October 22, 2015

4sIpsiXNZC-xtCXog2PdPS5YzxyBA05eEM2PO0GCt-Q[1]One of Dad’s closest friends at UC Berkeley, and later in college and language school was Hans Baerwald. Hans, who later became a professor at UCLA focused on Japanese politics, wrote a fascinating story of his life here.  Hans’s daughter, my friend Jan Baerfwald, was pass down her grandfather Pasha’s amazing collection of photographs of Japan in the early 1900s.

I asked Jan about her grandfather, who she called Pasha. This is what she wrote:

Pasha’s name was Ernst (or Ernest) Baerwald. He was brought as a POW from Tsingtao in 1914 where he lived at the Bando POW camp (in Naruto) until it closed in 1919, when he moved to Kobe – there’s an article my dad wrote which appears as a link on the Wikipedia entry about Bando  that will tell you a bit more. I think the family emigrated to the States in 1940 (except for my aunt, who was already attending Mills College in Oakland). The whole story of Bando is fascinating – seems more like a village, with small businesses, theater groups, an orchestra (Pasha played the violin), etc. They taught the locals how to make beer and bake bread. There’s a fair amount on the web about it.

So Pasha, like my great uncle Willie, spent many years in a Japanese POW camp. But unlike my father’s family, he moved in German high society in Tokyo. In his visitor’s book, there is the signature of Albert Einstein, who Pasha apparently hosted when Einstein visited Japan. The visitor’s book also contains the signatures of my maternal grandfather, Robert Schinzinger, and his wife Annelise.

In any case, Jan has shared with me many of the pictures she inherited from Pasha and I hope to post them on this blog from time to time. Here are a few more of them.

Bq3CJs-Ck6YGi43ve7EVIaa7cgPCMGSMqc7XdB7anz0[1]L3ePNlDyyfzOe2-WR6mhmzu8DhOHKAAW5yQbwqmizdk[1]Presumably this is a sawyer delivering a nice-sized piece of lumber to raise someone’s roof beams.






But what’s this vendor making. Anybody care to guess? By the looks on the faces of the kids, I suspect it’s sweet.

So excited to get my first letter from a reader of the Japanese edition.

October 19, 2015

近所の書店で、以前(20年程前)から日本の黎明期である明治初期に興味があり、お雇い外国人の話しなど特に興味 があったので、何気無く購入致しました。しかし、ただのフツーのおばさん?オバアチャンとしては読み尽くした感があったのでさほど期待もせず…(ごめんなさい)
私は(1950生)神戸出身なので あのジェームズ邸との繋がりには驚かされました。

The Japanese translation of Yokohama Yankee is now available

September 28, 2015

The Japanese translation of Yokohama Yankee is now available here. If you have read my book in English but also read and write Japanese, it would be wonderful if you would write a review of the book on the Japanese site. I’m afraid the site is rather bare bones. Would be wonderful if a couple people who have already read my book could recommend it to the Japanese audience.

Thanks for your consideration.

Best regards,



Lost (and Found) in Translation

August 18, 2015


I’m very excited to put the finishing touches to the Japanese translation of Yokohama Yankee. The Japanese edition comes out in late September.

The translation was in the very capable hands of Yumiko Murakami, who has translated many books. Even so, there have been times we have had to hammer out our differences.
One of these days I’d like to go into more depth on the areas in which we have differed in translating my particular perspective on Japanese culture and language.

Wearing yukata and preparing for obon.

July 20, 2015

I loChris,leslie,julie-kimonove this picture of my brother Chris and me in yukata, my sister Julie in
kimono, and my half-sister Emi and half brother, Karl (My grandfather’s children from his second wife), in western clothes. Behind me in kimono is Shizuka, my grandfather’s second wife. Also there is Unozawa-san, our housekeeper and our nanny, whose name I can’t remember. We are standing in front of our house at Yamate in Yokohama about 1960. I think we must have been getting ready to gkidsinkimonoo to the summer obon festival.

