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Liberdade - São Paulo's Japanese District

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Liberdade
renatan/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Introduction to Liberdade:

Liberdade (“freedom” in Portuguese) is São Paulo's Asian district. Even though Liberdade features various Asian businesses, its origins and main cultural references are markedly Japanese, and so it's commonly referred to as the Japanese district.

Most historical information for this profile comes from Culturajaponesa.com, a fantastic online resource about Japanese culture in Brazil.

Location:

Liberdade's central location is a major plus for visitors and the best way to get there is by the São Paulo Subway. There is a station on Liberdade Square, at the very center of the area's action. Liberdade Station is on the blue line, one stop away from Sé, the main hub of São Paulo's subway system and the city's official center.

Main Attractions:

Besides its many Asian shops, Liberdade is home to:

  • The Historical Museum of Japanese Immigration in Brazil (Rua São Joaquim, 381)
  • The Liberdade Fair

Origins of Liberdade:

The first Japanese immigrants in Brazil arrived in 1908 to work on the coffee plantations of the Southeast, especially in São Paulo State. Gradually, groups of immigrants established themselves in the state capital, São Paulo, then undergoing a massive growth process that owed a lot to the booming coffee business.

By 1912, the area now known as Liberdade had become popular among Japanese immigrants looking for an affordable place to live.

Difficult Times:

In the 1940s, Liberdade was a thriving area with many businesses tending to the Japanese community, Japanese schools, baseball games on the weekends and newspapers published in Japanese. In 1941, the Brazilian government suspended the publication of all newspapers in Japanese. When President Getúlio Vargas’s administration broke diplomatic relations with Japan in 1942, all the residents in the main Japanese enclave in the Liberdade area were expelled from their homes and could only return after World War II ended.

Important Changes:

Liberdade underwent major changes in the 1960s and 1970s. Chinese and Korean immigrants moved in; the São Paulo subway system was built and the area gained a station; Asian-style street lamps were put in place; the district got its current name.

Most improvements were initiated by Tsuyoshi Mizumoto, a Japanese businessman who wanted to honor his native land and show gratitude to his adopted country.

Festivals:

Liberdade Square and the neighboring streets host several celebrations. Among the most popular are the Chinese New Year and Sendai Tanabata Matsuri, in July, which celebrates a love legend and during which people tie pieces of paper with their wishes to decorative bamboo.

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