In June 1908, a Japanese ship carrying 800 passengers docked at the port of Santos. Most of the immigrants on board made their way to the booming capital and settled in a central neighborhood known as Liberdade (Liberty).
Lured by job opportunities, more Japanese followed and by the end of World War II, the bairro had consolidated its reputation as the city’s Little Japan. Although the first generation of immigrants worked on coffee plantations, later generations became successful business people and politicians.
Today, São Paulo  boasts the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. More recently, Chinese and Korean immigrants have moved into Liberdade, but the heart and soul of the neighborhood—not to mention most of the stores and restaurants—are still Japanese.
More exotic than attractive, Liberdade’s core is concentrated around the red-lantern-lined streets of Rua Galvão Bueno, Rua dos Estudantes, and Rua da Glória. Here you’ll find scores of great restaurants and supermarkets, along with emporiums displaying a wide range of wares from semiprecious stones, Buddhist oratories, and silk kimonos to Hello Kitty paraphernalia.
On weekends, during the day, the Praça da Liberdade is animated by the Feira da Liberdade. The stands at this open-air market sell everything from Japanese medicinal herbs to cheap and delicious bowls of stir-fried yakissoba, a mixture of noodles, meat, and vegetables that has become a Paulistano staple, second only to sushi.
Those with a more lingering interest in the history of Japanese immigrants in Brazil  can check out the Museu da Imigração Japonesa (Rua São Joaquim 381, Liberdade, 7th-9th floors, tel. 11/3209-9565, www.imigracaojaponesa.com.br , 1:30–5:30 p.m. Tues.–Sun., R$5). Aside from some interesting documentation, there is also a pleasant Japanese-style garden on the rooftop.
To get to Liberdade, take the Metrô to Liberdade station.