The First European Description of Japan, 1585|
14 Various and extraordinary things that do not fit neatly in the preceding chapters
This chapter certainly lives up to its billing as miscellanea, as Frois contrasts everything from picking your nose to matters of crime and punishment. Frois nevertheless understood that “simple things” like gift wrapping or assisting others could have profound consequences in Japan. To give an example, back home in Europe a teenager or adult who got in trouble with the law was apt to call for a priest. A Jesuit priest in Japan, where “mandatory sentencing” was more the rule (see #7 and #8 below), did not have the power and authority that he might have enjoyed in Europe. It was important for a Jesuit not to offend a daimyo or samurai by asserting himself in situations where, from a Japanese perspective, a priest did not belong.
Frois got this very first contrast half right, for while the Japanese held the flint with their right hand, they also struck with it. The left hand held a piece of wood shaped like a blackboard-eraser with a runner of metal embedded in it (often a piece of sickle blade). Because it was larger and heavier than the flint, it remained stationary while the flint or firestone did the moving/striking. Note that this Japanese method of spark-generation, called kiribi, also was used for healing, exorcism, and in Edo at least, for what might be called “charming departures.” In the last case, the eraser-shaped wood with the metal blade was held up by the host, above and behind the shoulder of a departing guest. Just before the guest stepped away, the steel was struck with the stone, sending a small shower of sparks out in front of the guest.
The same thing Frois observed has been observed over and over: to wit, the Japanese are incredibly stoical. Henry Heusken, the brilliant interpreter for the first American consul to Japan, Townsend Harris, was astonished by the Japanese reaction to a typhoon that destroyed a third of the town of Shimoda in 1856: “Not a cry was heard. Despair? What! Not even sorrow was visible on their faces.” Western media outlets recently highlighted this Japanese stoicism after the tsunami of 2011.
Although Frois implicitly seems to suggest that Japanese composure was feigned or “abnormal,” Westerners constantly remind themselves that it is pointless “crying over spilt milk” and that “people matter, not things.” It would seem the Japanese do a better job of convincing themselves of these truths.
3. We battle house fires with water and by dismantling neighboring houses; the Japanese climb up on neighboring rooftops and fan [the flames] with winnows, shouting at the wind to go away.
The growth of cities with structures made of wood or framed with wood, including buildings that were two or three stories tall and separated by narrow alleys, made for terrible fires in early modern Europe. Although some cities in the sixteenth century began battling fires with primitive fire trucks (picture a carriage with a huge syringe-like device or a lever-activated pump that shot a stream of water into a building), most relied on concerned neighbors toting buckets of water. Fires that began to spread or the simple fear of a fire prompted cities to hire carpenters to remove timbers and entire wooden structures that posed a fire threat.
With respect to Japan, Okada wonders if Frois was misled by paintings of large, fan-like devices that were used to block flying sparks, rather than fan flames. Frois’ contrast is further misleading because the Japanese long have been world leaders in deconstruction. Removing fuel was the main method of fire-fighting in Japan from time immemorial. Morse, who first found the weak Japanese water pumps ridiculous and thought Western methods of fire-fighting better, changed his mind when he became more familiar with the realities of fire-fighting in Japan:
Mats, screen partitions, and even the board ceilings can be quickly packed up and carried away. The roof is rapidly denuded of its tiles and boards, and the skeleton framework left makes but slow fuel for the flames. The efforts of the firemen in checking the progress of the conflagration consist mainly in tearing down these adjustable structures; and in this connection it may be interesting to record the curious fact that oftentimes at a fire the streams are turned, not upon the flames, but upon the men engaged in tearing down the building!
Nevertheless, fires on dry, windy, winter days often were unstoppable. One of the worst, in 1657, destroyed half of Edo and killed over a hundred thousand people. Not surprisingly, the Japanese over time developed a vocabulary to match their terrible experience with fire:
So completely did this destructive agency establish itself as a national institution that a whole vocabulary grew up to express every shade of meaning in matters fiery. The Japanese language has special terms for an incendiary fire, an accidental fire, fire starting from one’s own house, a fire caught from next door, a fire which one shares with others, a fire which is burning to an end … We have not given half.
Although both Machiavelli and Castiglione championed dissimulation in the service of politics and politeness, respectively, Europeans were impatient with “bold-face” lies. During the Middle Ages Europeans stuffed suspected liars into sacks and hurled them into a moat or pond to have God affirm their guilt or innocence (if they sank they were deemed innocent and hurriedly rescued; if they floated they were guilty and promptly yanked from the sack and hanged).
Even today the Japanese lightly say “uso-tsuki!” or “liar!” when someone tells them something interesting (this a version of the more common “uso!” or “[it must be a] lie!”). We are talking about an idiom comparable to the Anglo-American expression “you don’t say.” But the issue probably runs deeper than idiom. Europeans and Americans, with their tendency to take oaths on the Bible or to “swear to God,” may have a far more black and white attitude about lying than other people. The Japanese, on the other hand, seem to place a remarkable premium on being secretive. Regardless of whether this secrecy derives from the insecurity of the long warring era or the positive valuation (a sign of maturity) of hiding emotions, the Japanese prefer to remain silent about many things. In this situation it is not the liar but the person who insists upon asking questions that force one to lie who is resented. It may well be that foreigners hear more lies because they unwittingly force the Japanese to lie.
Technically speaking, the public executioner was the only person in Europe who could take another life. However, duels, vendettas, and killing for reasons of honor were fairly common in Mediterranean Europe. Honor-vengeance dramas, in which wives were routinely murdered on stage by their husbands, also were popular in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Spain. Presumably art, to some degree, mimicked life and vice versa.
The absolute power enjoyed by Japanese men, particularly of the samurai or bushi class, was one of the first things Xavier commented on when he arrived in Japan. Despite the turmoil of the warring-states era, the Japanese legal system still was based in 1585 on the samurai code of ethics (Joei Shikimoku) codified in 1232. The code established a clear-cut chain of command that precluded a Japanese noble from exercising his fiat over everyone. This was probably good if one’s master was a better man than one’s master’s master; but when the opposite was true, one had no right of appeal. One could appeal but it would likely cost your life, even if the appeal won. Moreover, because of the notion of collective responsibility, the appealer’s family, and perhaps even his neighbors, might have to die for a crime against hierarchy! (See #8 below).
At the time Frois wrote Europe was beginning to experience a significant downward trend in the incidence of murder. Still, homicide rates in sixteenth century Europe appear to have been much higher than they are today. So not all Europeans were, in fact, terrified to kill another human being, particularly if the human being was sufficiently different (i.e. Jews, sodomites, Native Americans, Muslims) and stood in the way of a fortune or pleasing God. But perhaps Frois’ “larger point” was that the Japanese of the warring-states era had become more comfortable than Europeans with killing each other (as opposed to “others”). Indeed, Valignano, who was anxious to recruit young Japanese nobles into the Jesuit order, worried that the Jesuits could not find enough recruits because so many otherwise qualified Japanese were murderers. Buddhism, with its emphasis on preserving all life, often is cited as the reason why the Japanese made it taboo to kill cows, chickens, dogs, and other animals. That Buddhism could exercise such influence seems plausible, although one has to wonder why Buddhist precepts were ignored when it came to killing people (just as one has to wonder why Christians frequently ignored their own commandment against killing).