In the next picture it looks like I have some money in hand to spend at the fair.

Thirty years later, soon after adopting Mariko and Eric, we dressed Mariko omatsuri_0002_NEWup in a yutaka and tucked Eric into the snuggly and went to the bon-odori, the fair to celebrate the return of the spirits.






Mariko wanted to fish in the water for a ball.omatsuri_0001_NEW






And I tried to learn the local dance, looking a little silly carrying Eric in the baby snuggly. omatsuri_0003_NEW

July 4th and Fireworks in Japan

June 23, 2015

I’m always amazed at these photos a July 4th fireworks display in Yokohama sometime in the late 1920VBM-eDWfubMl3zM8qLOYMX4kVDmzB0B7avOOY8Fil8ks or early 1930s. The Japanese were incredibly skilled at using fireworks to create images of the American flag and the White House of the Independence day celebration. July 4th was always a big deal in Yokohama.  I never really understood what Independence Day was all about, but I enjoyed the festivities that always started the summer and came just a few weeks before Japan’s O-Bon, festival of the spirits. Boith were excuses for big parties.

My mother would often take us to a a U.S. military base (Yokohama had several American bases filled with homes, schools, movie theaters and teen clubs.) There would always be a marching band, usually from the navy, playing Sousa tunes. Sometimes an aircraft carrier would be moored nearby and open to visitors. There would be potato sack races, three-legged races and tug-of-wars with massive ropes. Best of all there were grilled hamburgers and, if we were lucky, American ice cream made  with real cream, not frozen milk like most of the Japanese ice cream.

One year, there were even motorboats for the kids to drive around a course. I was only eight at the time, and so wasn’t allowed to drive a boat and I always envied the other kids. Sasagawa Ryoichi, who had once been imprisoned as a war criminal and later became a billionaire operating boat-races used for gambling, had arranged for the kids to use the  boats for public relations.  Much later I nterviewed Sasagawa, who was then on a campaign to win the Nobel peace prize and was the single largest private donor to the United Nations. He bragged about how he had piloted his private plane to Europe to visit Hitler and Mussolini. (He said he met Il Duce, but missed Hitler who was on a trip.)

In evening, after the festivities, there would be fireworks at the base. But more often we would go home and Dad would take us up to the roof of Helm House where we got a great view of grander fireworks paid for, I assume, by the American Consulate, which was just a few blocks away.

It was pretty easy to buy fireworks in Japan at any time of year and so my friends and I often enjoyed playing with the dozens of varieties for sale. There were the little bead-like fireworks that you used a sling shot to hit against the wall to make them explode. The Chinese variety you would throw at someone’s feet and the machine-gun ratatat would make people jump. Then really explosive ones we used, cruelly, to blow up ant hills. I learned my lesson.

I was about 9. I was bicycling home when I came across my brother and his friends playing with them. They would put a firecracker in a bottle and cork it up. When the firecracker exploded, the cork would shoot into the sky. But then someone had the bright idea of screwing a cap on the bottle. This time all the older kids scattered. I stood there stupidly with my bike wondering what was going on.

I didn’t know what hit me. Kids were screaming and my mother ran out of the house. (I was always getting into accidents.) She picked me up and ran to the street where she flagged down a cab to take us the one block to the hospital. Blood was pouring from my face. The doctor took a look at my torn eyeball and said he would have to remove it. My mother asked him to him to wait. She called a friend who knew a leading Japanese eye surgeon who happened to be in Yokohama and was able to save my eye.

The picture on the right shows me as a cub scout helping raise the flag on July 4th at a U.S. militaryJuly 4th-eyepatch base in Yokohama. I’m the one at the end of the line with the huge patch over my eye. For Halloween that year, four month later, I was still wearing a patch, but my mother made me a pirates outfit and replaced the white patch with a much nicer black one. To this day I have a section of my iris missing, which prevents my pupil from adjusting to the glare

Today the only kind of fireworks I like are sprinklers. My favorites are the Japanese sprinklers that are little more than a string. You light them and a little blob gathers at the bottom of the string from which shoot tiny sparks.

