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


Dec. 18, 2008 - June 26, 2014

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.


Stories from this series

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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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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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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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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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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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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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Author in This Series

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

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