John Katagi

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


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 was looking at the perceived problem from an American or English language worldview. That means, of course, that I was …

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

Brazilian Sashimi and Killer Fruit!!

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 everything put in front of you.”

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On her first trip to Brazil, one of our trainers and team …

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sports en

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

World Cup: Even Twenty Years Later, It was a Night to Remember

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 my small rented apartment in Bosque da Saúde, I found myself explaining the game to my Californian co-workers.

The …

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identity en

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

You want to buy what?

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 across the front.

Two girls from a local church in the city of São Paulo took me shopping. Their …

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

My Journey to COPANI

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 was particularly surprising to me at the time were the speeches given by the Japanese Mexican gardeners association. Of course, …

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