Early European reports on the Japanese people

Anhanguera

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These reports were made when Europeans first came in contact with them (XVI and XVII centuries). Would they bear any resemblance to the contemporary Japanese people?

The Japanese are much braver and more warlike than the people of China, Korea, Ternate and all the other nations around the Philippines.
Rodrigo de Vivero y Velasco

There is no nation in the world which fears death less.
Francesco Carletti

The Japanese are a very patient race and suffer a great deal from hunger, cold and all sorts of human discomforts and hardships; even the principal nobles are trained from childhood to accustom themselves to bear such things [...] They are also moderate in their emotions and never show them outwardly, even though they may feel them in their hearts. They keep their anger and rage so tightly under control that rarely does anybody show any vexation. For this reason neither in the streets nor in the very hourses is there any shouting or brawling such as can be heard in other countries. Husbands do not beat or shout at their wives, neither do fathers their sons, nor masters their servants. On the contrary they outwardly appear very calm and deal with each other by the messages that they send or by the cultured words that they speak [...] Although two men may be deadly enemies, they will both smile at each other and neither will fail to perform any of their customary courtesies towards the other. Their conduct in such cases is beyond both belief and understanding; things reach such a pass that when they are most determined to take revenge and kill somebody, they show him much affection and familiarity, laughing and joking with him. Seizing their chance when he is completely off his guard, they draw their swords, which are sharp as razors, and so attack him that generally he is killed by the first or second blow. Then they replace their swords quietly and calmly as if nothing had happened and do not give the slightest indication of passion or anger either by word of mouth or change of expression. And thus they all give the impression of being very mild, patient and well disposed, and it cannot be denied that they are superior to all other peoples in this respect.
Alessandro Valignano

They are as prudent as could be desired and are governed by reason just as much as, or even more than, Spaniards; they are more inquisitive than any other people I have met [...] Their conversation is so polite that they all seem to have been brought up in the palaces of great nobles; in fact, the compliments they pay each other are beyond description [...] As a past time they practise with their weapons, at which they are extremely adept, or write couplets [...] They are very brave and put much faith in their weapons; boys over the age of thirteen carry a sword and a dagger, and never take them off. They have every kind of weapons, both offensive and defensive, and some are of great value; you may even find swords worth 1,500 cruzados. They do not have any kind of guns because they declare that they are for cowards alone. They are the best archers I have seen in this world. They look down on all other nations.
Cosme de Torres

Japan is not a place which can be controlled by foreigners, for the Japanese are not so weak nor a stupid race as to permit this, and the King of Spain neither has nor ever could have any jurisdiction here.
Alessandro Valignano

They are so crafty in their hearts that nobody can understand them. Whence it is said that they have three hearts: a false one in their mouths for all the world to see, another within their breasts only for their friends, and the third in the depths of their hearts, reserved for themselves alone and never manifested to anybody. As a result all other decays here for everyone acts merely according to the present moment and speaks according to the circumstances and occasion. But they do not use this double dealing to cheat people in business matters, as do the Chinese in their transactions and thieving, for in this respect the Japanese are more exact; but they reserve their treachery for affairs of diplomacy and war in order not to be deceived themselves. And in particular when they wish to kill a person by treachery (a stratagem often employed to avoid many deaths), they put on a great pretence by entertaining him with every sign of love and joy - and then in the middle of it all, off comes his head.
João Rodrigues

The Japanese are in general of a melancholy disposition and humour. Moved by this natural inclination they thus take much delight and pleasure in lonely and nostalgic spots, woods with shady groves, cliffs and rocky places, solitary birds, torrents of fresh water flowing down from rocks, and in every kind of solitary things which is imbued with nature and free from all artificiality. All this fills theirs souls with the same inclination and melancholy, as well as certain nostalgic feeling which results therefrom. Whence they are much inclined towards a solitary and eremitical life, far removed from all worldly affairs and tumults.
João Rodrigues

As the Japanese have been brought up here at the end of the world without knowing or being in contact with anybody save the Chinese and Koreans, they naturally have a high opinion of themselves and of their nation. They accordingly have a haughty and proud spirit, and however much they see or hear about other nations, they always think that their country is the best, especially as regards their weapons and their use in war. They have an intrepid and bold spirit, and they believe that nobody in the whole world equals them in this respect and that all are inferior to them. For regarding military matters they have so far had experience of fighting only among themselves in their own kingdom (for it was involved in continuous civil wars and disturbances) and with the Chinese and the Koreans, against whom they have always carried the day with ease. They are so punctilious and meticulous that they do not hesitate to lay down their lives on a single point of honour, and they are equally ready to die for the man whose service and patronage they have entered.
João Rodrigues