In 1585 Europeans were re-thinking their centuries-old attitudes and practices of capital punishment, which had been imposed on petty thieves, heretics, and everybody in between. During the Middle Ages killing and torture of “criminals” were not only justice but popular entertainment. Influenced by writers such as Thomas More, who remarked in his Utopia (1516) on the brutality and injustice of petty thieves who were hanged for stealing bread, many European legal codes were changed by Frois’ time such that capital punishment was confined to a relatively small number of crimes. However, “variety rather than monotony” characterized punishment in early modern Europe. On a good day a thief might be rescued by a priest and taken to confession; on a bad day he could be hanged.
All accounts of Japan from the time of Xavier (1549) well into the nineteenth century mention Japan’s “draconian” laws against stealing. What is fascinating is that in Japan, at least, the draconian laws (and large rewards posted for murderers) evidently worked. Europeans who expressed surprise at the severity of Japanese laws also marveled at how safe it was to walk the streets of Japanese cities. Isabella Bird traveled throughout Japan with no more than an eighteen-year old translator. Morse, who was amazed at the lack of rowdiness in Japan, gives some interesting statistics. If you think the great disparity in our murder rates is a late twentieth-century phenomenon, think again:
Among vital statistics [for Michigan in the year 1879] I found that eighty-seven murders had been committed in that year. As the population of the State of Michigan at that time was only slightly lower than the population of Tokyo, I asked Mr. Sugi how many murders had been committed in Tokyo for the year. He said none, indeed, only eleven murders and two cases of political assassination had been committed in Tokyo in the last ten years.
The early Church deemed killing unacceptable for any reason. During the Middle Ages this position was “softened” by the likes of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and later theologians and jurists who argued that there were occasions (e.g. just wars) when an individual or a society might kill without offending God. As Frois indicates, taking another life was acceptable in Europe provided it was a consequence of protecting yourself and your lawful interests (i.e. family or property). Not a few murderers, particularly nobles or wealthy magnates who committed crimes of passion (“hot anger”), also were spared as a result of pardons from European royalty.
With respect to Japan, the apparent discrepancy between seemingly getting away with murder, per #5 above, and the suggestion here of automatic death for killing another is explained thus: the former concerns the right to kill someone who is your charge, while the latter mainly concerns those who kill a superior, an equal (except during war) or an inferior who is the charge of another. With regard to “substitute punishment,” Okada has suggested that Frois was referring to Japanese medieval law, which allowed a corporate entity like a family to substitute one member for another sentenced to death. This was considered merciful because it allowed the family to safeguard its most important members or “bread winners.” However, during the chaotic sixteenth century this medieval practice was abandoned by many local daimyo who formulated “house codes” (kahõ) that embraced what amounted to “mandatory sentencing” (#7 above).
It is possible that Frois also meant to highlight in this distich the absence in Europe, and the presence in Japan, of a type of “collective responsibility” known as kenka rysoeibai, which dictated that the relatives, neighbors, or employer of a convicted criminal were punished (and sometimes executed) along with the criminal. Here is Kaempfer’s apt description of this late medieval tradition, which was still operative in Japan at the end of the seventeenth century:
If quarrels, or disputes, arise in the street, whether it be between the inhabitants or strangers, the next neighbours are oblig’d forthwith to part the fray, for if one should happen to be kill’d, tho’ it be the aggressor, the other must inevitably suffer death, … All he can do, to prevent the shame of public execution, is to make away with himself, ripping open his belly. Nor is the death of such an unhappy person thought satisfactory, in their laws, to attone for the deceased’s blood. Three of those families, who live next to the place where the accident happen’d, are lock’d up in their houses for three, four or more months, and rough wooden boards nail’d a-cross their doors and windows, after they have duly prepar’d themselves for this imprisonment, by getting the necessary provisions. The rest of the inhabitants of the same street, have also their share in the punishment, being sentenc’d to some days, or months, hard labour at publick works … The like penalty, and in a higher degree, is inflicted on the Kumi Gasijra [gashira], or heads of the Corporations of that street, where the crime was committed. It highly aggravates their guilt, and the punishment is increas’d in proportion, if they knew beforehand, that the delinquents had been of a quarreling humour … The landlords also and masters of the delinquents partake in the punishment for the misdemeanors of their lodgers, or servants.
As with so many Japanese customs, the principle of collective responsibility appears to have been borrowed from China, although in China the emphasis was on reporting on your neighbors rather than the responsibility of the group to work out their troubles by themselves. That said, during the Tokuagawa period the Japanese developed their own “impressive” internal spy system, which horrified Westerners (“Everybody is watched. No man knows who are the secret spies around him … This wretched system is even extended to the humblest of the citizens.”)
It is true, Europeans did not crucify. However, this probably had more to do with respecting Jesus than shunning cruelty. Sixteenth century Europe was home to some very public forms of torture and execution, everything from breaking on the wheel to burning, quartering, mutilation, and exposure on the scaffold or pillory.
Okada gives a list of ten forms of Japanese punishment that were extant in Frois’ time, including one as gruesome as “our” skinning and quartering: the “saw-pull,” where—if Japanese TV “Easterns” are to be believed—passersby were actually required to take a pull at a saw that slowly cut through a man in a stock by the side of the road!
According to Okada, before the arrival of Europeans (pre 1540s), the Japanese often crucified individuals, head down. Apparently, by Frois’ time it was mostly done head up. Writing in 1610, Careletti noted that the Japanese, unlike the Romans, provided some support between the legs and under the feet. Victims were tied to the cross with ropes or “with iron straps hammered into the wood.” The cross was then lifted and the base was slid into a prepared hole. Then, at a judge’s order—this is where the last minute reprieve arrives in Japanese TV “Easterns”—lances were simultaneously thrust up and through the body, from the right and left, with the intention of piercing vital organs and hastening death. It was not always as merciful, since skillful executioners could pierce the body as many as sixteen times, avoiding vital organs. Carletti saw people left alive on crosses, and “they similarly crucify women with babies still nursing at their breasts, so that both the one and the other die of privation.” Carletti describes hellish scenes:
along all the streets and roads …. one sees nothing …. but crosses full of men, of women, or of children ….”