Here is a picture of me lighting the larger sprinklers for Mariko during the summer of 12006-03-04 10.13.44992, soon after we adopted her. I loved to watch Mariko’s eyes light up as she looked at the sparks fly.


The Weapons Bazaar

April 26, 2015

Landesarchiv_Baden-Wuerttemberg_Hauptstaatsarchiv_Stuttgart_M_703_R1832N2_Bild_1_(1-117234-1)Arms merchants are having a field day supplying virtually every side of the Mideast conflict whether its Saudi Arabia or Israel. An article in Foreign Policy make the convincing case that the U.S. demonized Iran in part because it needed a convincing new enemy to support continued defense spending. The Bush administration manufactured evidence of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” as an excuse to invade Iraq. At the time, a Boeing employee I know suggested it was no coincidence that a lot of missiles in the U.S. inventory had to either be used or decommissioned.

I am particularly sensitive to the west’s tendency to make money off of war because of the role my own family played in militarizing Japan. My great-grandfather Julius, was among a small band of German soldiers who helped to introduce conscription to Japan. wakasoldiers

The picture on the right shows my great-grandfather with members of the Japanese army in the late 1800s.

My cousin, Stefan Schinzinger, was doing some of his own research when he came across a German archive with pictures of another family arms merchant. Albert Schinzinger, my grandfather Robert Schinzinger’s uncle, represented Krupp in Japan. The pictures below appear to show Albert on a shooting range in Hokkaido demonstrating the power of the artillery that he was selling to Japan as it built up its army in preparation for war with Russian. The West would later complain about the militarization of Japan, but at the turn of the century, when Britain and the United States was fearful of Russian expansionism, they were happy to see Japan’s rising military strength. They not only supplied Japan with arms, but they wrote frequently about how well the Japanese soldiers were trained. During the Russo-Japanese war, much of the press glorified the exploits of the Japanese soldiers. Here are the pictures. The first picture is of Albert Schinzinger many years later when he was appointed honorary Japanese consult in Berlin. After World War I, when German was enemy to Japan, Albert would co-found a company that would play a key role in developing a closer relationship between the German and Japanese navies, the beginnings of what would later be the alliance of axis powers.Landesarchiv_Baden-Wuerttemberg_Hauptstaatsarchiv_Stuttgart_M_703_R879N1_Bild_1_(1-115456-1) Landesarchiv_Baden-Wuerttemberg_Hauptstaatsarchiv_Stuttgart_M_703_R1001N1_Bild_1_(1-115668-1) Landesarchiv_Baden-Wuerttemberg_Hauptstaatsarchiv_Stuttgart_M_703_R1001N2_Bild_1_(1-115669-1) (1) Landesarchiv_Baden-Wuerttemberg_Hauptstaatsarchiv_Stuttgart_M_703_R1001N3_Bild_1_(1-115667-1) Landesarchiv_Baden-Wuerttemberg_Hauptstaatsarchiv_Stuttgart_M_703_R1001N4_Bild_1_(1-115670-1) Landesarchiv_Baden-Wuerttemberg_Hauptstaatsarchiv_Stuttgart_M_703_R1832N1_Bild_1_(1-117235-1) (1) Landesarchiv_Baden-Wuerttemberg_Hauptstaatsarchiv_Stuttgart_M_703_R1832N2_Bild_1_(1-117234-1)


March 5, 2015

mariko 2004-1I’ve been pondering about what it takes to feel like an insider in a community. I certainly felt like a strong part of a community when I coached the soccer team of my daughter, Mariko. Our team, the Shooting Stars, was made up of a wonderful group of kids and great parents, and somehow we managed to win the city championship in Seattle for five years in a row. It was recreational soccer, of course. Still it was very exciting.
Now those girls have gone their different ways. Some are doing great. Others have faced challenges. I am no longer part of their lives. I’ve remained close friends with most of the parents but as a community, it has largely dissolved.
When my son was a Boy Scout, I got involved in the troop, and that was a nice community. We suffered together when we went ice camping, we cleared part of Discovery Park and planted native plants and we helped each others kids get merit badges. Again, it was a strong, if temporary community.