By the experience which we have had of this land of Japan, I can inform you thereof as follows - Firstly the people whom we have met so far, are the best who have yet been discovered, and it seems to me that we shall never find among heathens another race to equal the Japanese. They are a people of very good manners, good in general, and not malicious; they are men of honor to a marvel, and prize honor above all else in the world. They are very courteous in their dealings one with another; they highly regard arms and trust much therein; always carrying sword and dirk, both high and low alike, from the age of fourteen onwards. They are a people who will not submit to any insults or contemptous words.
Francis Xavier

They people are all white, courteous and highly civilized, so much so that they surpass all the other known races in the world. They are naturally very intelligent, although they have no knowledge of sciences, because they are the most warlike and bellicose race yet discovered on earth. From the age of fifteen onwards, all youth and men, rich and poor, in all walks of life, wear a sword and dagger at their side. Moreover, every man, whether a gentleman or common fellow, has such complete control over his sons, servants, and others of his household, that he can kill any of them on the smallest pretext at any time he likes, and seize their land or goods. They are absolute lords of the land, although the chiefest among them frequently league together for defense against their suzerains, who are thus often prevented from doing as they wish. They think nothing more of killing a man than they do an animal; so that they will kill a man not only on the smallest excuse but merely to try to edge of their swords. Since a man can kill anybody of his own household and wars are so frequent, it seems that the majority of them perish by the sword. Such is their cruelty that often the very mothers when they have brought forth a child will put their foot on its chest and killl it, simply because they cannot nurture them. Similarly many men kill themselves by cutting their intestines with a dagger. On the one hand, they are the most affable people and a race more given to outward marks of affection than any yet known. They have such control over their anger and impatience that it is almost a miracle to witness any quarrel or insulting words in Japan, whether with one another or with foreigners; in such wise that even if they are killed, they do not revile thereat, neither do they ever complain or grumble about bad luck. On the other hand, they are the most false and treacherous people of any known in the world; for from childhood they are taught never to reveal their hearts, and they regard this as prudence and the contrary as folly, to such a degree that those who lightly reveal their mind are looked upon as nitwits, and are contemptuosly termed single-hearted men. Even fathers and sons never reveal their true thoughts to each other, because there can be no mutual confidence between them in word or deed; for when they are most determined to do evil to someone, the more outward compliments they pay him. Thus when they wish to kill somebody, just when they are about to do so, they show him more politeness and kind words, in order the better to effect their intention; and in truth they cannot live with one another in any other way. For this reason, and because Japan is divided between so many lords and fiefs, it is continually torn by civil wars and treasons, nor is there any lord who is secure in his domain.
Francis Xavier

They surpass in judgment, docility, and memory not only the oriental but also the occidental nations.
Giovanni Maffei

They outdo not only the other people of the East, but us Europeans [...] Japanese children are fully capable of taking in all science and disciplines, and they recite and learn to read and write in our language much more easily and more quickly than European children do.
Alessandro Valignano

They keep a tight rein on gluttony, and also on rage and outward anger. And so although a person may be exceedingly hungry, he must on no account sit down at table, for they preserve the same peace and tranquility as a man who has just eaten. And however angry a father may be with his son, or a husband with his wife, or a man with his enemy, he must on no account show it, because they look upon the disorder of gluttony or of anger in a man as something very vile.
Lourenço Mexia

A Merchant, how rich soever, is not esteemed at all, because they say, He liveth by lying, making no conscience to cousen and deceive the People for his filthy lucre sake: the Citizen and Artificer are likewise undervalued, because they are Servants to the Commonalty, and forced to live by their labours and manufactures: Neither are the Country People of more account, because of the miserableness of their condition, being subject to perpetual slavery and toyling. But the Gentlemen and Souldiers, who are numerous, are honoured and feared; and they do nothing, being maintained by the Merchants, by the Citizens and by the Country Labourers.
François Caron

I fancy that there are no people in the world more punctilious about their honour than the Japanese, for they will not put up with a single insult or even a word spoken in anger. Thus you speak (and, indeed, must speak) courteously even to the most menial labourers and peasants because they will not have it otherwise, for either they will drop their work without giving a second thought to what they stand to lose, or else they will do something even worse.
Alessandro Valignano

