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Notebook on Cities and Culture S3E26: Fifth-Generation “Japanese” with Leslie Helm

Colin Marshall sits down in Santa Monica with Leslie Helm, former Tokyo correspondent for Business Week and the Los Angeles Times, editor of Seattle Business, and author of Yokohama Yankee: My Family’s Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan. They discuss the Asia connections of Los Angeles and Seattle; Japan’s changing place in the zeitgeist since when he covered their economic bubble; how he observed the West’s acceptance of Japan from his vantage as a quarter-Japanese yet Japanese-born “outsider”; how much of his family drama turns on the issue of how Japanese each member looks; the point of foreigner’s entry Yokohama was before it became considered an extension of Tokyo; how firm identities as foreigners helped members of his family’s older generations thrive in Japan; the new coolness of part-Japaneseness in this internationalist era; his frustration with the myth of Japanese difference and purity; what actually happened to Japan the economic powerhouse; the weakness of Japan’s craft-based strengths in a software-based economy; what the low level of English in Japan reveals about the country’s educational system; the fame his family accrued in the shipping business, and the bad reputation the company ultimately developed once sold; his kids, who look Japanese but grew up Western; the upside to the Japanese burden of obligations; to what extent Japan has realized it needs outsiders to keep the country going; what it means that Japan can burn through so many Prime Ministers in such a short time with no social disruption; the Shinto religion as Boy Scouts; how this book of family history became a painstakingly designed volume for the world to read; what America has, still, to learn from Japan; and which country seems more likely to overcome its worst tendencies.

Download the interview from Notebook on Cities and Culture’s feed or on iTunes.

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