From Liberdade to Karaoke: Japanese culture in São Paulo

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There are more than 110 years of history since the first Japanese set foot on Brazilian soil on June 18, 1908. Coming from their homeland, they landed at the Port of Santos, on the south coast of São Paulo, and it was from there that the trajectory of this millenary community began to be written in the state of São Paulo and spread throughout the country.

Since then, the Brazil it has become the second home for those who leave their home country in search of new beginnings, thus creating an admirable cultural effervescence. Currently, our country is home to the largest population of Japanese origin outside of Japan: the estimate indicates that there are more than 1.5 million Japanese and their descendants around here.

So we can say that, yes, Japan is right here. Cosmopolitan, São Paulo it concentrates a very rich Japanese culture through people, gastronomy, products, music, and is guaranteed as a ticket, let’s say, cheaper and faster to the Asian country.

And one of the most solid ways to reflect and respect the customs and habits of a people, aiming to honor their tradition, takes place within cultural spaces. Luckily for us, there is a thriving variety of them in the city of São Paulo.

I say that we have to learn a lot from Japanese culture. There is a whole philosophy applied to art, technique, to experience. It is interesting to note that their zeal for hospitality is similar to our Brazilian way and that the counterpoint between the mixture of descendants and the perseverance in keeping alive a millenary culture is embraced in a formidable way.

How about we go to Japan without going too far? Focused on diving in a light and respectable way in a little piece of this culture, follow me to the most interesting addresses in São Paulo that translate well the traditional spirit of the country while mixing with contemporary touches and a Brazilian dynamic:

Liberty neighborhood

It is the starting point for a immersion in Japanese culture in several of its facets: here we see up close their traditions, their customs, their cuisine, their language. Except for a few signs in Portuguese and the mix between people from the most diverse locations, walking without commitment through the streets full of suzuranto lanterns (the oriental lamps), can easily lead us to think that we are in some urban center in Japan.

We can say that Liberdade is almost a little piece of the country of the rising sun, because here is the biggest concentration of Japanese people and their descendants in the city. Wandering around the neighborhood, then, is an anthropological exercise: it is getting lost and finding yourself, smelling aromas, hearing different accents and letting yourself be taken by other perspectives.

One of the best places to start exploring the neighborhood is Galvão Bueno Street, which concentrates a wide variety of restaurants, shops and traditional businesses, as well as article stores and others related to everything from the world of anime – Japanese cartoons.

In addition to numerous typical restaurants (and others not obvious), the streets of the neighborhood include stores that sell industrialized products from the Asian country, such as candies, sweets, snacks, soft drinks and objects. It’s a disgrace! And also a trip to a Japan that recalls childhood. It’s worth entering all of them and marveling at the unusual colors and flavors.

Much admired, Japanese dishes are also present: one of the stores is the Tenma-ya, which sells kitchen utensils mostly directly from Japan. It is surprising to know that there are hand-painted dishes there, maintaining a fascinating tradition.

Space for exchanges, expertise, flavors and aromas, the freedom fair is a must. Ideal for spending time with family members, it takes place on weekends, in the morning and afternoon, and gathers small stores that mix crafts and gastronomy.

It’s a great way to taste some traditional food, such as ebiyaki (shrimp dumpling), guiozas, yakisobas, tempuras, among others, and see up close some cultural manifestations, such as artists drawing kanji, Japanese ideograms that have their own meaning. If you’re lucky, even some performances take place there periodically.

In the vicinity of São Joaquim street is the Japanese Immigration Museum, totally dedicated to preserving and transmitting the history of immigration to future generations. It occupies three floors of the building of the Brazilian Society of Japanese Culture and Social Assistance (Bunkyo) and has a relevant collection with more than 97,000 items belonging to Japanese immigrants, including documents, photos, newspapers, books, magazines, films, paintings, utensils domestic and kimonos.

The museum also has a search system that allows the discovery of a series of information about immigrant relatives, such as arrival and departure dates, place of arrival, among others. The interesting system can be accessed both in the museum and in a online.

It is noteworthy that, just as the name preaches, nowadays the place has, in fact, a freedom: there is a cultural diversity that encompasses not only the Japanese, but also the Thais, Chinese, South Koreans and other peoples. an extremely relevant portal in the city for an impressive cultural diversity. It is a colorful place, full of flavors and, most importantly, knowledge.