Being the editor of a local magazine has helped. In past jobs I would seldom talk to the same person more than once. Now, since I cover the local community, I frequently run into the same people again and again. People I have met in interviews or in business settings have become friends. And since my magazine is local I have more reason to follow local issues. That, too, has made me feel more a part of the community.
Yesterday, a young couple moved into their new house a couple doors down. When I welcomed to the neighborhood, I realized that after 25 years in this house I really am one of the old timers in the area. I told them about the people in the neighborhood, including our amazing neighbor who has been nurse, national champion cross country skier, master carpenter, pastry chef and now artist. I told him about someone down the street who could cause trouble. I told them about the block parties we do annually to reconnect.
Now I’m leading an effort to build a walk and bicycle trail that will link our Magnolia neighborhood more directly with downtown Seattle. It’s touchy because some neighbors in the area do not support the project. They worry they will lose their privacy if more people walk and bicycle past their houses. Today I walked the neighborhood going door-to-door to listen to their concerns. I now understand how they feel. But I still feel strongly that the trail through city-owned parkland will benefit the whole community and I’ve put a lot of effort into it. We hold regular meetings, we’ve put up a Facebook page (Magnolia Trail Community) and we received a $25,000 grant from the city of Seattle to hire a consultant to look at potential environmental and city permitting issues. There’s been great community support for the trail. A member of the city council recently called me and asked to walk with me along the site of the proposed trail. As we push forward with this effort I’m meeting many of the core people in the community who get things done. Turns out there are a couple dozen people who are involved in just about every improvement project. Now I am one becoming one of them. It feels good to be doing this. I’m beginning to feel like a real insider and I like it. Foreigners in Japan seldom have opportunities to get involved in projects like this. And it may be one reason it’s so hard to feel part of a community.

Kiyofuku Chuma 1935-2014

February 17, 2015

chuma-web2I was heartbroken to learn recently of the death of my good friend and mentor Kiyofuku Chuma.

I first met him in 1977 when he visited my mother, who occasionally hosted visitors of the state department. I had just graduated from college and was considering a career in journalism. Chuma-san had already been a reporter at Asahi Shimbun for 17 years. “Come work in Japan,” he said. “I will make all the introductions you need.” He was true to his word. When my wife Marie and I went to India a year later, he introduced us to the Asahi Shimbun correspondent in New Delhi who promptly invited us to a charming sitar concert at his home.

When I arrived in Tokyo to work as a correspondent for Business Week, Chuma-san introduced me to then Finance Minister Noboru Takeshita and I spent a memorable week following Takeshita around on the campaign trail and had dinner with his family. Chuma-san was patient with me as I tried to understand the complexities of Japanese politics. He was quite upset when I wrote a story about a yakuza boss’s involvement in the relief effort in Kobe. Chuma-san thought the story reflected too positively on the gangster. I don’t think I ever measured up to his high standards, but he was always generous with his time and counsel. And he was a warm and open-hearted man.

Chuma-san, he wife, his son and his daughter all became close friends to Marie and me. Marie exchanged English and Japanese lessons with Chuma-san and Marie spoke at his daughter’s wedding. Chuma-san and his wife once stayed with us in Seattle. And although we took him all over the state, Chuma always said his fondest memory of his visit was of walking to the abandoned schoolyard behind our house and picking blackberries that grew wild on the chain-linked fence. “They are so sweet,” he said. “They are just so sweet–and right in your backyard.”

Chuma-san was well regarded in the journalism world and became chair of Asahi Shimbun’s editorial board in 1994 and executive editor in 1999. Even after he retired from the Asahi Shimbun, he continued to work in journalism, taking a job as chief editor of the Shinano Mainichi Shimbun in Nagano Prefecture. It meant being away from his wife and grandchildren, but he said he enjoyed helping the local reporters improve their work.

