A Mixed-race American’s experience in Japan and America and his pursuit of a career in cooking.

February 13, 2016

Pat Paul, who is half Japanese and spent time in Yokohama, wrote me a lovely letter in response to my book and agreed to let me share it here:

Yokohama Yankee was a fascinating book. I share your experience in being of mixed blood with a bi-cultural upbringing. The story of your family is much more epic and historical than mine, yet I can still relate to it on a few levels. Born in Indiana in 1958, the son of a US Navy captain and his Japanese wife, I was soon sailing for Yokohama with my family aboard the Hikawa Maru. My father was born in Los Angeles, mother in Yokohama, brother in Tokyo and my sister here in Seattle. My parents separated, leaving me with my mother in Yokohama. My father, brother and sister returned to live in the San Juan Islands.

My mother and I returned to Seattle in 1963 as my fathers health was failing, he had purchased a house in Wallingford at this time. My father passed away in 1965, leaving a young widow who spoke little English and her children who spoke little Japanese. During his time in Japan after the war, my father was C.O. of Opama Naval Air Base and worked with local businessman in some sort of capacity with the Occupation. He loved Japan and its people, we were his second set of children, the first being American. I have many old photographs of him at various swanky affairs surrounded by well-dressed business types and attractive young women, he always is the guest of honor. Funny thing is I really don’t know exactly what he did but he sure seemed to be enjoying himself.

In 1969 my mother announced that we were moving to Yokohama for an unspecified amount of time. It had been my fathers wish that we experience our Japanese side. We were not at all happy with this but my mom is headstrong, so we did not argue. This time we took passage on the Oronsay, a P&O liner and sailed back to Japan, disembarking at Osanbashi on a gloomy grey day in October, 1969. I attended Y.I.S. for the 6th grade. Mr Glass was the headmaster and my main teacher was an arrogant young Englishman named Mr French of all things. Ms Chatainville was our French language teacher, she was horrible. I played cricket at YCAC and was there for a private screening of “Yellow Submarine”. It was the genteel life of the well heeled diplomat-business core of which we were not a part of. We lived near Negishi Eki in

Isogo in a very Japanese neighborhood. The gaki would follow me around crying “Gaijin” or “Kureji Boy” (crazy boy) I got used to it. I transferred to St Josephs for 6th and 7th grade. My brother also went there and my sister was at St Maurs. My stomping grounds were mainly Honmoku, Kannai, Motomachi and of course, the Bluff. There were great little excursions with my mates to Zushi, Kamakura and into Tokyo where I had my first Big Mac at the original

McDonalds In Ginza, heaven! Although my dad was Navy, I did not hang out with the American military kids, they were rough and mean-spirited. Being American and having that fixed exchange rate made for a life of entitlement and adventure. We grew up fast and found that the freedoms were many. I would imagine that growing up Stateside would have been boring by comparison. We went to Expo 70 and even got to see Utaemon in the Grand Kabuki in Osaka.

You touch many times on the struggles and challenges of being of mixed blood. I know how it feels to have one foot firmly embedded in either culture, yet never both at once, that is impossible. Seattle is a great place to be for a person of mixed blood, yet that is not to say that racism does not exist here, and it certainly exists in Japan.

We returned to Seattle in 1972. My sister and I enrolled at Blanchet, my brother joined the Army. I transferred out in my junior year partly because of waspish attitudes and “good natured” racism. The friends that I had before leaving America in 1969 were like strangers to me now. I did not understand their attitudes or outlook on life. They seemed immature and unworldly, perhaps that was me being arrogant at a tender age?

My mother knew there would be problems for her kids in this respect. She told me to never be ashamed of my Japaneseness, to always be proud of of her and my father.

And so on through life it went that I was proud of my Japanese heritage, while being a proud American at the same time, never did I consider this a contradiction.

It has not always been so clear cut. I returned to Japan in 1986 to rediscover my Japaneseness with the thought of living and working there for a spell. I came back feeling certain that it was impossible to adapt to their lifestyle. Things had changed. I was critical of the lack of individualism, the hollow soulness, the rampant adoption of vapid and meaningless Western fads. What happened to yukata and geta in the summertime? The contrived pop culture and American fast food restaurants made me feel that Japan was losing its way, it was sad.

But my quest for Japaneseness continued here in Seattle. I enrolled at the University of Washington, Jackson School of International Studies. I was, of course, in the East Asia program with special interest in post WWII Japanese Politics. I felt it important to study about that time, mainly because of my fathers involvement with it, maybe it would shed some light on exactly what he did, such a mystery to me. You mentioned Susan Hanley in your acknowledgements, she was my counselor and had a lot to do with my application process. I also had her twice as an instructor for history classes as she was the worlds authority on the Tokugawa Era, great person. Reading material that was recently declassified, I discovered that the Occupation was more one-sided than previously thought. I became more sympathetic to the Japanese side.

So now that I am on the verge of being “jiji”, as my Edo-ko friends like to call me, I find that making my bed becomes less important. What is important is to continue being a well entrenched Seattleite that makes trips to Japan periodically. I can’t answer all the questions within me about the dualistic nature of my being, do not know if it even matters. What matters now is to enjoy the passage back and forth because I still love Japan. I feel fortunate to have the love and appreciation for a country and people so complex, paradoxical, insecure yet so beautiful, symbolic and rich in tradition and history.

Thank you for putting your perspective on the Yokohama Yankee personage. There are many of us who have straddled the Pacific with their own stories to tell.

Your book puts a stamp of legitimacy on my experience and certainly that of others.