Japan House

Anyone who sees the slender hinoki wooden façade amidst the gigantic buildings on Avenida Paulista might think that the Japan House it is a museum or an art gallery. However, it is more than that: it is a center of Japanese culture.

Inside and out, the elegant building – opened in 2017 by the Japanese government – ​​draws an interesting connection with a contemporary Japan that has not lost sight of its origins. The wood itself used on the outside, a project by renowned architect Kengo Kuma, brings us the idea of ​​a traditional mini forest in the middle of the stone jungle that is São Paulo.

An attraction in itself, Japan House was conceived by the Japanese government as a way to transmit the country’s culture and tradition to a large number of people – a way to establish bonds, dialogue and generate new perspectives. And no wonder São Paulo was chosen to be one of its headquarters, as it is the main economic hub in Latin America and because it houses the largest Japanese colony outside Japan.

In addition to the capital of São Paulo, The Angels e London other cities in the world hosted the cultural center, which promotes temporary exhibitions, has a library, small store, cafe and restaurant – the Aizome, by chef Telma Shiraishi, who follows the house’s proposal to show the contemporaneity and diversity of Japan.

It’s a super pleasant tour and a chance to get in touch with a modern side of a culture that overflows with philosophies and a lot of zeal in everything it proposes to express. As a bonus, being at Japan House is like being in Paulista, one of the most emblematic addresses in the city and in the country. It’s two tours in one!

Japanese Pavilion

One of São Paulo’s postcards, the Ibirapuera’s Park receives millions of people a year, but few people know that amidst the gardens near Lago das Garças there is a den of calm.

In the middle of the urban park is the Japanese Pavilion, an imposing construction inspired by the Katsura Palace, former summer residence of the Emperor in Kyoto. It was built here by the Japanese government together with the Japanese-Brazilian community and inaugurated in 1954, in time for the commemorations of the 400th anniversary of the foundation of São Paulo.

In it, there is the use of traditional Japanese materials and techniques: from floor to ceiling, everything was brought from Japan by ship, such as the volcanic stones in the garden, the mud from Kyoto that gives texture to the walls and the wood. But, right at the entrance, a poem catches my attention. Through it, we can feel a little of the feeling of gratitude that is so characteristic of Japanese culture.

It starts like this: “Happy to feel the strong embrace of this hospitable country, whose immense sky where the southern cross and the pale moon shine […]”.

Impacted by the message, architecture also conveys similar ideals. The main building is articulated in a main hall and some adjoining rooms, a garden and a charming koi pond – which houses more than 300 of them and has a capacity for 100,000 liters of water. The Exhibition Hall also has original pieces and some replicas of “Japanese treasures”, which represent artistic and artisanal languages ​​from different periods.

With a welcome bucolic atmosphere, it is one of the rare pavilions outside of Japan to keep features in good repair – both physically and culturally. Quiet, to visit it can be done from Thursday to Sunday and holidays, from 10 am to 5 pm.


Next to iconic buildings in the center of the capital and close to the trendy restaurant A Casa do Porco, a Tokyo occupies nine floors of the ABC Building, at 110 on Major Sertório Street. The vertical sign on the building’s facade with the name “Tokyo” already gives the feeling of being transported to a futuristic Japan, one of those with lots of neon lights in central urban environments.

A mix of bar, restaurant, club and karaoke, the business works as an entertainment space, where the top floors find a buzz that is typical of São Paulo – and Japanese-inspired. The mixture of neon lights with oriental aspects evokes a young Japanese modernity, with a friendly atmosphere.

Inside the venue, one of the main attractions in Tokyo is karaoke. Around here, the sport arrived with Japanese immigration and became popular decades later, gaining the streets of São Paulo. So, how about we let our voices out?

Private karaoke rooms are available to the public (there is also a collective space for the task), a restaurant with Asian food, a bar that serves good drinks, a dance floor and, upstairs, a rooftop – perfect for enjoying the exuberant view of the center, with the Italy Building and Copan right in front, and great for taking pictures for social media.

Reference: CNN Brasil

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