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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

Thumbnail for One of my weirdest experiences in Brazil
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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
One of my weirdest experiences in Brazil

June 16, 2010 • John Katagi

My visit to the town of Tupã brought me face-to-face with . . . wait, I’ll tell you in a second. While visiting friends there, I was dropped off in the main square to take a walking tour of this small interior town in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. Stopping in the late afternoon at Tupã’s local museum of indigenous artifacts, I was looking to pass the time until dinner. I perused the variety of woven baskets, clay pots, …

Thumbnail for Brazil has steaks.  And so much more!
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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
Brazil has steaks. And so much more!

May 14, 2010 • John Katagi

One really cannot speak of travel without including the subject of food. Travel and food go hand in hand. Name the destination, and images of touristic landmarks and exotic cuisines come to mind. When one hears “Brazil” it’s normal for people to think of the Brazilian barbecue or churrasco. The all-you-can-eat-meat-buffet has come to be synonymous with the country of cattle and gauchos. (Yes, there are gauchos in the southern Brazilian states). But to limit an understanding of Brazilian food …

Thumbnail for What's on the Bottom of My Soup Bowl?
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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
What's on the Bottom of My Soup Bowl?

April 12, 2010 • John Katagi

During one of my first visits to the city of Manaus in the early 1990s, I was hosted by a Japanese language school in an area bordering the jungle called Cachoeira Grande (big waterfall). Manaus is a major capital city on the Amazon River. When I think of Manaus, there will always be scattered images and memories. Manaus is hazy, like a dream you’d rather forget. It’s a contrast between the raw natural beauty of the Amazon jungle and river …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
Beautiful, but Deadly

Feb. 24, 2010 • John Katagi

Kawashima sensei and I were at a conference outside of São Paulo at a retreat site called Tabor. We were having coffee with a number of community leaders, when a giant caterpillar on a nearby branch caught sensei’s attention. The caterpillar had the plumpness of a tomato worm and the curious hairiness of a bottlebrush flower. The tip of the “hairs” had tiny glistening drops of what appeared to be nectar. A real beauty! Sensei was about to lift the …

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

Nov. 25, 2009 • John Katagi

My first night in São Paulo, Brazil was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. Based on my first experience of riding in a car in São Paulo, these would be my understanding of the driving rules: There are lines on the street. They are painted there for no reason whatsoever. Two lanes on the roadway can have four lanes or more of traffic. Oh, and the shoulder adds another two lanes. Traffic signals are not rules. They are guidelines. …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
Asking for Directions

Oct. 2, 2009 • John Katagi

When you’re driving and you’ve lost your way, what do you do? A. Keep driving until you see something familiar. B. Consult the Thomas Guide. C. Pull into a gas station and ask for directions. D. Stop and ask a pedestrian for directions. E. None of the above. I suppose that living in California, and especially in Los Angeles where we are a car culture, asking for directions is pretty much a normal activity. Let’s change the venue for a moment and ask the same …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
Wash Day

Sept. 4, 2009 • John Katagi

There must have been dryers somewhere in South America. Gas or electric, I would have taken either. During my eight years in Brazil, washday usually involved a washboard built into a sink, a hard, square, giant bar of soap and a clothesline. I never stayed anywhere with a dryer, no less a washing machine. That meant that during the rainy season, washday could last several days as clothes hanging on the line outside were repeatedly rained on in the late afternoon, delaying the drying …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
Grapes of Wrath

July 17, 2009 • John Katagi

My first trip to Argentina was with Kiyo and Rosa. Kiyo would become my advisor and friend during my term in South America.  He and his wife invited me to join them on the journey to the Argentine state of Misiones, where they would visit and counsel a scattered group of Nikkei, in this rural province in Argentina as well as the southern section of Paraguay. Our route would take us by car from São Paulo to the city of …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
Hot. Muggy. Sweaty. The Whole Nine Yards

June 17, 2009 • John Katagi

The air was stifling. Outside, the rain cooled the air to the low-90's. But the moisture raised the humidity to 100%. It was after midnight and I struggled to find a comfortable position in my cot. I had no blankets because of the heat. Only the sheet between me and the mattress. There was no breeze. I was in Belém do Pará in the heart of the Amazon. The setting was a boarding house north of the city. Called a …

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An L.A. Sansei's Misadventures in South America
Chased by a Storm

May 6, 2009 • John Katagi

This is perhaps my most memorable experience in the Amazonian state of Pará - riding with teammates on the rear bed of Jon Nishi's Mitsubishi pickup truck. We had spent the day on the river having embarked from the small town of Abaetetuba, nestled along the Amazon tributary of Rio Tocantins. Now it was time to begin our trip back to the Japanese farming colony of Tomé Açu (Toe-may ah-su) in northern Brazil. The truck had an extended cab, which …

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