I am a chef. I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in 1997. While there I had the opportunity to live and work in New York City. It was

a fabulous experience. I returned to Seattle and worked for Lowell-Hunt Catering for 5 years then moved to Sonoma County, CA where I worked in wine sales and

catered  many events at wineries in both Napa and Sonoma Counties.

In 2003 I flew to Japan to visit my CIA buddies that had opened a restaurant in Azabu-Juban, near the Mori Tower.It was quite a rush cooking

in their busy little restaurant, then going out after work to drink and eat. Sushi at Tsukiji at 6:00a.m. with sake and beer, then off to work we went, what a blast! I returned

6 months later to do it again, very keen on picking up everything they were doing food-wise.

In 2004 I bought the Maple Leaf Grill, a neighborhood joint near Northgate. I operated as chef-owner for a little over 10 years. It was a great experience up until 2008,

when things began to unravel due to the economy. I stuck it out until the lease expired, then got the hell out of there. I have to mention my mother here, as much as

she can be outspoken about my shortcomings or errant ways, she was an absolute rock during the down years, an unfailing means of support and back-up. She, unlike a lot

of her race, is quite outspoken and says exactly what is on her mind. At 84, she continues in this way.

I took a position with Farestart, a vocational job training program for underpriviliged adults, as chef-instructor in September 2014. It was a job like no other. The interaction

with the students was most fulfilling and meaningful. I left Farestart after one year and traveled a bit, cruising the British Columbian San Juans with my brother and his wife

then off to Japan with my sister, her husband, their son and mom, three generations. We visited Sapporo for the first time, then to Yokohama and Ito City to relax onsen style.

Currently I am preparing for opening a cooking school in Bellevue. My job is to basically run the kitchen, teach classes and assist incoming chefs. I have been busy the

past couple of months writing menus, developing curriculum and testing recipes. I have to say that the “Izakaya” menu was a hit! The chawan-mushi impressed all.

Being back in Japan last Fall was a gastronomic reawakening of the senses. I returned with a new raison d’etre, to delve completely into Japanese cookery. To that end

I have immersed my self in reading cookbooks by Shizuo Tsuji, who is the “Escoffier” of Japanese cuisine. His writings on technique, history and “making it your own” are

invaluable to anyone in this pursuit. And so now I am at Uwajimaya 6-8 times a month, Japan continues to have that hold on me.

The name of the cooking school is Whisk. The website just went active and we are scheduling our first classes for Jan 31.



Silly Games at a Farewell Party in Yokohama’s Foreign Community in 1963

January 14, 2016

yoko-1963_0007There was a lot of drinking and playing games in Yokohama’s foreign community when I was growing up in the early 1960s and 1970s. Sometimes the games involve drinks.

I came across some fun pictures of some of the games. yoko-1963_0004 yoko-1963_0005yoko-1963_0002 This was a farewell party at the home of my friend Ian Harvey’s parents. in 1963. The man on the floor in the middle picture with a glass of Scotch on his forehead is my father Don Helm.

The picture of the three men doing the “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” thing was at a New Years party at the Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel. Nikko, close to Chuzenji, is the site of the shrine that has the carving of the three wise monkeys. The “hear no evil” man is Mr. Murray, whose sons, Chris and Nicholas, were our friends. They always had great parties in Tokyo. I remember one New Years Eve when they organized a very elaborate scavenger hunt all over town. We teenagers had a lot to drink and enjoyed wandering about the city.

Reviews of Yokohama Yankee in Nikkei and Kyodo Touch On History and Mixed Race Identity.

December 10, 2015

It’s been an interesting experience watching how books are released in Japan. Yokohama Yankee was officially published at the end of September, but aside from one historian from Ferris School in Yokohama, who was asked to write a blurb for the “obi” the sash around the book, nobody else was given an early look at the book. A couple weeks later, the publisher, Akashi Shoten, posted ads ad in several newspapers including the Asahi Shimbun. Although the ad was small and was tucked under an ad for a book about soldiers and sex in postwar France, since those newspapers are so widely circulated, with millions of readers, i assume some people must have seen it.

Then in November, a month and a half after the book was released and just when I had given up, I finally started getting some significant reviews. I got reviews of Yokohama Yankee in Nikkei Shimbun, Japan’s Wall Street Journal, and Kyodo News Service, Japan’s Associated Press. You can read the Nikkei Shimbun review here. I was pleased to see an economic newspaper touch  in the review not just history, but also issues such as identity that are so central to the book.

The Kyodo News Service piece was picked up by a number of newspapers including those in Okinawa, Kyoto and Sanyou. You can read the Sanyou Shimbun’s version here. The Kyodo kyoto shimbunNews Service piece was written by Kazuo Ueyama, Director of the  Yokohama Archives of History, and was both detailed and effective in outlining the primary thrust of the book. Below is a photograph my editor in Kyoto sent me of the piece in the Kyoto paper.

My translator also updated her Japanese video about the book, here  but I suspect the link might not work because she may have used classical music in the video that was copyrighted.


Pasha, an enterprising Jew who once hosted Albert Einstein in Tokyo, photographs old Japan including Yokohama and Tokyo

October 22, 2015

Ernst Baerwald was an enterprising Jewish man who also took amazing photographs of old Japan including Yokohama and Tokyo. His son, Hans Baerwald, was a close friend of my father, Don Helm at UC Berkeley, and later at language school and in the U.S. Occupation of Japan. Hans, who later became a professor at UCLA focused on Japanese politics, and wrote a fascinating story of his life here.  Hans’s daughter, my friend Jan Baerwald, received 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)

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