. The Helms' connection to Japan began in 1869 when Helm's great-grandfather Julius Helm, a German immigrant, arrived in Yokohama by way of America. After pursuing a number of different enterprises, including assisting in the modernization and training of Wakayama's military, Julius would marry a Japanese woman and found a shipping company, establishing the Helms as a prominent merchant family in Yokohama. From there, Helm traces his family's relationship with Japan through the decades, interspersing his own personal experiences with the country among the historical discoveries that he makes. Despite the close ties that he and his family held with Yokohama and Japan, they were generally considered foreigners.

Yokohama Yankee is an incredibly engaging, fascinating, and revealing family memoir. Helm ties his present to his past, uncovering connections he wasn't previously aware of and confirming stories he had been told by other family members. The Helms' history in Yokohama Yankee is closely intertwined with the history of Yokohama and Japan--its foreign community, its economic ups and downs, its natural disasters, its wars. All five generations of the Helm family faced varying degrees of discrimination due to their mixed heritage. In Japan they were seen as gaijin and outsiders; in the West they were seen as inferior because of their Asian blood. Deciding to adopt and raise Japanese children also presented its own set of problems and challenges. The culture, purpose, and reasons behind in adoption in Japan tend to be quite different than those in America.

While writing Yokohama Yankee, Helm conducted over one hundred interviews with friends, family members, Japanese scholars, and former employees of the Helm Brothers company. His research encompasses not only his family's history, but also the historical background of Japan. In addition to being an engrossing read with a unique perspective of Japan, Yokohama Yankee is a beautifully presented book. Found in its pages are reproductions of hundreds of historic and family photographs, maps, postcards, stamps, and other ephemera. They were a lovely addition to the book. I enjoyed Yokohama Yankee a great deal. It's a family history, but it's also a history of a country--an insightful story of one multicultural family's five generations and their relationship with Japan.

Experiments in Manga ( )
1 vote PhoenixTerran | May 31, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Part history and part memoir but written with the excitement of a good fictional family saga. This is a look at five generations of a mixed race family and all their ups and downs as they try to fit in in Japan and the US. Very well done. My only criticism is that the photos, while plentiful and fitting, were quite dark and often hard to see. It is a shame because they really added a personal touch to the story. ( )
  Yells | May 2, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I really enjoy this type of book that incorporates a personal narrative with the more general history of the area. I knew very little about the history of Japan so I learned a lot from this book. The story of Helm's family in Japan was interesting and I appreciated all of pictures and artwork throughout the text. ( )
  KarenElissa | Apr 7, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Helm draws upon his great grandfather's unpublished memoir and primary source material from the Japanese government archives, personal letters, artifacts and interviews with surviving employees of Helm Brothers and family members to bring his poignant and heartbreaking homecoming to life.
Helm is a resourceful and talented writer, part researcher and part raconteur. His sleuthing takes him to remote corners of the Japanese archipelago to track down leads about his relatives. His Japanese language skills help him gain access to historical records at Japanese government offices and temples and to interview local officials. Helm uses his unique cultural and family history to present nuanced and subtle impressions of Japan and foreigners who live in the country, shedding light on both cultures.
Helm was the Tokyo correspondent for the Los Angeles Times when he realized that the majority of the articles he had written were "critical of Japan in some way." This was surprising considering Helm was born in Japan and is part Japanese himself. In this lovingly researched memoir, he sifts through five generations of Helms living in Japan. The first, Julius, arrived in Japan by way of Germany in 1869. Having missed his boat to China by "the length of [his] nose," Julius whimsically "booked passage on the next ship, which happened to be headed for Yokohama." After a brief stint training former samurai to fight like "Prussians", Julius married a Japanese woman, a highly unusual arrangement for the time. The Helm family story certainly wends an interesting course through history—from the Meiji Restoration through the World Wars—history buffs will relish Helm's painstaking detail and impressive command of the material. Some of the most endearing and personal scenes interwoven throughout the book are of Helm and his wife's process of adopting two Japanese children, Mariko and Eric. Through joys and anxieties, the present-day Helms examine what family ties really mean.
added by DaveJacobson | editPublishers Weekly (Apr 1, 2013)
The story of this adoption, interwoven with Helm’s exploration of his own family history and identity, makes this an extremely subtle, rich narrative.
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A cool autumn wind was blowing in from the sea when I reached the Christ Church in Yokohama.
"They say Hiro was one tough woman," Dad began. "Well, this Japanese warlord's retinue was passing in front of Julius's house. The warlord was being carried in one of those kago, you know, those sedan chairs enclosed in bamboo shades. Samurai guards walked at his side. Julius's gardener was clipping the camellia bush that hung over the compound wall when one of the branches fell at the foot of a samurai guard. The samurai, furious at the insult to his lord, pulled out his sword, kicked down the gate and ran into the compound to chase down the gardener." (...)
"The gardener clambered down the tree and fell to his knees. Touching his forehead to the ground, he begged forgiveness. The samurai raised his sword and was about to cut off the poor bastard's head when Hiro jumped in front of the gardener and put out her hand." (...) "The samurai was bringing his sword down on the gardener when suddenly he saw this little woman standing in front of him."
"'Stop!' she shouted. Well, the samurai stopped his sword just as it sliced through Hiro's little finger."
I was on my way to meet with a yakuza boss to do a story on Japan's mafia-like gangsters.
As the driver navigated his big car through the narrow streets, I noticed something odd about his right hand as it rested on the steering wheel - his pinky was a short stub. It reminded me of a scene from a Japanese movie about yakuza in which a gangster chopped off his own pinky with a butcher's knife as a way of making amends to his boss for botching an important job. I shuddered. Gangsters could turn violent if they believed someone was impugning their honor. Yet I had to ask. Screwing up my courage, I leaned forward. "So what happened to your finger?"
When the driver turned his head, his pale face flushed a bright red. "I wrecked the Boss's car," he said, embarrassed.
I sank back into the plush leather seats, feeling a mixture of amusement and relief. Perhaps he was a gangster, but he seemed like a sweet kid.
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Book description
A sweeping memoir of one German and American family’s five generations as outsiders in Yokohama, Japan.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0984457666, Paperback)

Leslie D. Helm's decision to adopt Japanese children launches him on a personal journey through his family's 140 years in Japan, beginning with his great-grandfather, who worked as a military advisor in 1870 and defied custom to marry his Japanese mistress. The family's poignant experiences of love and war help Helm overcome his cynicism and embrace his Japanese and American heritage.

This is the first book to look at Japan across five generations, with perspective that is both from the inside and through foreign eyes. Helm draws on his great-grandfather's unpublished memoir and a wealth of primary source material to bring his family history to life.

Leslie D. Helm is a veteran foreign correspondent, having served eight years in Tokyo for Business Week and the Los Angeles Times. Currently, he is editor of Seattle Business, a monthly magazine that has won multiple first place excellence in journalism awards in the Pacific Northwest. Helm earned a master's degree in journalism from the Columbia University School of Journalism and in Asian studies from the University of California, Berkeley. He was born and raised in Yokohama, Japan, where his family has lived since 1868.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:50 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Yokohama Yankee is the first book to look at Japan across five generations with perspective that is both from the inside and through foreign eyes. Helm draws on his great grandfather's unpublished memoir and a wealth of primary source material to bring his family history to life."--Publisher's website.… (more)

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Chin Music Press

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