Ketel’s Restaurant, Ginza, c. 1935.

1930sCommerceHistoric DistrictNotable Landmark
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“Helmut Ketel’s little establishment was a magnet for homesick German businessmen, technicians and sailors, but the clientele invariably included a sprinkling of Japanese academics, artists or middle-ranking army officers with fond memories of student or cadet days spent in Germany.

“Papa Ketel, as he was universally known, had recreated a little corner of the Vaterland in Tokyo, complete with Berlin pancakes washed down with Holsten beer, and maudlin hits from Berlin played on the new-fangled electric gramophone.”

Stalin’s Spy: Richard Sorge and the Tokyo Espionage Ring, Robert Whymant, 1996.

Ketel Restaurant, Ginza, c. 1935.

Ketel’s German Restaurant (aka the Rheingold), Ginza, c. 1935. Helmut Ketel first arrived in Japan as a prisoner of war during World War I, among some 5000 other German POWs held by Japan from 1915 to 1920. Along with about thirty other German prisoners he decided to stay after the war, eventually opening his restaurant in 1929. Twelve years later, Ketel presided over one of the most popular bars in Tokyo.

“For a nightcap [free-lance Australian journalist Richard] Hughes took Ian Fleming to Ketel’s in Ginza [in 1962], a bierkeller and haunt of Nazi spies in the Second World War. At that time, the front entrance was shaped like a giant Bavarian beer barrel and the Nazis would drink steins of Japanese beer with their arms hugging the waspish waists of bar-girls. A piano had been draped with a large swastika flag.

“… Hughes told Fleming that he had met and drank with the Soviet spy [Richard Sorge] several times in the early 1940s – including a time when Sorge stepped in and saved Hughes from a punch-up in Ketel’s.”

“… When Hughes worked in Tokyo during the early 1940s, Helmuth Ketel was still alive and Hughes described him as having a red corrugated face framed by white tangled hair and looked like a poor man’s Beethoven. When Ketel was asked about his association with Sorge, he replied ‘What would I know of espionage? I am just a poor pork butcher.’

“How had Ketel come to be in Japan?

“Helmuth Friedrich Carl Ernst Ketel was born on 25 April 1893 in Wedel. He volunteered for the German Navy and was sent in 1914 to Tsingtao, China. Here he was captured by Japanese forces, transferred to Japan and sent to the Narashino camp. In December 1919 he was released but decided not to return to his homeland. He married a Japanese girl and in 1927 he opened Bar Rheingold and three years later, a restaurant called Ketel’s. Later the two establishments became one.”

Fleming, Bond, and Connery in Japan.: The Japanese Story of You Only Live Twice, by Graham M Thomas, 2016

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