Tratado em que se contém muito susinta & abreviadamente algumas contradições & diferenças de custumes antre a gente de Europa & esta provínvia de Japão
An original and often entertaining comparison of European and Japanese
customs written in 1585 by Luis Froís, a
Portuguese Jesuit missionary. It consists of
one-liners about hundreds of topics, from the nature of God to the
best way to smell watermelons. I translated below some of my favorite
comparisons, using a French version of the Portuguese
original. Italics are for personal comments.
Read for example what Froís says about the condition of
women and children, and see how either civilization, knowingly or not, apparently
borrowed customs from the other. Froís was clearly fascinated
by Japan, where he spent most of his life; you cannot read him and
continue to believe in the superiority of one civilization, one period
or one moral system.
Table of contents of this writeup (which is approximately the table of contents of the book):
- Eating and drinking
- Writing and books
1.3. Every year we invent new clothes and new ways to dress; in
Japan, the shape is always the same and almost never changes.
1.19. Our handkerchiefs are made of quality tissue; the Japanese use
raw linen, or even paper. (Tissue handkerchiefs are considered
non-hygienic in the West nowadays...)
1.24. We train for swordplay on posts or animals; the Japanese use
dead human bodies.
1.27. We consider strolling a pleasant and healthy leisure; the
Japanese never do it, and wonder at what they see as a work or a
1.33. We spit everytime and everywhere; the Japanese usually swallow
their spittle back.
1.46. In Europe, a man who watches himself in a mirror is considered
as effeminate; in Japan, it is common for men to dress in front
1.53. Our people hide to wash their body; in Japan, men, women and
monks do it in public bath houses, or at night outside their
2.1. In Europe, the honour and supreme asset of young women is their
decency and the unviolated cloister of their virginity;
Japanese women pay no attention to their virginal purity, and by
losing them they lose neither their honor nor the possibility to
marry. (On all issues related to morality, the Japanese were apparently much far ahead of the West, at least if we can trust Froís.)
2.2. European women praise blond hair; Japanese women hate them, and do their best to make them black. (On this topic, Western influence is obvious to anyone who has been to
2.29. In Europe, men go in front and women go behind; in Japan, men go
behind and women go in front.
2.34. In Europe, young girls are always very strictly kept in their
houses; in Japan, girls go alone wherever they want, for one or
several days, and are not answerable to their parents about
2.35. European women don't leave their house without their husband's
permission; Japanese wives are free to go wherever they choose
without telling their husband. (How far from today's stereotypes
about Japanese women...)
2.43. In Europe, nuns are kept in a rigorous confinement; in Japan,
convents almost serve as brothels.
2.45. Few of our women can read; an honorable woman in Japan is little
estimated unless she can read. (See Murasaki Shikibu.)
2.47. In Europe, women are named after saints; Japanese female first
names are: stewpan, crane, turtle, espadrille, tea, reed...
3.7. It's common in Europe to spank and punish children; in Japan,
it's very rare to do so, or even to reprimand them. (Compare
with the following one.)
3.11. Children in Europe reach puberty before they can even write a
short letter; Japanese 10-year-old children have the
intelligence and good sense of a 50-year-old man. (Don't stop
here: read the next one.)
3.15. European children are raised with a lot of affection, good food
and quality clothes; in Japan they grow up half naked and with
almost no sweetness and care.
4.1. European take the vows to repent from their sins and for their
salvation; buddhist priests do it to avoid work and live
peacefully and pleasantly.
4.2. At home, we teach purity of the soul and chastity of the body;
buddhist priests bring inner vermin and all the abominable sins
of the flesh.
You get the point: bonzes love money, they drink, eat, get married,
go almost naked, and care little about religion, while catholic
priests are just the opposite. The fact that the author is a catholic
priest is a pure coincidence. I'll give you only one more one-liner:
4.26. In Europe, the church and the outbuildings of the monastery
belong to the Universal Religion; in Japan, when a bonze gets
tired of his work, he sells the temple, the outbuildings and
Eating and drinking
6.1. We eat everything with our fingers; the Japanese, men and
women alike, only use two chopsticks. (Remember, Europeans did eat with their fingers then.)
Two examples, among many others, of Frois' attention for little things:
6.14. We cut the watermelon lengthwise; the Japanase cut it widthwise.
6.15. We smell the head of the watermelon; the Japanese smell its
6.33. The water we drink between meals must be cold and clear; the
Japanese drink it hot with a tea powder beaten with a bamboo
brush. (Strange as it may look, that beverage had some
success in the West later...)
6.41. We are reluctant to eat dog, but we
eat cows; they loathe to eat cows, but eat nicely dogs as
6.43. In Europe, to make noise while chewing or drinking is considered
as dirty; for the Japanese, it's good manners. (I will
never forget the very well-dressed Japanese business-woman who,
one day in a fast-food in Shinjuku, tore my Western education
to pieces by eating her soup in three minutes with shocking
Writing and books
10.1. We write with 22 letters; they use 48 kana letters and an
infinite number of characters in various kinds of
10.4. Where our books end, theirs start. (Which means that the
Japanese read from the right to the left.)
10.10. We have only four or five kinds of paper; the Japanese have
more than fifty.
10.14. In our letters, we need long sentences to say an idea; the
Japanese only write short and concise letters.
10.27. Our stanzas contain four, six or eight lines; all the Japanese
songs are made of two non-rhyming verses.
14.3. In Europe, in the event of a fire, everybody gets together
bringing water and the neightbouring houses are demolished; the
Japanese climb on adjoining roofs, wave straw fans and tell the
wind to leave.
Last and not least:
11.22. In Europe, we scatter horse excrements in gardens and we throw
human ones into the street; the Japanese throw horse excrements
into the streets, and scatter human ones in their gardens.