Lucky great-grandfather Julius. This first member of the Helm family to settle in Japan was “as rooted in his German identity as an old oak tree.” For his mixed-race descendants, life would not be so simple.

Yokohama in 1869 had something of the “wild west” about it. Twenty years earlier it had been a backwater fishing village of 80 households. Japan then had been a “closed country.” Now it was open a crack, the Black Ships of the American Navy having demanded and secured trading privileges in the 1850s. Yokohama, possessing a natural harbor, grew into Japan’s biggest foreign settlement. “The scum of Europe,” was one British visitor’s acid summation of the crowd he met there.

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