This last quote pertains to the martyrdom of twenty six Christians at Nagasaki in February of 1597. They were left up as a warning to other Japanese contemplating conversion to Christianity. Of course, Europeans engaged in similar extremes of [in]human behavior. In Aubrey’s Brief Lives, which was written toward the end of the seventeenth century, he recounted a story about the head of Sir Thomas More, which had been placed on a pole atop London Bridge:
There goes this story in the family, viz. that one day as one of his daughters was passing under the Bridge, looking on her father’s head, sayd she, That head haz layn many a time in my Lapp, would to God it would fall into my Lap as I passe under. She had her wish, and it did fall into her Lappe, and is now preserved in a vault in the Cathedral Church at Canterbury.
This is an extension of #5 above. As noted, during the politically unsettled sixteenth century some daimyo took the already severe samurai code and made it stricter with “amendments” or the daimyo’s own house code. These local regulations severely limited individual rights. For instance, commoners were prohibited (often on pain of death) from travelling or farming without first securing permission from the local lord. However, there is a paradox here. Judging from what Valignano wrote in his Sumario (1583), samurai or daimyo undoubtedly thought twice before punishing or abusing their servants, for servants had high self-esteem and might avenge an insult by killing their master and committing suicide. Thus, stories of the famously sadistic shogun Nobunaga, who reputedly decapitated a servant girl for leaving the stem of a fruit on the tatami, may overstate the cruelty of Japanese elites. On the whole (see Chapter 11, #27), they probably were no better or worse than European elites.
11. Among us there are prisons, judicial authorities, civil servants in the justice system, and prison superintendents; the Japanese have none of these, nor do they make use of whipping, cutting off ears, or hanging.
As noted above, European justice frequently entailed some form of corporal punishment (e.g. death, mutilation, whipping) administered in public and with great theatricality (e.g. use of scaffolds, processions, masked executioners). Jail or “prison” was where you waited until your sentence was administered; they were not punishment per se. This all changed during Frois’ lifetime, when more and more judges sentenced criminals to imprisonment (often with forced labor) or penal servitude (e.g. oarsmen on a Mediterranean galley, as per chapter 12, #10).
Few if any European towns or cities in the sixteenth century had a “police force” that systematically retrieved stolen property, which, ironically, was more likely to be returned to the victim not by the police or a magistrate but by the thief, for a fee. Throughout Iberia and other parts of Europe voluntary associations or brotherhoods “policed” roads, markets, and neighborhoods (these associations were not unlike the volunteer fire departments found today in many smaller American communities).
As politically turbulent Japan rapidly unified, there was evidently a lot of confiscation going on under one pretext or another (Okada cites a document showing that, by law, stolen goods were supposed to be returned to their owners in Japan).
Europeans had good reason to fear the night, given the crime and murder rates that obtained in sixteenth-century European cities. Many Europeans also worried about witches, the devil, and even the moon. In his influential treatise “On the diseases that rob man of reason,” Paracelsus (1493–1541) wrote that the phases of the moon were responsible in part for various expressions of mania, such as frantic behavior and mischievousness.
Most Japanese probably felt relatively safe in the light of the full moon, for it was identified with the cleansing mercy of Buddha. While “our” moon spawned werewolves and maniacs, the Japanese moon made even savage boars take a break from ravaging farms. Gazing up at the night sky, the Japanese equated the Milky Way with the home of souls; every year they celebrated a star festival for the “loving stars” (the Herder and the Weaver). Still, as far as pitch-black nights go, one has to wonder if the Japanese were all that comfortable with the darkness. Arguably the Japanese always have had a greater variety of ghosts than Westerners, and it is hard to believe parents never used them to get children to go to sleep. During the Tokugawa era, when these ghosts evidently had their heyday, it would seem that fear got the upper hand, for here is Scidmore writing in 1897:
The outer veranda is closed at night and in bad weather by amados, solid wooden screens or shutters that rumble and bang their way back and forth in their grooves. These amados are without windows or air holes, and the servants will not willingly leave a gap for ventilation. “But thieves may get in, or the kappa! they cry, the kappa being a mythical animal always ready to fly away with them. In every room is placed an andon or night lamp.
The Japanese today usually close these shutters, not to keep out the kappa, but because of a fear of catching night chills. Okada believes that Frois was referring specifically in this contrast to the children of the samurai, who were trained to be brave by making night-time excursions alone to cemeteries and so forth.
Although it has been suggested that fear of snakes is “natural” and was inscribed in the DNA of our bush-loving Hominid ancestors, human beings can love snakes just as easily as they fear them. If Westerners dislike snakes it is mostly because the poor reptile has been implicated in humankinds’ “fall;” snakes also are commonplace in Western literary and artistic depictions of hell.
Vipers, in particular, were thought by the Japanese to be especially good for virility. Even today one can find airline-portion bottles of whiskey with viper extract on the counter of almost every liquor store in Japan. Many snakes were considered edible, but white ones were taboo, for Shinto held them to be sacrosanct messengers from the Earth. Still, the Japanese did not usually get as close to snakes as Indians with their cobra cults, unless one is to believe senryu of the eighteenth century, which mention doctors using frogs to lure snakes out of human cavities. Supposedly, in the seedy part of Edo, women who were powdered and rouged to look like Benten, goddess of prosperity and a synonym for beauty, trained snakes to crawl into their privies (as part of a strip-show) and sometimes had trouble getting them out. Eventually (this much seems to be fact), authorities cracked down on these shows for “cruelty to animals.”
15. Sneezing is a natural thing for us and we think nothing of it; on the islands of Goto it is thought to be an omen and anyone who sneezes cannot speak that same day to their lord.
Here, as elsewhere, Frois conveniently ignores European customs that smacked of magic, including imploring God to bless someone who has just sneezed. “God Bless you” apparently was a common refrain during the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, when the plague repeatedly devastated European cities.
Sneezes may have gotten a bit more attention in Japan than in Europe, for there is ample literature on masking sneezes with words and vice versa. Even the old word for sneeze (kusame) may have originally meant “That I don’t rot!,” or was derived from “Eat shit!” (kuso kurae), both charms against bad spirits. But note that Frois does not refer to Japan, but rather the Goto Islands, which are about forty kilometers closer to China than Hirado, Japan. Shortly after Frois came to Japan he spent at least several months on these islands, and he devoted three delightful pages to the islanders’ “superstitions” in his Historia. The islanders closely abided by a calendar of auspicious and inauspicious days. According to Frois they lived in great fear of and constantly propitiated the Devil. His main example of such “superstitious customs” is far more fascinating to us than the sneezing, for it seems to exemplify what we now think of as responsible stewardship of the earth. In the last sentence of the following quote, Frois indirectly recognized the benefit of “superstition”:
Wherever they are, whatever type of place it is, when they cut the wood to fuel their salt pots [apparently salt was one of their export items], in order that their pot not be cursed by the gods, they leave untouched, for the gods, an especially verdant and pleasant place, be it an entire hill or a part of the forest that is covered with particularly tall and valuable trees. No pagans take so much as a twig from these trees though it only be for medicinal purposes. If someone were to cut even a little from those trees, it would end up costing him a lot. This is not only because of some sort of disaster or curse of the gods, but because that person must make amends in the form of ceremonies and money to fulfill his duty for the sin of cutting off tree limbs [on such a mountain] by planting a fixed number of trees. Because of that, and because when times are hard the people pledge to the gods [not to cut certain areas], the many places they have dedicated to the gods are covered with green and there is beautiful scenery for the people.
