‘Yokohama Yankee’: a family’s lineage in both Japan and America

‘Yokohama Yankee’: a family’s lineage in both Japan and America

The Seattle Times Books

David Takami, Special to The Seattle Times

Yokohama Yankee: My Family’s Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan’ by Leslie Helm Chin Music Press, 360 pp.

Leslie Helm’s remarkable family memoir begins at a point of personal distress. At a memorial for his father in 1991, he feels conflicted about his relationship with his father and memories of his childhood. A few weeks later, Helm and his wife decide to adopt a Japanese child. This momentous prospect triggers unease about his lifelong ambivalence toward Japan and prompts him to explore his family’s long history in the country.

Now a Seattle resident and editor of Seattle Business magazine, Leslie Helm is bilingual in Japanese and has worked as a journalist in Japan for Business Week and the Los Angeles Times.

Helm’s great grandfather, Julius Helm, traveled from his native Germany to Japan in 1869 near the start of the Meiji Restoration when the country was emerging from 200 years of feudalism and self-imposed isolation. Reformers were eager to modernize Japan and looked to Western Europe and America for guidance. Helm helped upgrade the Japanese military and subsequently built a successful stevedoring business that thrived for more than half a century in the port city of Yokohama

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