Leslie Helm’s decision to adopt Japanese children launches him on a personal journey through his family’s 140 years in Japan, beginning with his German great-grandfather, who worked as a military adviser in 1870, married a Japanese woman and started a stevedoring and forwarding business in Yokohama. The family operates a successful business across two world wars by having sons take German, Japanese and U.S. citizenship, and transferring management among the sons as Japan shifts its alliances from the U.S. and Britain to Germany and Italy. While the business survives, the family suffers from its mixed-race identity and the inability to ever truly establish a sense of belonging in Japan. The book draws a contrast between the Helm family, and the family of Leslie’s mother, Barbara Schinzinger, whose father, Robert Schinzinger, taught German in Japan for sixty years but always maintained a strong identity as a German national with a duty to teach the Japanese about “the true Germany.”
In this presentation I am presenting my recently published book on this topic. My family history and our story of a multinational, biracial merchant family serves as historical document, shedding light on the political, economic, cultural, and racial interactions and tensions between Japan and the United States for more than a century and a half, right up to the present day.
Leslie Helm graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with an M.A. in Asian studies and attended the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism on a U.S. Japan Friendship Commission fellowship and later received an Abe Fellowship. He worked as Tokyo correspondent for Business Week and the Los Angeles Times. Currently he is the editor of Seattle Business magazine.