Japanese Culture and Architecture in São Paulo

By Anna Fitzpatrick, Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL –  As home to the largest Japanese diaspora in the world, Brazil, and particularly São Paulo – both city and state – have been tremendously influenced by Japanese culture and architecture. The most recognizable may be the now famed Japanese neighborhood of Liberdade, and separately, the esteemed work of Japanese-Brazilian architect Ruy Ohtake.

Liberdade in São Paulo, Brazil News

The streets of Liberdade in São Paulo, photo by Caio do Valle Caiodovalle/ Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

The first Japanese immigrants arrived in 1908, and Brazil is now home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan (an estimated at 1.4 million). It was the coffee plantations in the South of Brazil that attracted the first Japanese workers, which led to São Paulo boasting such a large Japanese community.

When Japanese immigrants arrived in SP’s Liberdade neighborhood in 1912, it was nothing more than a swampy creek. But today it is a bustling part of the city with a weekly Sunday street market, a host of specialist Japanese and Asian shops and some of the best Japanese restaurants in town.

Meaning “freedom,” the streets of Liberdade are lined with lanternas suzurantõ, typical Japanese-style lights, and even the local McDonald’s has a Japanese-style garden around the back.

The area is also home to the Museu da Imigração Japonesa, where two floors of exhibits explore Nippo-Brazilian culture. Many Japanese festivals also take place in the area, such as the Hanamatsuri, a flower festival held in April, and the festival of stars, Tanabata Matsuri, held every July.

The Câmara de Comércio e Indústria Japonesa do Brasil, or the Chamber of Commerce, has been developing business relations between the two nations since 1926, though trade was weakened somewhat by the Second World War.

Such was the prominence of the Japanese community by the 1950s that an exact replica of the Kasura Imperial Palace in Kyoto (the former imperial capital of Japan), was included in São Paulo’s 400th anniversary celebrations. The Parque Ibirapuera was the city’s gift to itself, and housed within is the Pavilhão Japonês.

The Tomie Ohtake Instituto in São Paulo, Brazil News

The Tomie Ohtake Instituto in São Paulo, photo by Fidalgo Dennis/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Designed and built in Japan, it took four months to reassemble alongside the man-made lake, complete with goldfish and a beautiful Japanese-style garden. Inside there are traditional Japanese arts, samurai clothes and ceramics on display, plus there is space for traditional tea ceremonies.

Although not using traditional Japanese iconic design, the work of Japanese-Brazilian architect Ruy Ohtake has impacted on the architecture of the city, bringing a look of modern Japanese style to the city.

Ruy Ohtake was born in 1938 in SP as a second-generation Japanese-Brazilian, or Nisei. His much revered artist mother Tomie Ohtake was born in Kyoto before emigrating to Brazil at age 21.

The architect has contributed to the list of iconic buildings in the city. The half-moon-shaped Hotel Unique and the Tomie Ohtake Instituto, a building dedicated to the work of his mother, are just two of his most recognizable landmarks.

Inaugurated in November 2001, the Tomie Ohtake Instituto hosts a cultural center that occupies two large floors. Amongst the city’s most famous buildings, the pink and blue certainly stands out amongst the creams and greys of neighboring buildings.

5 Responses to "Japanese Culture and Architecture in São Paulo"

  1. Inah Silveira Fujita  November 19, 2011 at 2:18 PM

    As a native Brazilian, and an USA citizen married to an American Nisei, I must say that your article was very informative especially for the average american. Over the 50 years that I have lived in the USA I have been able to realize that the general public here are not interested in foreign news. I hope more people can read your article so they can find out that Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, and that Brazilians have always treated the Japanese immigrants (Iseis)as well as the generations the followed with respect and adimiration. Their endurance, hard work and perseverance is the result
    of their success in Brazil. I also think that Brazilians as a whole
    are not racist which helped not only the Japanese, but the Italians, Chinese and many other immigrants to be successfull. I am a Paulista.

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