16. We use coins made of gold and silver; in Japan they circulate pieces whose value depends on their weight.
In both Europe and Japan the period from around 1200–1500 CE witnessed the rise of towns and cities with ever-expanding market economies that necessitated a shift from a reliance on bartering to the use of money, particularly coins fashioned solely of one precious metal or combinations of gold and silver or silver and copper. Although Frois seems to imply that European coins were standardized or invariable, this was mostly true of higher denomination, “stable” gold and silver coins (e.g. Portugal’s silver cruzado, France’s gold écu au soleil or Spain’s gold escudo or silver “piece of eight”). Fluctuations in supplies of precious metals (e.g. massive imports of silver from the Americas beginning around 1530) led to fluctuations in gold-silver ratios and silver-copper ratios, which in turn, led to speculation and monetary uncertainty. There also were occasions when rulers devalued their currency to raise capital. During the late fourteenth century, for instance, the crown of Portugal devalued the silver real to the point where it was almost entirely copper; the silver that otherwise would have gone into the real was used to fight a war with Castile and to finance the search for African gold.
During the tumultuous sixteenth century Japanese daimyo and nobility engaged in mining operations for gold and silver, which were made into gold and silver coins that went to finance armies and purchase weapons. Because daimyo often were at war with each other, few efforts were made to standardize coinage. The earliest and perhaps the most widely accepted gold coins were issued by the daimyo of the Kai region (an area famous for its gold mines) and were called koshu kin. Each koshu kin was stamped with its weight and an indication of its corresponding value. This system was adopted by the Tokugawa shogunate at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
17. We in Europe always use a balance; the Japanese use a dachen.
The Portuguese empire (and thus a Jesuit enterprise in Japan) was made possible by profits from the pepper trade and the duties that the Portuguese crown collected at its forts and customs houses (alfándegas) that were strategically located in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. The weight of many items dictated their value and tax assessment and so something as simple as a scale was of great importance in the sixteenth century.
The European “balance” mentioned here by Frois should be familiar to those who have been to a courthouse and seen a statue or plaque of “Lady Justice,” who wears a blindfold and holds a sword in her left hand and an uplifted balance scale in her right hand.
The dachen is a “beam” scale, originally from China, which functioned a lot like the scale once common in a doctor’s office (where a patient’s weight was determined by sliding weights out on a beam, so to speak). The Chinese made beam scales in a variety of sizes, including small scales with a notched fish-bone for a beam, which merchants carried in their pockets. The scales often were used to weigh sycee—silver ingots used as currency—or coins that looked suspicious (i.e. counterfeit).
This is another of Frois’ unnumbered contrasts. During the early sixteenth century copper production in central Europe increased significantly and solid copper coins, particularly in small denominations, were widely used for everyday transactions (e.g. buying a loaf of bread). From circa 1500 through 1550 Portugal imported roughly a half-million kilograms of copper each year from Antwerp.
The Japanese used copper coins for various purposes (e.g. estate rents, temple donations, prayers, merchandise), although those mentioned by Frois were probably not Japanese but rather Chinese. The kobusen was a round copper coin with a square hole that was minted in five different denominations in China during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). The kobusen as well as a still earlier Chinese copper coin (sosen) circulated widely in Japan. One reason for the popularity of the kobusen was that it bore an auspicious inscription that promised its owner good luck. During the sixteenth century some regions of Japan began issuing their own copper coin (bitasen), modeled after the kobusen.
Apparently counterfeit copper coins were not a major concern in Europe during Frois’ lifetime, unlike the seventeenth century, when they created a major monetary crisis in Spain and elsewhere.
As early as the fifteenth century counterfeit coins had become a serious problem in Japan. The bitasen minted in different parts of Japan were made of copper as well as varying amounts of lead. It therefore made sense for the Japanese to check out color and markings and to prefer older coins such as the Chinese sosen or kobusen.
Copper coins obviously were not worth as much as gold and silver coins and in some parts of Europe (e.g. England) they were not even minted. That the Japanese gave them as gifts reflects the fact that they were considered lucky (as per #17a). Today, they are sometimes given to children or as prizes in neighborhood lotteries, in their reincarnation as freshly minted five-yen coins. They do not have the aforementioned lucky words printed on them, but their denomination has an intrinsically auspicious value: go-en (five yen) happens to be a homophone for “good fortune!”
With far more grammatical inflections for etiquette (levels of politeness) than for verb tenses, it is true that speakers of Japanese can do more with their verbs than can speakers of English or Romance languages. The Japanese language even has different verbs with identical meanings, where usage depends on who one is speaking to or what is being discussed. But the Japanese do not rely only on the verb, as Frois’ Portuguese original implies. For some words they also have different levels of nouns, and they have honorific prefixes and suffixes that can be added to nouns or even adjectives. Moreover, it would have been more accurate for Frois to have spoken of “honor and humility,” because one can talk up another and talk oneself down with equal ease in Japanese.
The subject of honorifics admittedly is difficult to discuss in a Western language, because it is hard for “us” to imagine that the verb “be” may have various forms depending on levels of formality, politeness and whatnot (the term honorifics does not really cover the half of it!). If we were Frois, we might have written:
We demonstrate politeness and respect through our choice of words; in Japanese, the grammar of the language itself incorporates markers of politeness and respect that can be used at the appropriate time.
Today, when equality is idealized around the world, including Japan, some people have mixed feelings about language that invokes notions of rank (in the sixteenth century neither Europeans nor Japanese were concerned because few people believed that everyone was equal). Moreover, the complexity of such a language (strictly speaking, the redundant ways of “saying the same thing” that take time to learn) is thought of as a barrier to global understanding.
It is not clear what Frois intended with this contrast. Was he highlighting the fact that it was surprising—from a European perspective—that the Japanese would bother to wash their hands before picking up their rustic implements of the tea ceremony? In Chapter 11 (#9), Frois wrote that, as gems are precious to “us,” the tea service (dogu) is precious to the Japanese. With this second contrast Frois seems to abandon his cultural relativism. Whatever his intent, Frois’ fellow Jesuit, Rodrigues, provided a “thicker description” (à la Geertz) of the “hand washing” associated with the tea ceremony:
Then as they walk along the path through the wood up to the cha house, they quietly contemplate everything there—the wood itself, individual trees in their natural state and setting, the paving stones and the rough stone trough for washing the hands. There is crystal clear water there which they take with a vessel and pour onto their hands, and the guests may wash their hands if they so wish …
This prelude to the tea ceremony bears much resemblance to visiting a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple, for they often resemble shrines in this respect: one takes a nature walk and cleans one’s hands in spring water ladled from a trough bored into a boulder, or better yet, a natural concavity in the boulder. The main difference is that the tea practitioners are conscious of the masterfully arranged, generally small (if not miniature) natural elements and savor them and their choreography, whereas the shrine-goers are just enjoying their walk to the shrine and may or may not enjoy incidental moments of natural epiphany in the face of a grander nature of cedar, boulder, mountain peaks and perhaps a glimpse of the sea.
