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

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.

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Km 41 - Part 1

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 during his brief stopover. They exchanged information. They took a photo together at Disneyland. The date on the back of …

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Language School

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, tough, trough, though, thought and slough,” it’s enough to make your head spin. In fact, that last word “slough” can …

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"Yo Eh Cho" OR "Yo ee say"

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 the Japanese culture, whether in Japan, the U.S., or in South America. For me, that initial visit was challenging as …

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RUN!

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 vaguely aware of someone yelling.

I left my apartment and went outside my building to an outer courtyard. The housekeeper …

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One of my weirdest experiences in Brazil

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, musical instruments, totem-like images, feathered headdresses, food and cooking utensils, tools and weapons. Yawn.

You know the experience, right? The …

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Brazil church community family gosetsume issei language language school liberdade museum nikkei Paraguay portuguese sao paulo spanish travel Yguazu