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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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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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Not All Jungle

April 17, 2009 • John Katagi

A far cry from its perception as a jungle outpost, Belém is a modern port city on the Amazon River. On this day in Belém, I was instructed, "Stand in front of me. Let me look at you." These were the directions of my friend Rick, a Sansei from Pasadena, California and a ten-year veteran of work in the Amazon. We were about to embark on a trip through the famous Ver-O-Peso open air market in Belém. He wanted to …

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Coffee on the Amazon

March 11, 2009 • John Katagi

I'm in the middle of Pará state, about three hours from the large city of Belém on a dirt road three hours from a small village called Tomé Açu. Tomé Açu was one of several Japanese farming colonies in the state that started with the arrival of 43 Japanese families in 1929. This farming community would emerge successfully through the cultivation of pepper. The fortunes of the community would also decline as the pepper plant fell victim to a fungus …

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Say What?

Feb. 4, 2009 • John Katagi

My first meal during my first visit to Brazil was in a conference center just an hour from São Paulo’s international airport. This would be my first Nikkei leadership conference in Brazil, my first time for everything. We arrived at the hour of almoço (lunch) and I was handed a plate. I soon found myself standing in line for lunch in the cafeteria. There were people behind tables serving us as we passed in front. The first person scooped what …

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Beisebol or Besuboru?

Jan. 14, 2009 • John Katagi

Beisebol is big among the Japanese farming colonies of South America. I found myself at a weekend tournament in Pedro Juan Caballero, a small town in eastern Paraguay on the border of Brazil. As I wandered around, it occurred to me that it wasn't just about baseball. It was about community. It was certainly a chance to watch various games and rivalries played out, but it was also an opportunity to visit, to picnic, to laugh, to gossip. Onigiri (rice …

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Ahh. Piranha

Dec. 18, 2008 • John Katagi

I am sitting in a dugout canoe with three rather large Nikkei Brazilian guys. We're fishing in the Parana River just outside the town of Panorama on the borders of the states of São Paulo and Mato Grosso do Sul in central Brazil. One hour earlier, the invitation to go fishing seemed like a good one. It meant skipping a three-hour lecture and discussion on Nikkei community issues and as this was my first trip to Brazil, I wouldn't have …

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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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