From where top nipo-brasileiro chefs eat their lamen (ramen) to where local alcoholics get their morning shave, this is our insider's guide to Liberdade - São Paulo's dystopian Japanese neighbourhood.
Brazil is home to the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan (learn more in 'A Japanese in Brazil') and this diaspora is mainly clustered around São Paulo. Perched on the edge of the seedy down town is the neighbourhood of Liberdade, which quickly became the city's Japan town in the early 20th Century after droves of Japanese left the harsh work of the surrounding coffee fields and moved to the city to seek their fortunes. Although the area still beats to a nikkei drum, the last few decades have also seen more Chinese and South Koreans make Liberdade their home. Nonetheless, the old nipo-brasileiro influence dominates and can be seen in the old faces and myriad nooks still brimming with authentic Japanese tradition but all with a Brazilian twist...
Head to Kabura for authentic sushi (no cream cheese in the sushi rolls...) hidden up a stairway and open till late. In a semi-abandoned shopping arcade is Peixaria Mitsugi, the best sushi grade fishmonger in São Paulo, and they have recently put some tables out to serve fresh sashimi and sushi for lunch and dinner. Aska Lamen for the best ramen in town or Lamen Kazu for the second best ramen. Try Restaurante Kidoairaku if only for the old women watching NHK television shows out front. Sweet Heart for the best Taiwanese with no frills. Bakery Itiriki for sweets, steamed buns, juices, bubble tea and coffee.
Honorable mentions for the traditional institutions Hinodê, Sushi Lika and Sushi Yassu. Try Yoka for pastel or Washoi for okonomiyaki pancakes. Bueno has now moved to Jardins but is the only place serving sumo wrestler chankonabe and is run by a retired sumo champion.
Izakaya Issa for the best traditional izakaya (sake bar) which also does good Japanese snacks. Kintaro for a hole in the wall serving beer, cachaça and sake. Porque Sim for ramen and karaoke. Cine Joia for a hip nightclub with live sets in a converted 1950s Japanese cinema - check what’s on. Head to Lions Club if you prefer a more glamorous 'balada' with electronic music and a good terrace. Samurai for sloppy beer soaked karaoke. Choperia Liberdade for karaoke when the wheels really come off.
Tenman-ya for porcelain, ceramics and utensils for Asian dining. Livraria Fonomag for manga and Japanese cookbooks. Peixaria Mitsugi for the best sushi grade fishmonger. Mercado Marukai for Koshihikari sushi rice and other groceries. Kanazawa Comercial for wagashi, sakuramochi and other Japanese sweets. Empório Azuki for a premium Asian market. Salão Yahiro for the oldest Japanese tokoya (barbershop) for a wet shave or Barbearia Kimura for a tokoya for Asians only ((read our more in our article The barbers of São Paulo). Casa de Portugal for its extensive library of Portuguese literature in a period building.
Visit the Museu de Imigração Japones - a museum dedicated to the Japanese immigration phenomenon in Brazil). Feirinha de Praça de Liberdade for a weekend street fair with Asian food and bric a brac - eat the takoyaki. For the more adventurous, head to Nihon Kiin Brasil - an authentic Go society in Vila Mariana south of Liberdade or try Paulista Go Center to play or to learn the oriental board game. For sumo you need to head across town to Ginásio de Sumo do Bom Retiro .