They show to foreigners much welcome and kindness, and they are very trusting in allowing them to enter their country. In this respect they are very different from the Chinese and Koreans, who despise foreigners and are very jealous of their kingdom. But they are weak and timid, while the Japanese are courageous and intrepid. They wonder at the civil practice of killing tame domestic animals and things of that sort, for they show much pity and compassion in this respect. But they do not feel this when they kill men in a bloodthirsty way and test their swords on the corpses, and they justify this. Some lords may ask other nobles for some men who have been condemned to death in order to see whether their sword cuts well and whether they can trust it in emergencies. They often sew up bodies after they have been cut up by swords and put together the severed parts so that they may once more cut and see whether their sword passes through a body with one blow. They indulge in this and other types of slaughter. [...] The delight and pleasure they feel in cutting up human bodies is astonishing, as is also the way that young boys sometimes indulge in this.
João Rodrigues

The inhabitants of Japan, as men that never had greatly to do with other nations, in their Geography divided the whole into three parts, Japan, Siam, and China. And albeit the Japans received out of Siam, and China, their superstitions and ceremonies, yet they nevertheless contemn all other nations in comparison with themselves, and standing in their own conceit do far prefer themselves before all other sorts of people in wisdom and policy.
Luís Fróis

Even the children forbear to use inelegant expressions among themselves, nor do they fight or hit each other like European lads; instead, they speak politely and never fail to show each other respect. In fact they show such incredibly gravity and maturity that they seem more like solemn men than children.
Alessandro Valignano

The Japanese have a high opinion of themselves because they think that no other nation can compare with them regards weapons and valour, and so they look down on all foreigners. They greatly prize and value their arms, and prefer to have good weapons, decorated with gold and silver, more than anything else in the world. They carry a sword and dagger both inside and outside the house and lay them at their pillows when they sleep. Never in my life have I met people who rely so much on their arms. [...] They are very warlike and are always involved in wars, and thus the ablest man becomes the greatest lord.
Francis Xavier

These [...] are diabolic in their government.
Manuel da Câmara de Noronha

They take a generic letter and to this they add another, forming from the two letters one that expresses one of the species contained in such-and-such a genus. Thus every kind of tree and wooden thing connected with it is expressed by the letter 'wood' or 'tree', along with another. This combination of some letters with others has built up a skilful and scientific etymology of words, their meanings, properties, and emphasis, for not only can be seen in the letter the meaning of the thing but also the etymology of the word. These letters are quite admirable not only in all the respects that we have mentioned but also in their elegance and position one after another. Thus to learn these letters is also to learn at the same time natural and moral sciences and the art of rhetoric, for these are contained in the letters along with their many other properties.

This has so greatly quickened the wits of these nations using these letters here at the end of the world, where the people are out of contact with, and have no knowledge of other world sages, that is seems we should attribute the sharp wits of the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans to the exercise of these letters. The system also develops quite remarkably a retentive memory of things, as the letters are signs expressing the things in an almost natural way. If someone forgets, the mere sight of the letter reminds him of its meaning and significance when he sees the combination of one figure with another.
João Rodrigues, he wrote "Arte da língua do Japão", a pioneer grammar of Japanese

As Japan was at the end of the world and cut off from any communication with and knowledge of other kingdoms, as we have said, the Japanese have a high opinion of their kingdom and nation, and improperly call it Tenka (i.e 'below Heaven') or Shikai ('the four seas'), which makes the Chinese laugh a great deal whenever they hear this.
João Rodrigues

They have many natural talents and an alert understanding, and experience shows that they are competent in all our moral and speculative sciences and the Chinese language. This can be seen in those who profess their sciences and letters, and in the discerning and subtle questions put by even pagans about the mysteries of the Faith.
João Rodrigues
 
A man will cut his own belly before another can disgrace him by killing him, for to kill oneself is regarded as an honourable and courageous course, and is praised by others. This act of killing oneself is attended by much ceremony and solemnity in the presence of many people, who watch to see how he cuts himself. From their pride and meticulousness springs the determination not to show any weakness or cowardice [...] whatever the manner of their death may be. Instead, they exchange courtesies with the people present, and show great courage and tranquility for they are resolute in dying.
João Rodrigues