Although it is true that dogu will be handled and drunk from, we hear nothing of soap here; the intent is, again, analogous to that which is sought by shrine- or temple-goer: spiritual purification. As previously suggested, in both sacred grounds and the tea hut there was a spirit of equality not present in the extremely rank-conscious outside world. The washing was also, then, a temporary removal of the trappings of difference.
As noted in Chapter 6, the Portuguese are still particularly fond of boar. While tasty, the wild relative of domesticated pig can be ferocious, particularly when cornered. As Frois indicates, by 1585 Europeans were hunting boar with guns (matchlock) as well as spears and greyhounds; the latter figure prominently in Francesco Salviati’s sixteenth-century watercolor “Boar Hunt.”
According to Blackmore, Japanese prints of deer and boar hunts show the hunters wearing “the traditional samurai sword,” presumably the katana as opposed to the longer tachi. Of course, doing battle with a wild boar using only a sword is incredibly dangerous, but consistent with the macho mindset of the samurai of the warring-states era.
Avoidance of pollution was foundational to Erasmus’ sixteenth-century bestseller, Manners for Children (1530), which aimed to remake not only children, but all of European society.
In Japan, to be “so old you can only chase a fly with your chin” was a common conceit, so it seems that fly-catching by hand was a national pastime. One can imagine that guilt, occasioned by Buddhism, was behind the practice, for there are thousands of haiku on the subject; indeed, the very category of “(summer) fly” is sometimes called, or at least subtitled, hae-o utsu, or “hitting flies.”
Portuguese raiding and commerce along the west coast of Africa during the fifteenth century increased the flow of exotica from Asia and Africa into Europe, including various species of Old World monkeys (Cercopithecoidea) that were kept as pets or curiosities by European nobility. Albrecht Dürer kept a collection of monkeys apparently for study purposes. By the sixteenth century many European cities also were home to street performers who wore orientalized costumes and entertained passerby with trained monkeys.
Then, as now, Europeans found monkeys and apes intriguing because of their human-like qualities (primates behave foolishly just like people). The Japanese were similarly taken with the Japanese macaque—a native of Japan that has a human-like face and lives in troops of anywhere from several dozen on up to one hundred individuals, led by an alpha male. Macaques appear tailless, having a stump that can be as short as two centimeters. Japanese folk tradition held that monkeys could cure equine illness and often monkeys were kept at Japanese stables as “guardians.” Presumably, Portuguese sailors introduced the guenons or other Old World monkeys with long tails that the Japanese found so novel.
25. We do accounting by writing numbers down using a quill or marks; the Japanese do so with a soroban calculator.
The Chinese abacus—a wooden, square-shaped device consisting of rows of beads on wooden rods that are slid back and forth—was first introduced to Japan sometime during the early sixteenth century and before the Jesuits arrived on the scene. As with so many introduced items, the Japanese modified the abacus, now called a soroban, making it smaller and streamlining mathematical computation. People still use it in small stores and sometimes post offices in Japan.
In the absence of department stores and mass-produced goods, gift-giving in early modern Europe entailed mostly items of food, particularly game or fish or sweet things, or handcrafted items like socks or maybe a new spoon. As is the case today in the West, the principle governing gifting was: the naughty get little, the nice get a lot.
In Japan gift giving was and to a degree still is very formalized. Every gift, no matter how small, must be matched at some time or another. If the Japanese were not big on gifting, as Frois indicates, it probably was because giving a gift could set off a dangerous cycle of exchange every bit as hard on the pocketbook as a potlatch. Indeed, like a potlatch, it could be used to embarrass and thus undermine the authority of a rival.
Westerners residing in Japan today find it hard to simply give people things because it inevitably becomes stressful, particularly for the recipient, who usually feels compelled to buy an equally expensive return gift. Indeed, one of a wife’s traditional duties is keeping tabs on the value of every present and matching it with a return gift. Wealthy professionals who are showered with gifts by clients have special recycling arrangements worked out with a specialized business, which might be called a gift broker, who takes back some gifts and recycles or resells others.
Japanese and Korean clams (young ones less than four inches in diameter) are among the most beautifully marked shells in the world. One might say they completely live up to their scientific name: Meretrix meretrix, or painted woman. However, in sixteenth-century Japan most of the clams that were used as gift containers for herbal medicines were actually painted and essentially standardized. Today the Japanese no longer make presents of medicine, except occasionally a medicinal wine similar to our Campari; they also no longer use shells for packaging gifts.
It is surprising that Frois did not highlight how the Japanese give what might be called honoraria for almost all services rendered, whereas Europeans “paid” for things like getting a tooth pulled. As Ms. Bacon pointed out, contracts and exact charges for professional services were considered disgustingly crass by both sides.
In Japan a present of money is more honorable than pay, whereas in America pay is more honorable than a present.
But note that the cash must be enclosed in a traditionally-decorated, formal money-giving envelope (sold in any convenience store). Finally, perhaps the most interesting contrast for gift-giving today does not involve seashells or money:
The Japanese have giri-choko or “dutiful-chocolate” day, when female employees give chocolate to their male colleagues (just about everyone gets chocolate on his desk). This can then be repaid on huaito-dei, “white-day,” when men are supposed to dutifully give white chocolate to the women.
This is still true today; the visitor to Japan should go fully loaded with little gifts. Audubon birdcalls, if you can find them, are a good recommendation. Or buy the usual pastry, fruit or alcohol on the way to someone’s house.
In the previous distich Frois indicated that Europeans normally did not bring a gift. Now he says a European host never serves what his or her guest brings! Apparently guests sometimes brought a gift of something to drink or eat, as is the case today in Europe and the United States. In Japan the gift is usually food, and because the gift can be consumed, it is wise to bring something you like so that you can enjoy giving your cake and eating it, too.
The Japanese are one of the least touching people in the world. In the past, any embracing they did was done by adults in private. Even children were not generally hugged. Passing someone in a crowd, the Japanese avoided touching anyone. If someone was in the way, they always said something or, if the other person was looking, they might have used a slight karate-chop-like gesture. Men and women did not generally go about with their arms over each other’s shoulders or holding hands, as is found in many cultures. Hygienic types have suggested that even a handshake is too much contact and that we should copy the Japanese. Psychologists, on the other hand, may find this pathological. Still, today Japanese train passengers tolerate being packed together far tighter than Western people can bear. It is an interesting paradox.
