PC 91 Japanese São Paulo

Back in February 2014 I scribbled about my experiences of a first visit to São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil (PC 5). That trip included a visit to Cananéia, a sleepy town on the coast some 300 kms south west of SP. Three years later that 30km stretch of road works I mentioned is still not complete and on this trip we decided to avoid the traffic snarl-ups and simply take time to enjoy São Paulo itself.


To an Englishman it’s a well-known fact that London has so many French inhabitants, some 300,000 according to the French consulate, that it classifies itself as the sixth biggest French city. They have come for a myriad of reasons and they obviously not only enjoy living in London but add much to the multicultural atmosphere so prevalent in the city. There are, of course, a number of major cities in the world where you will find a ‘China Town’, such has been the spread of this Asian race across the globe but here in Brazil there’s another story. Following the abolition of slavery in 1888 the coffee plantation owners needed workers and those based around São Paulo, wanting ‘white skin’, advertised for semi-skilled workers in Japan, which at the time was suffering high unemployment. The first 790 labourers arrived in 1908 on the ship The Kasato Maru and over the years, particularly 1917-1940, many thousands followed. Today São Paulo may be South America’s biggest city but it is also has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan and it’s estimated that there are some 1.6 million Brazilians of Japanese descent.

Like the German and Italian immigrants who colour the culture of the southern Brazilian states …… you might think when you arrive in the Liberdade district of São Paulo that you are actually in Japan!! Drop into the Marukai supermarket on Rua Galvao Bueno and one is confronted by all the sushi and sashimi in the fresh food cabinet you could possibly want. Japanese tableware? Not a problem. Finding somewhere for lunch is also not a problem, providing you like Japanese food!


To get to Liberdade we had walked up from Jardin Paulista, past some of the enormous houses where the rich shelter behind tall walls and obvious security, to the business district known as Paulista. Here in the throbbing heart of Brazil’s economic powerhouse, office blocks rise up into an already-crowded sky, each wanting to outdo each other.


Occasionally you see a building abandoned during its construction as the last economic cycle slowed; graffiti artists decorating one with unflattering sentiment about Dilma, the last President being investigated for corruption. (Donald Trump isn’t the only one who gets a bashing!) On a Sunday the Avenida Paulista is closed to traffic and it becomes a riot of inhabitants doing whatever they want to do, oblivious of anyone else. They cycle down the coned-off street, they walk in every direction, they sing, they act, they mime, they practise for the forth-coming Carnival, they chat, they beg, they exercise, on their own or by joining a group encouraged by a throat-miked, Lycra-clad fitness instructor, they pose, they shop, and they eat everywhere. Some are obviously completely oblivious to the world around them, ‘far away’ in some drug or alcohol induced world of their own.

Where do you look when you see ‘interesting’ people on the tube/metro/underground? Do you chance a quick glance, stare or look nonchalantly in their direction? On the way back from our lunch, having changed at Paraiso for the line to Paulista, we got in a carriage where a chap exhibited the most strange hair cut. Maybe he was high at the time of his cut, or just wanting to push the boundaries …. jet black hair cropped in the short back and sides style of modern Hipsters, but the top was like a thatch of yellow straw. The division between the two colours was a horizontal line which looked rather red but maybe one of the pigments in the yellow was too strong? Sunglasses, ear studs and the constant chewing of ‘gum’ completed the look. His male companion sported the same fashion, less for the yellow straw bonnet. Around us the normal eclectic mix you get in any public transport system, but my eyes kept coming back to this chap’s hair.

Some 40 minutes by car, to the west of São Paulo lies Embu des Artes, a town much loved by those seeking to furnish their apartment or house, searching amongst the bric-a-brac for the ‘very thing’. It also gives the rural economy a showcase for traditional ‘arts & crafts’ although in that PC 5 you may recall me finding ‘craft’ in the local Cananéia fish shop that had ‘Made in China’ stamped on the bottom and was as far from an example of native carvings as you could imagine.

We dropped into one shop after another, looking for something interesting and not tourist tat, trying to imagine how something would look back home, in an English environment and not in the hot sticky heat of a tropical Saturday. The plastic bags gradually filled up! After a couple of hours of desultory strolling, we had lunch in a restaurant that announced prominently everything, presumably even the table we ate off, was for sale. Fortunately we finished lunch before someone made an acceptable offer!!



Like all good times away the memories linger long than the flight back but I’ll always be excited to see the approach to the inner-city Santos Dumont airport of Rio de Janeiro.

Richard 3rd March 2017

2 thoughts on “PC 91 Japanese São Paulo

  1. I read this as I sup my Waitrose branded Brazilian black coffee. My mind wafts over two thoughts, why have I never seen a Japanese looking chap playing football for Brazil and wow, my coffee beans may have been piked by a Japanese Brazilian. A lovely start to Saturday morning.


  2. Great !! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
    I don’t know how you manage to remember everything without taking notes !!!!!!!!! Uau !!!


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