They let themselves be overcome with melancholy, to which they are much prone, and many die of it.
João Rodrigues

The Japanese have such innumerable ceremonies that nobody knows all of them and they have many books which deal with nothing but those ceremonies. They make use of seven or eight just to drink a little water and they have more than thirty regarding the use of the fan; and there is an infinite number regarding their way of eating and sending gifts and their social dealings.
Lourenço Mexia

The people of this Land of Japan are good of nature, courteous above measure, and valiant in war: their justice is severely executed without any partiality upon transgressors of the law. They are governed in great civility. I mean, not a land better governed in the world by civil policy.
William Adams, he became a Samurai, and he inspired the main character in the novel Shogun, by James Clavell

The common folk and peasants are well brought up and are so remarkably polite that they give the impression that they were trained at court. In this respect they are superior to other Eastern peoples but also to Europeans as well. They are very capable and intelligent [...] The lower classes in Japan are not so coarse and ignorant as those in Europe; on the contrary, they are generally intelligent, well brought up and quick to learn.
Alessandro Valignano

In their culture, deportment, and manners the Japanese excel the Europeans in so many ways that one is ashamed to tell about it.
Luís Fróis

It must be understood that these people are in no sense barbarous. Excluding the advantage of religion, we ourselves in comparison with them are at most barbarous. I learn something from the Japanese every day and I am sure that in the whole universe there is no people so well gifted by Nature.
Organtino Gnecchi

The women in Europe do not go out of their house without their husbands' permission; Japanese women are free to go wherever they please without the husband knowing about it.
Luís Fróis

So proud are the Japanese that they consider themselves the first in the world, about which they have fabricated many laughable tales. The Japanese will not by any manner or means allow to or agree that they are related to the Chinese since they hold the Chinese to be much inferior to themselves. So much so, that the worst insult that can be made to any of them is to call him a Chinese, and in the same manner the Chinese consider themselves so much superior that the greatest affront which can be given to them is to call them Japanese.
Diogo do Couto

Their way of writing is so different from ours because they write from the top of the page down to the bottom. I asked Paul (a Japanese convert) why they did not write in our way and he asked me why we did not write in their way? He explained that as the head of a man is at the top and his feet are at the bottom, so too a man should write from top to bottom.
Francis Xavier

Scholarship, learning and culture are held in greater account here than elsewhere. You should not think that they are barbarians, for apart from our religion we ourselves are greatly inferior to them.
Organtino Gnecchi

On top of the hill in the middle of the city Nobunaga built his palace and castle, which as regards architecture, strength, wealth and grandeur may well be compared with the greatest buildings of Europe [...] It consists of seven floors, all of which, both inside and out, have been fashioned up to a wonderful architectural design [...] In a word the whole edifice is beautiful, excellent, and brilliant. As the castle is situated on high ground and is itself very lofty, it looks as if it reaches to the clouds and it can be seen from afar for many leagues [...] The wealth of the apartments, the artistry and workmanship, the excellent wood, the general neatness, the matchless and distant view commanded by all the places - all this caused great admiration.
Luís Fróis (Azuchi castle)

It is not easy to describe the grandeur that I saw there, both as regards the material structure of the royal house and buildings, and so the multitude of courtiers and soldiers who thronged the palace that day.
Rodrigo de Vivero y Velasco (Edo castle, 1609)

Now this yeere the Emperour hath pulled downe his Castle at Fushimi, which I thinke was farre bigger than the Citie of Rochester, a very beautifull and gallant thing, wherein I saw him this yeere.
Richard Cocks

I wish I were a skilled architect or had the gift of describing places well, because I sincerely assure you that of all the palaces I have seen in Portugal, India and Japan, there has been nothing to compare with this as regards luxury, wealth and cleanliness [...] The halls and compartments within are like the labyrinth of Crete and are deliberately constructed thus with no little ingenuity [...] Beyond the balconies are five or six splendid gardens, all of them mezurashii, that is to say, full of novelties [...] the exquisiteness, perfection and arrangement of the chambers are quite beyond my powers of description, for I simply do not possess the necessary vocabulary, as I have never seen their like before.
Luís Fróis (Gifu castle)

As the Japanese are naturally mettlesome, they are very punctilious among themselves in the observance of their ceremonies and customs.
João Rodrigues

Their houses are notably clean, even the streets there are.
Rodrigo de Vivero y Velasco