Ballgames, including various types of handball, were played throughout Europe during the late Middle Ages and early modern period. Frois is presumably focusing in this distich on Basque or Valencian pelota, which involved hitting a ball with bare hands against a wall or back and forth in “courtfields” (similar to a tennis court). At the time Frois wrote, the city of Valencia had close to a dozen or more handball courtfields.
The Japanese game kemari, literally kickball, may have come to Japan from China during the Heian Period (794–1192), when everyone, including the Emperor, supposedly played the game. As Rodrigues explains, the game is a lot like today’s “hacky sack,” only it involves a ball rather than a bean bag:
The balls are inflated and are the size of a man’s head. This is played a great deal by the nobles and kuge [peers: imperial line, as opposed to shogunate or fief-related nobility], and many of them gather in a circle wearing on the right foot a certain shoe with a blunt point; it is a fine sight to see them kick forward the point of the foot and hit the ball upwards, and then do various tricks and clever feats with it without letting it touch the ground.
Apparently church walls were a favorite place for handball. The balls must not have been soft or resilient, as priests during the seventeenth century condemned the sport of handball because it was responsible for large numbers of broken stained-glass windows.
According to Cooper, during the tenth century a group of Japanese courtiers set a record of 260 consecutive kicks without letting the ball touch the ground. In recent years the Japanese game of kemari has been revived (it apparently was eclipsed by Sumo wrestling not long after Frois wrote).
By 1585 Europeans were harnessing the wind, water, and animals such as mules, oxen, and dogs to power all sorts of mills as well as butter churns, saws, looms, etc. A comprehensive census in one small valley in the Austrian Alps in 1550 revealed 135 mills—most of which were grist mills powered by water. Many Europeans and Americans are familiar with the expression “every dog has his day.” Many may not know that in Frois’ day there was a breed of small dogs (turnspits) in England that were harnessed to a rotating spit on which large pieces of meat were cooked over a fire. A royal or noble household had several such dogs that took turns providing “rotisserie power,” hence the saying.
As noted, the Japanese of the sixteenth century did not rely heavily on beasts of burden and probably would have been appalled at the idea of a turnspit. Somewhat surprisingly (given their metallurgy and other “industrial” arts), they made relatively little use of wind or water mills. This all changed during the ensuing Tokugawa era (1603–1868), when the Japanese developed many types of mechanical devices and complex automata.
Cities and towns of Mediterranean Europe are relatively compact and generally consist of contiguous neighborhoods, each with an important or central plaza (rossios in Portuguese) and a parish church. Particularly in the evening, the plazas and streets that connect neighborhoods are full of life.
Frois was right: Japan had no such public “squares” where people socialized, except for temples and shrines (as per Chapter 3, #15). This does not mean that the Japanese did little socializing; rather, their socializing was less spontaneous. In Japan, socializing was more a matter of colleagues agreeing to meet at a temple or someone’s house. The Japanese are still like this. They tend to socialize with their own cliques, and aside from the mama-sans at bars, who often are witty and easy conversationalists, most Japanese are not comfortable striking up a conversation with a new acquaintance or stranger. Note, however, that the Japanese today (and since at least the mid-nineteenth century) have what has been described as an aversion to bringing guests home. The reason given by Japanese and foreign language newspapers in Japan is usually the lack of room, pride (“our home is so inadequate”), and a desire not to mix family and business (most socialization away from the home is with others who work for the same company).
The Sinosphere (China, Japan, Korea) generally appreciates self-control and equanimity, which is to say, not looking troubled. It bears noting that the Japanese are no more aware of their “fake” or slight smile than Westerners are of their tendency to stare into the eyes of other people (something Asians find curious or annoying).
In the timeless classic by Salvador de Madariaga, Englishman, Frenchmen, Spaniards, the ambiguity of the English language was held to be the mainstay of British diplomacy and well suited for the national temperament. Nevertheless, even in England one does not find such an explicit defense of ambiguity as found in modern Japan.
Okada opines that Frois is talking about “the honorifics that reached their most complex state of development at the time,” which “took a form that avoided clear ways of saying things and favored expressions that were indirect and inconclusive.” Ambiguity also was couched in the double and triple negatives that might accompany, but are not the same as, honorifics.
37. Among us, a respected man would be thought insane to hang the pelt of a fox or a jackal from the back of his belt; in Japan, whenever noblemen are performing works, they, as well as their pages, always carry such pelts in this fashion, to be used for sitting upon.
It was fashionable in sixteenth century Europe for women—not men—to go about holding or wearing a sable or marten pelt, which were sometimes bedecked with jeweled eyes or gold paws.
38. In Europe, the open crown for mass is only worn by priests; in the region of Gokinai [central Japan, around Kyoto], it is worn by servants who carry the shoes of their masters.
Frois appears to be referring here to the biretta—a square hat with three or four peaks on the top, worn by Catholic clergy, excepting the pope. The barnacle-shaped eboshi cap worn by petty servants was not as highly decorated, but perhaps too similar for Frois to resist this seemingly innocuous contrast. (Or was he advising European Jesuits not to mistake a Japanese servant for an elite?)
Frois would seem to be comparing “our” chess or checkers to a parcheesi-like game called sugoroku. He must have known little about board games or he would have offered more interesting contrasts, such as:
Raising raptors to hunt rabbits, quail, and other small game goes back at least 1000 years in many parts of the world, including Europe and Japan. Falconry and hawking were time-consuming and expensive and were mostly embraced by the nobility. In Japan, in particular, hawking came to be surrounded with pageantry, beautiful costumes and elaborate equipment, all of which still characterize the sport today.
The “hooding” of falcons and hawks supposedly keeps them quiet and composed. Although perhaps more difficult, one could imagine raising hawks and falcons such that they were relatively comfortable around people and thus required no “hooding.” Okada gives a citation for a hood on a Japanese hawk, but it is almost three decades after Frois wrote; the citation could well reflect Japanese borrowing from the West. The most touching animal-related poem in the overwhelmingly human-centered Manyoshu (Japan’s oldest anthology of poetry) is a eulogy for a hunting hawk that the poet raised. Parts of it are reminiscent of one of the West’s most touching animal eulogies, John Skelton’s (1460–1529) “Phillip Sparrowe.”
This distich is reminiscent of the implicit contrast Herodotus (a Greek) drew in the fifth century BC comparing Greeks and Egyptians: the Egyptians “… knead dough with their feet but lift up mud and even dung with their hands.” As previously noted (Chapter 11, #25), in Japan and other parts of Asia both men and women often make far more use of their feet than Westerners.
Sackcloth in Europe was largely made from hemp, flax, cotton and, to a lesser extent, goat hair; the latter material was made into undergarments that were irritating and unpleasant and thus favored by penitents who sought to mortify their flesh. In Japan, nobody grew hay for sacks. Rice straw, wheat straw, etc. all are “hay” and all kindly helped to carry themselves to market.
