Yokohama Yankee: My Family's Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan Paperback – Mar 12 2013
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About the Author
Leslie Helm is a veteran reporter and editor with more than 20 years experience working for local and national publications. Currently, he is the editor of Seattle Business, a monthly magazine. He also served as executive editor of Washington CEO Magazine. Helm began his career with Business Week, reporting for the magazine first as Tokyo correspondent and later as Boston bureau chief. He returned to Tokyo to cover Japan and Korea as correspondent for The Los Angeles Times before moving toSeattle for the Times to cover business in the Northwest. Helm earned a master of science from the Columbia University School of Journalism. He also has a bachelor's degree in political science and a master of arts in Asian studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Helm was born and raised in Japan and speaks fluent French and Japanese.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Leslie Helm traces his family's history in Japan from the arrival of his German great-grandfather, Julius, and his marriage to a Japanese woman during Victorian times to his own upbringing in Japan and eventual marriage to an American woman and their adoption of two Japanese children. There is a lot of information in Helm's book and many photographs as well. Unfortunately the photographs - at least in the advance reader copy - do not carry captions and this makes piecing some of Helm's story together a bit difficult. There are many times while reading the text when it would have been helpful for the photographs to match up with names of individuals or locations mentioned. Obviously these are mostly family photographs passed down, so perhaps Helm did not feel his knowledge deep enough to commit to definite captions.
The book reads quickly and is quite absorbing, very much like watching a well-produced documentary on PBS. Probably most of us have not thought much about immigrants to Japan during the Victorian era, let alone Germans who started successful businesses. Helm introduces us to a world many do not know and might not hear of at all if it were not for Helm's book. There is a good deal of Japanese history to be learned as well, so as the reader takes in Helm's personal family history, there is also the history of an entire country to think about.
Helm's writing about his own youth in Japan and his later adoption of two Japanese children is fascinating, but takes a backseat to the story of his great-grandfather, Julius, without whom none of the Helms would have a connection to Japan, and the story of Julius's son, Julie, the modern-day Helm's grandfather. The story of their lives, their marriages, and the way they did business in Japan was all very interesting.
The book is not genealogy, per se, as Helm does not fill it with images of birth, marriage, and death certificates or citations to same. It is, however, a beautifully put together family history that is part research, part family stories passed down, and part memoir. The author does supply a very helpful family tree at the beginning of the book, complete with photographs which does help the reader better make the connections between various family members.
The book is definitely worth reading. The only criticism is that one wonders whether Helm took on too much. At times it seems as though just Julius's story could fill the book. The modern-day Helms and their adoption of two Japanese children could fill another. But one does understand why the author wanted it all under one cover, so all the additional information and details on peripheral relatives should just be taken in stride by the reader. No one will complete this book without learning something new.
The author's love/hate relationship with Japan is shared by many of us who grew up living in Japan and is an essential feature of the East/West dilemma that confronts the modern history of Westerner residing there. As the author shows so clearly most long term residents of Japan learn to work through the cultural complexity and make peace with their environment with time. Helm's book gives us a nice perspective on the process by which such cultural accommodation has been achieved. While this book is important at the personal level, it is even more important as a historical document that reveals the experiences of Helm Bros. and the men who built that firm in Yokohama. The story is really remarkable, taking us through the Meiji Restoration, World War I, the Great Earthquake of 1923, World War II, and finally Japan's postwar recovery. Each of these events comes alive through the personal perspective of family members who lived in Yokohama for nearly a century and a half. The author should be congratulated for the way he has captured their lives and times.
When the book came I sat right down and read a couple of chapters. Then I stopped. I realized this was not the kind of book I thought it would be. It is BETTER than I thought it would be.
I decided to stop looking for the familiar and start the book all over again. I wanted to see it for the book Leslie Helm intended it to be. I am so glad I did.
This is a stunning book. The artwork, layout, photos and prints are all best appreciated in book form. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone as an eBook. unless there is no other option. I found myself going back to the genealogy page and other photos for reference several times.
Besides this being a book with rare, documented insight into Japan at a time of transformation and through two wars it gives wonderful detail into other non-historical aspects of Japan that we might otherwise never encounter.
This is a book about belonging and not belonging. Wanting to belong and not wanting to belong. Being accepted and not accepted and finally...about being accepting.
Interspersed the historical chapters are Leslie Helm's personal stories and questions about his family, about Japan and more questions raised after the the adoption of his two children in Japan. This chronicles the history the Helms, a well know foreign family in Yokohama from the late 1800's until now. A family for whom through marriage, intermarriage and business association, questions of comfort with identity( familial, cultural, social and national allegiance) seemed to be always present.
I enjoyed reading about the foreign population of Yokohama in the early years. Leslie writes in detail about the many events, natural and man-made that would play a part in the lives and fortunes of Japan and of course, the Helm family.
He is honest in his self assessment as a person, writer, a father and a son.
You don't have to have lived in Japan to appreciate this book, There are many people for whom " home" is somewhere that in retrospect they never really fit or were accepted as they believed they were.. But it is still the "home" they think about. I have bought 11 books so far...the perfect gift for someone who has lived there.
Helm is too careful a journalist to let the tropes of genre fiction take over his account. But make no mistake, as a family chronicle, the story of the Helms is a dynastic tale worthy of Michener or Clavell. As an investigator, and as his own subject, Helm makes them all vivid and alive, from the restless, entrepreneurial patriarch, Julius, arriving in the village backwater of Yokohama in the choppy wake of Commodore Perry's Black Ships, to the mixed-race second generation, all with distinct and ambitious personalities, to Don Helm, the author's charming but difficult father, raised in Yokohama's sunny and sheltered European pre-war enclave, who returns to his ravaged birthplace as a bewildered American GI after the war, growing ever more embittered and distant, railing drunkenly about the "God-damned Japanese." Finally, this is a book about the author coming to terms with a heritage of huge accomplishments as well as marginalization and ambivalent identity, about discovering both the gifts and shocks that come with a truly multi-cultural legacy.