Can it be that 38 years have passed since I met that gentle man in Oakland at my mother’s house. The last time Marie and  I saw him, two summers ago, he took us to a very elegant Japanese restaurant where the sake and dishes kept coming for hours. I remember waving to him as Marie and I turned to catch our train. I felt a tug at my heart, and a strange premonition that I would not see him again. It was odd I had felt that way since it was his wife who had recently been sick not Chuma-san. Now he is gone and I feel a deep loss. It is a loss that feels greatly magnified because Chuma-san and his wife were such an important connection for me to Japan. But I am also reminded how few truly precious friends we have during our short lives and how important it is for us to treasure them while they are still with us.



Is international adoption really such a terrible thing?

January 19, 2015

It was with great sadness that I read Maggie Jones’s cover story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine   Why a Generation of Adoptees is Returning to South Korea. The story describes how hundreds of South Korean children adopted by American families have returned to South Korea in search of their roots. As an adoptive parent, it always pains me that no matter how much love we give our children there is always that strong desire among our adopted children to reconnect with their biological parents. Over the years, it’s something I’ve come to understand and accept. And although I know it would be difficult for my two adopted children to find their biological parents given Japan’s adoption system today,  I would fully support them should they choose to take that journey.

I understand the sense of alienation expressed by many of the adopted children in the story. My children experienced many of those same feelings. Although I am one quarter Japanese, I look white. My wife is also white. So every time someone saw us as a family, there are always questions–people are always trying to figure out how we are related.

This was very difficult for the children when they were growing up. When we took our children back to Japan for four months and put them in Japanese schools, they loved the experience. Today, however, while the children feel close to Japan, they see themselves as American. They have been to Japan enough times to know that they are culturally very different from the Japanese even though they may be ethnically Japanese and have a pretty good understanding of Japanese language and culture.

What I find the most sad about the adoptees quoted in the article was the feeling among some of them that all international adoption is bad and that it should be shut down. Few people doubt that children should be adopted first in families from the same country. But if that is not an option, and that is the case in many countries, it seems unfortunate to cut off the option of international adoption. In the case of Japan, for example, there is still a stigma attached to adoption and so there are very few parents interested in adoption. There is a widespread feeling among many Japanese that adopted children are of a lower class and therefore not as smart. In many cases, children would be raised in an orphanage if outside families hadn’t chosen to adopt them. In the case of my daughter, she was 3 years old when we adopted her. She was very strong willed. While that is a characteristic we like in Japan, it was an attitude the adoption authorities in Japan believed would make it difficult for her to fit into a Japanese family.

My book, Yokohama Yankee, touches on many of these adoption issues. I talk about my own initial difficulty in embracing the idea of interracial adoption coming from a family that has long denied its mixed heritage. I write about  the challenges my children have had, but also their successes. Later this year, my book will be translated in Japanese. My hope is that Japanese couples who read about my experience will recognize what a joy it can be to adopt and choose to adopt themselves. It takes courage because families who adopt often find themselves shunned by relatives.

Of course the ideal thing is for children to be adopted by parents in their own culture. But until a society is ready to embrace those children, international adoption is the best chance that children in orphanages have to be raised with all the love that parents can give. As excellent as the orphanages in Japan are, there is only one adult for every 10-15 children so there is no way staff in an orphanage can provide the love and attention that parents can. If some children are put up for international adoption and some portion of them experience some sense of alienation, that is unfortunate. But it’s hard to argue that those children would be better off in orphanages.

Some of the adoptees say countries like South Korea should do more to make sure that children who are abandoned or placed in orphanages are raised by South Koreas.  I totally agree. And I am fully supportive of their efforts to tighten adoption laws so no child is “taken away” from a family. But until more people from a country choose to adopt children in orphanages, international adoption must be left open as an option. For many children, it’s the only chance they have to get the love that they deserve.


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