In Chapter 1 (#45) Frois pointed out that Europeans were reluctant to bare so much as a leg when warming themselves, while the Japanese did not hesitate to expose their entire posteriors to a fire. Backside, back of the hands—perhaps this “backward” approach to warming oneself is “real” and meaningful, but we are not sure about either.
44. Among us, when one delivers a long message, the messenger is either standing or kneeling; in Japan this is done with both knees on the ground and almost prone, with one hand on the mat and the sleeve rolled up on that arm, and with the other hand lightly rubbing the exposed arm.
The fly-like rubbing mentioned here by Frois with respect to the Japanese may be a custom borrowed from the Chinese. While in China Cruz observed, “The common courtesy is, the left hand closed, they enclose it within the right hand, and they move both hands repeatedly up and down towards the breast, showing that they have one another enclosed in their heart.” In Japan, only the merchant—the most Chinese trade—seems to have done a lot of this rubbing. And in Japan, it is not a point of etiquette that most Japanese seem able to explain, as with the Chinese and their heart metaphor. Like the practice of hissing between the teeth still found among old Japanese men, it would, rather, seem to be a way of showing that one is as tense as one should be in a formal situation, facing one’s superior. As we have seen, the Japanese seem to feel, however unconsciously, that being tense is the most important element of being respectful.
45. Among us, when men are speaking, they stand up straight with one foot in front of the other; in Japan, when two men talk, the inferior must have his feet together, his arms crossed at the waist, his body bent forward and, depending on what the other is saying, he must make little reverences like women do in Europe.
There are actually two contrasts here, one of which has to do with the relative importance of body language in Japan as compared with Europe. In the West, an inferior need not advertise subordination so much with body language; in most parts of sixteenth century Europe there were sartorial codes; what you wore, including your hair, signaled your place in society. The other of Frois’ contrasts reflects a Western tendency to speak in monologues, while the Japanese mostly converse in bite-sized chunks of sentence, punctuated by the listener’s “yeahs” and grunts, each of which is accompanied by a bob of the head and a slight bow (more emphatic on the part of the inferior). If the listening party forgets to, or does not know enough to grunt, the Japanese speaker stops talking.
Marques notes that wills from sixteenth-century Portugal testify to the fact that people of means made daily use of napkins and towels, some “for wiping the hands” and others “for wiping the mouth.” A separate towel for the feet, as Frois indicates, might make sense given that the majority of homes in sixteenth century Portugal had floors of beaten earth. By contrast, the floors in Japanese homes consisted of mats or tatami.
Frois must have liked this contrast, as he used it earlier (Chapter 1, #4). It is doubtful that nostril size was the main reason the Japanese used the “pinky” finger. Because the Japanese already used their pinky for cleaning their ears, it perhaps made sense to use the same digit for cleaning the nose. And speaking of ears, we might mention that the Japanese have tiny wooden scoops, which mothers and wives often use to remove wax from the ears of their children and husbands, respectively.
This is essentially a repetition of #35 above. As we have seen, Europeans in the sixteenth century—and perhaps more precisely, the expanding business class that sought the privileges of the hereditary aristocracy—were preoccupied with what Greenblatt has called “Renaissance self-fashioning.” The Jesuits, in particular, became champions of self-fashioning; moderation and composure were central to the “rules of civility” taught in their schools throughout Catholic Europe.
Arguably it is easier to hold a grin than to maintain a grave demeanor, so a “little artificial smile” is no stranger than feigned indifference. What is curious about Frois’ characterization of the Japanese is that it is at odds with the stereotypical image of the Japanese from the nineteenth-century, who appear as glum-looking as your glummest Puritans.
The bottom of the Mediterranean is littered with a seemingly endless supply of ceramic jars (amphorae) that were used by the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans to transport wine from one end of the Mediterranean to the other. The Romans are credited with discovering that wine stored in oak barrels often took on a delightful complexity and was a lot smoother. The Romans also were quick to realize that storing the oak barrels in caves, below ground (but up off the ground) kept the wine from spoiling too quickly. Note that storing wine in bottles with corks did not become widespread in Europe until the eighteenth century with the large-scale production of standardized glass bottles.
With respect to the Japanese side of this contrast, Frois seems to be describing what was at the time a centuries-old Japanese tradition of making “black” vinegar from sake. The vinegar was made by mixing brown rice sake with water and “seed vinegar” (vinegar from a previous batch) and then pouring it into large (378 liter) earthenware crocks that were buried partially in the ground. The top third of the jar was exposed and was warmed each day by sunlight, which itself was moderated by grass that was allowed to grow up between the jars. Kuro-so or “black vinegar” is still produced in this traditional way on the island of Kyushu, where Frois lived for years.
Tannins extracted from the boiled bark, leaves, and fruit of various plants and trees (e.g. oak, chestnut, walnut) were commonly used to dye animal pelts in Europe. According to Okada, one of the main “straws” used by the Japanese to dye pelts was pine needles.
51. Our cane is of little use, except for making distaffs for spinning; in Japan it [bamboo] is a delicacy added to their soup and is used for bows, arrow shafts, flooring, roofing, ladders, containers for oil, vessels for wine, woven mats, tea whisks, and many other things.
A distaff was a simple stick or piece of cane about three feet long that held the unspun flax or wool fibers that were fed onto a spindle or spinning wheel. As Frois indicates, the Japanese found innumerable uses for their “cane” or bamboo. Only recently have Westerners begun to appreciate this largest member of the grass family (e.g. bamboo is now wildly popular as flooring).
Small wooden gift boxes, which were used to convey and protect such things as a prayer book, date back to the Middle Ages in Europe. Wrapping gifts with a sash, as they apparently did in Ximo (western Kyushu), was and is an exceptional practice. But one thing is certain: The Japanese, who are famous for transforming a single sheet of paper into a work of art (origami), are the most avid wrappers on earth. To shop in Japan is to be amazed at the variety of packaging. Every culture has areas where creativity runs wild. In Japan gift-wrapping is one of those areas.
Marques notes that rosewater was very popular in Moslem lands during the thirteenth century and apparently was introduced to Portugal and Spain around this time. Here as elsewhere Frois used the word “vinho” when referring to sake, which is made from fermented rice. Sake and rosewater (recall that the latter is made from distilled roses) both contain alcohol, which as it evaporates adds to the refreshing feel of a liquid applied to the skin.
54. Among us, when someone drinks a cup of water, we give them a spoonful of a confection or a slice of preserved fruit; in Japan when someone drinks rice wine, all one needs to give him is a single confection or something of similar size.
