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John Katagi

@jkatagi

John Katagi is a former staff member of the Japanese American National Museum. He shares memories from almost two decades of travel to South America. His experiences result from study and observation as part of the directorial staff of JEMS, a cross-cultural agency based in Los Angeles.

Updated February 2012


Stories from This Author

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Nikkei Chronicles #3—Nikkei Names: Taro, John, Juan, João?
Katagwee?

Oct. 10, 2014 • John Katagi

On my first visit to Brazil, I attended a conference and received a nametag with the spelling of my last name: Katagui. What? G-U-I? Like Guido? That’s not my name! I took the nametag out of the plastic holder, crossed off the incorrect spelling and wrote it as “it should have been.” It would be two years before I understood the complexities and peculiarities of the Portuguese language well enough to look back on that nametag incident. As usual I …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
Brazilian Sashimi and Killer Fruit!!

June 26, 2014 • John Katagi

A large part of cross-cultural adaptation involves something as basic as food. And depending on the culture, food can require a giant leap of adjustment. Admittedly, Brazil doesn’t have really strange food like some other cultures. There are no one thousand year old eggs filled with fertilized chicken embryos, no Indiana Jones-style monkeys’ brains, no intentional efforts to eat insects of any kind. But there were a few moments when my teams or I called into question the rule: “eat …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
World Cup: Even Twenty Years Later, It was a Night to Remember

June 10, 2014 • John Katagi

July 16, 1994. We were in São Paulo, Brazil. We being, Curt, Grace, Chris, Ruth, Albert, Darin, and me. Some 7,900 miles away, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, an event was in progress that would rock our world. The event was the final of the World Cup Soccer game. I must say that having watched my son Brandon play soccer in the West Covina soccer league gave me an understanding and appreciation for the game. Watching the television in …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
You want to buy what?

May 29, 2014 • John Katagi

Language acquisition is tricky. Before I began working in South America, I had a couple of opportunities in the early 1990s to visit Brazil and do some investigation and research to see if a career change was something I really wanted to do. During my first trip, as I brought my visit to a close, I wanted to make some souvenir purchases. I wanted to buy a tee shirt with “Brasil” and a design of the green and blue flag emblazoned …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
My Journey to COPANI

Nov. 5, 2013 • John Katagi

My journey to COPANI began thirty-three years ago. I was a young pastor in San Diego, when I was invited to offer the invocation at a San Diego landscape gardeners convention banquet. The convention included Japanese gardeners from the San Diego area as well as from Tijuana, south of the US-Mexico international border. I was seated at the head table and, after I offered grace for the dinner, I stayed on to listen to the remainder of the program. What …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
Km 41 - Part 2

May 14, 2013 • John Katagi

Read part 1 >> Night falls on the Paraguayan landscape. The drone of thousands of insects begins to grow as the sun goes down. Bugs the size of B-52s begin to take flight and circle around any light source in the darkening countryside. October 2008 and I was in Pirapó, one of nine farming colonies settled by Japanese immigrants on land that was set aside for agricultural development by the Paraguayan government. These colonies, scattered throughout the country, still maintain a …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
Km 41 - Part 1

April 18, 2013 • John Katagi

The notation on the margin of the bookmarked page of my father’s world atlas was distinct but baffling: km 41, Colonia Yguazu, Paraguay. This and a name were the only information my father had as to the whereabouts of a relative who had traveled from Japan to South America. He got this information when Makoto-san stopped in Los Angeles on his one-way journey to Paraguay from Japan. My father met the ship and extended a warm welcome to this relative …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
Language School

June 9, 2011 • John Katagi

Some ESL students suggest that English is a difficult language to learn. Certainly the pronunciation of words can drive even the most proficient English speaker just a little nuts. Our language is a compilation of many different sources, mostly European. If you were studying English for the first time, would you think English pronunciation was difficult or easy? What would you do for example when faced with the “o-u-g-h” category of words? Given a succession of words like: “bough, through, …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
"Yo Eh Cho" OR "Yo ee say"

April 18, 2011 • John Katagi

It’s been almost ten years since my friend, the senior Tsuchida-san, died in Paraguay. He was the Issei (first generation) patriarch of the Japanese community. And I knew from experience that if I was going to make inroads into that community, the permission to do so would have to come from him. It is customary in the Japanese culture for an outsider to make an initial visit to get acquainted and seek permission. It is an important social courtesy in …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
RUN!

July 12, 2010 • John Katagi

In the mid-1990s, I stayed in an apartment on the grounds of a church in Liberdade (the J-Town section of São Paulo). On this particular afternoon, I was preparing for meetings that I planned to have later in the week. The church had an “empregada,” a native Brazilian housekeeper who came twice weekly to clean the church facility. That particular afternoon she was working in the church kitchen in another building. In the quiet of my study time, I became …

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