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.
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