Having a small piece of dried fruit or a spoonful of quince jelly with your cup of water no doubt took your mind off the fact that the water smelled, tasted terrible, and was likely to make you sick (as noted, Europeans drank a lot of low-alcohol wine and beer because the water was unsavory). In Japan, sake often is accompanied by salty tidbits, not sweet ones. In this contrast, however, Frois seems to be focusing not on sweet vs. salty but how Europeans drank what amounted to a sizeable cup of water (púcaro) with their “tasty bit,” while the Japanese had what amounted to only a sip of sake with their equally minimal food.
55. We in Europe show friendship by presenting a friend with a handful of roses; the Japanese give only a single rose or carnation.
Frois highlights a real difference in the two cultures. However, it is difficult to say whether the difference arises from different aesthetics (less is more, for the Japanese) or the simple absence of a tradition in Japan of cut flowers, other than those used for artistic creations, i.e. ikebana.
The vases which hang so gracefully on the polished posts each contain a single peony, a single iris, a single azalea, stalk, leaves and corolla, all displayed in their full beauty. Can anything be more grotesque than our “florist’s bouquets,” a series of concentric rings of flowers of divers colours, bordered by maiden-hair and a piece of stiff lace paper in which stems, leaves, and even petals are brutally crushed, and the grace and individuality of each flower systematically destroyed.
Reading Isabella Bird’s strong statement it is possible to suggest a symbolic explanation for the gift of a single flower—it suggests the person receiving it is likewise the only one in the giver’s mind. There was one notable exception to the single flower versus bouquet contrast that Frois neglects to mention. Tree blossoms were presented by the branch. A finely shaped and considerably large-sized branch would be the best present.
56. We place a large amount of beijoim [incense] directly on the fire; the Japanese put a few pieces of águila [agar wood incense] the size of two or three kernels of wheat on a very thin plate of silver set upon hot coals.
The benzoin and aquilaria trees of Southeast Asia produce a resinous sap and heartwood, respectively, which have been prized as incense for millennia by European and other civilizations. The Chinese characters for benzoin read “ease-breath-scent.” It was correspondingly nicknamed in English “friar’s balsam” and used for respiratory ailments. Okada writes that the Japanese only used benzoin in combination with other aromatics, and more interestingly, that the idea was to hear—not just smell—the tiny kernel of scent, which was sometimes even smaller than a grain of rice. What Frois describes as a thin plate of silver was a Chinese invention or “tray” that was called a “silver leaf.” The profligacy of European perfuming was partly due to the fact that vast quantities were used to smoke out disease-causing “bad airs.” The Japanese only used that much smoke for mosquito smudge.
It is too bad that Frois did not say more about Japanese self-control and why Europeans seemed to boil over so quickly. There are parts of Japan where people fly off the handle quickly, as well as splendidly uptight parts of the West; but the contrast, on the whole, still holds. Even the Jesuits tended to be “immature” compared to the Japanese and Chinese, who judged maturity on the basis of one’s self-control.
58. In Europe, if by some stroke of luck a married or single woman finds refuge in a gentleman’s house, there she is protected and aided and kept safe; in Japan, if women seek refuge in the house of any lord, they lose their freedom and become his captives.
The Council of Europe estimates that one-fifth to one-quarter of all European women have experienced physical violence at least once during their adult lives. Today between a third and half of all women in the United States can expect at some point in their lives to be victims of domestic violence. The situation may have been worse in early modern Europe. It was not uncommon for mothers and daughters to suffer at the hands of husbands and fathers, prompting the battered women to seek refuge in a monastery, church, or the household of what was hoped was a sympathetic noble. It is comforting, but perhaps naïve, to believe that European nobles were mostly gentleman, as Frois suggests.
It so happens that what Frois describes for Japan is common on television “Easterns” in Japan today: a woman goes in search of a noble or tono, to right things for her wronged husband, or for a loan to pay for a sick child’s medicine, only to be sexually assaulted, after which, or during which, she commits suicide! The coincidence with Frois’ observation makes one wonder, although clearly not all tonos were monstrous.
Actually European farmers made use of a variety of hoes, depending on the soil being worked and the crops cultivated. The short, broad-bladed hoe mentioned by Frois is what is commonly sold today in hardware stores and might be described as an all-purpose or “standard” hoe.
After the eighth century the Japanese increasingly shifted to dry farming, with occasional flooding of rice paddies, as opposed to a “constant deep-irrigation system” of rice cultivation. This shift meant less reliance on the Chinese plow (a shallow draft plow) and more reliance on hoes that were capable of deep tillage. As Morse suggested, the Japanese hoe may have looked “clumsy,” but it’s long, slightly curved blade (with sharp cutting edges) made it excellent for reaching down into the soil and cutting and extracting roots.
European flutes were made from a dense wood such as boxwood and fell into one of two general categories: a somewhat shrill “military” instrument that had a limited range and was used to direct troops on the battlefield, and a softer-sounding chamber instrument that played in the upper range and came in many different sizes and with different pitches.
The Japanese flute works like the South American cana; one blows across the end of it, rather than across a hole, as in the case of the European “transverse” (side-blown) flute. Playing a Japanese flute is somewhat like producing sound by blowing across the top of a pop bottle; your breath has to strike the acoustic edge at a perfect angle to produce any sound. As a result, many people cannot even make a noise come from Japanese flutes (especially the large shakuhachi). Once mastered, however, the great freedom of attack, coupled with different fingerings, permits remarkable nuance or tone color.
In Chapter 1 we noted that in Europe long flowing hair was a sign of power and virility; short hair was a sign of subordination (the heads of slaves and some vassals were completely shaven).
During the long Arab occupation of Iberia (710–1492) the invaders shared with the locals their love of fountains, gardens, and orchards (the Qur’an repeatedly speaks of heaven as “gardens graced with flowing streams”). By the time Frois wrote, figs were grown and consumed throughout southern Spain and Portugal; grapes had been cultivated for at least two thousand years (even before the wine-loving Phoenicians showed up in 1100 BC).
More house parties (see #34 above)! Again, Frois’ description of Japanese practice is absolutely different from what is now the norm in Japan. Today people do not ordinarily invite others, particularly their superiors, into their homes.
65. In Europe, a servant does not wear his master’s clothes when he accompanies him; the lords in Japan lend their servants their clothing and gilded katanas to increase their own pomp and authority.
In Frois’ Europe it was common for servants to wear “liveries”—simple garments or uniforms that often signaled through particular color combinations or emblems the noble family to which the servants were “attached.” That being said, apparently it was not uncommon for domestic servants to be given their employer’s hand-me-down clothing. Although servants often sold this clothing to second-hand clothes dealers, Roberto de Nola complained in 1529 of maidservants who, “forgetting the humility of old Portugal,” wore the same good clothing of their mistresses.
Frois exaggerates when he suggests that Japanese nobles “lent” their fancy clothes and swords to their servants. More commonly Japanese nobles lavishly outfitted their servants to better reflect the wealth and authority of the master’s household or lineage.
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