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Liberdade Neighborhood SP | © Denis Rizzoli/Wikimedia CC
Liberdade Neighborhood SP | © Denis Rizzoli/Wikimedia CC
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Spotlight on Liberdade: São Paulo’s Japantown

Picture of Lise Alves
Updated: 6 March 2017
São Paulo is known as one of the world’s largest urban cities, containing within it a rich cultural diversity. An example of this cultural mixture can be seen in the Liberdade neighborhood, home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan. Known as the city’s “Japantown,” Japanese citizens in Liberdade have appropriated the area as their own, establishing traditional Japanese restaurants, stores and markets. Below are the neighborhood’s highlights, including some of its most striking characteristics.

Specialty stores and street decorations

Arriving at Liberdade, the first thing you will notice is the change in scenery. All of the neighborhood’s streets are lined with distinctive traditional Japanese suzurantõ lanterns, making it nearly impossible for you not to know you’re in Liberdade. These light up at night and serve as street lamps, giving the area a cozy, oriental ambience. Also, there are several stores and markets that sell Japanese specialties, such as imported candy, traditional cooking ingredients and products only found in Japan. The neighborhood also offers some of the best sushi and ramen restaurants in the city.

Street Fair In Liberdade, São Paulo © Francisco Antunes/Wikimedia CC
Street Fair In Liberdade, São Paulo | © Francisco Antunes/Wikimedia CC

Many of the people walking around in Liberdade are Japanese descendants, and so you will easily overhear conversations and words in Japanese, especially since some citizens don’t even speak Portuguese. Even the McDonald’s stores have items written in Japanese.

McDonald`s Liberdade © Kwb/Wikimedia CC
McDonald’s Liberdade | © Kwb/Wikimedia CC

São Paulo Shimbun

Created in 1946, the São Paulo Shimbun was the first post-war Japanese newspaper to be published in the city. Its contents are written exclusively in Japanese, and are aimed at informing the Brazilian Nikkei community of news related to both Brazil and Japan. It was established by Mituto Mizumoto, a businessman who saw the importance of having a medium of communication written in the Japanese language in order to satisfy the Brazilian-Japanese community’s needs. It is today one of the two newspapers published in Japanese in São Paulo, the other being the Nikkey Shimbun. You’ll easily find copies of this newspaper in practically any newsstand within the neighborhood.

São Paulo Shimbun © Fumi Takahashi
São Paulo Shimbun | © Fumi Takahashi

Festivals

Because of the concentration of Brazilian-Japanese citizens in the neighborhood, several Asian festivals are held in the area throughout the year. One of the most popular celebrations in Liberdade, surprisingly, is the Chinese New Year. Although established as a mostly Japanese neighborhood, the area has become home to a large number of Chinese and Korean citizens as well throughout the years. Today, the neighborhood is more appropriately called São Paulo’s “Oriental” neighborhood, despite its continual high numbers of Brazilian Nikkei.

Chinese New Years © Jardiel Carvalho/ Wikimedia CC
Chinese New Year | © Jardiel Carvalho/ Wikimedia CC

Another traditional festival that occurs in Liberdade is the “Festival of the Stars,” or Tanabata Matsuri, when the neighborhood is decorated with bamboo, folkloric dances are seen on the streets and people write little notes with their wishes to hang around the area. The festival occurs on varied dates during the month of July, which change depending on the region of the world you are in. However, the first of these festivals begins on the seventh day of July, the year’s seventh month.

Tanabata Matsuri Festival In Liberdade, São Paulo © Adriano Makoto Suzuki/Flickr
Tanabata Matsuri Festival In Liberdade, São Paulo | © Adriano Makoto Suzuki/Flickr

In addition to the festivals above, there are other festivals that occur within the neighborhood, such as the Moti Tsuki, the Japanese end-of-year celebration, and the Hana-matsuri (Flower festival), a festival to celebrate the birth of Buddha. These festivals are part of what makes Liberdade a cultural hub in the city of São Paulo.

Hana-matsuri Festival in Liberdade, São Paulo © Tomomarusan/Wikimedia CC
Hana-matsuri Festival in Liberdade, São Paulo | © Tomomarusan/Wikimedia CC