They are highly intelligent men and of high courtesies among themselves.
Rodrigo de Vivero y Velasco

This people of Japan for the most part retain information more easily and they understand subjects more easily than the Spanish nation.
João Fernandes

In their policies, treatment & customs they are so much ahead of the Spaniards that it is hard to express it.
Luís de Almeida

They will not permit insults or calumny, nor will they utter them in a person's presence unless they are determined to die, for they are very long-suffering and secretive in this matter. Hence quarrels are rare because those who begin them must continue to the very end, and they seldom occur without a death as their weapons are at the ready for this purpose.
João Rodrigues

Among the Japanese it is considered a matter of honor and wisdom not to disclose the inner self, to prevent anyone's reading therein [...] They are trained to this from childhood; they are educated to be inscrutable and false.
Francisco Cabral

At the present time the arrival of the Law of God has given [...] the Japanese complete knowledge of the universal world, its regions, and the various political nations that flourish as regards power, sciences, wealth, and magnificence, and they see all this in our general maps. They are astonished to see how small their kingdoms really are, for they had been believed to comprise the whole world in comparison with other nations. Hence they have formed a different concept of other nations, and a lower one of their own kingdom, although they do not outwardly show this in front of foreigners. For they think that to do so would humble them.
João Rodrigues

They usually carry in their sashes a small katana, the length of the blade being about one span and two, four or six fingers. They call this a wakisashi and they use it for stabbing. When they go out, they gird themselves with both weapons and strut around as arrogantly as if they were the only people in the world. But should they chance to meet with a man more honourable than themselves, all this bluster is changed into humility, albeit a feigned humility, and in this they are past masters.
Bernardino de Ávila Girón

I have not met people like the Japanese: arrogant, mean, moody and tricky.
Francisco Cabral

They asked why did the devil tempt people and do them evil? They said that if God was merciful and created men for heaven, why did he let the devil do them so much evil? They said that if God in his mercy created men to be good and to reach heaven, why did he create them in such a way that they are always doing and desiring evil? They said that if God is merciful and created us for heaven, why did he make the way thither so difficult for us? Why are virtue and things which God orders us to do on our earthly pilgrimage to heaven so opposed to our flesh and our appetites? [...] Others came and said that if everything which God created was good, who but God created that bad and proud spirit when Lucifer committed the sin of pride in paradise? They said that if God is so merciful and powerful, why does he not prevent the devil from deceiving and causing so much harm to people?
Juan Fernandez

Other men argue against divine providence as they do not understand the mysteries contained in this marvelous plan; for they believe that it must be imperfect because God shows favouritism by making some people rich and others poor, especially as they look on poverty as something very detestable.
Marcelo de Ribadeneira

And if a man declares that he wishes to kill himself, he summons one of his friends or servants and asks him to strike off his head after he has wounded himself. He then draws out his dagger and cuts his belly from side to side. The braver type make the cut in the form of a cross and demonstrate their courage by pretending not to feel any pain. The moment the entrails gush out through the wound, the friend so deputed cuts off his head. Those who die in this fashion are regarded as very honourable and valiant men. Many of their servants will sometimes follow their example, cutting their bellies together with their masters to show their love and loyalty towards him. To cut the belly in this way is so common in Japan that it sometimes happens that very small children do it in front of their parents when they are angry with them.
Alessandro Valignano

Experience has shown that Japanese weapons are in general the best and cut better than any others. One of their ordinary swords can cut a man through the middle in two parts with the greatest of ease, while a dagger (or sword of one-and-a-half, at most two, spans in length) will part a man's head from his neck, and a lance will do the same, for their blades are such that they not only wound with a thrust but also cut like swords. An arrow with a special head that has a wide moon-like mouth made for the purpose will cut a man's throat when it is the product of a distinguished craftsman who is esteemed for this.
João Rodrigues

Japanese buildings are constructed of wood and they do not build houses of stone, brick, or plaster. The walls are covered with mud, mixed with straw to strengthen it so that it sticks and does not fall. [...] It seems that they do not build with stone or brick because of the many earthquakes that occur. [...] Also a wooden building constructed in their way can be transferred elsewhere. They do this every day, moving not only houses but also cities and populous towns, as we ourselves saw many times. This could not be done if they built with stone, brick, or mud.
João Rodrigues

They keep a tight reign on gluttony, and also on rage and outward anger. And so although a person may be exceedingly hungry, he must on no account sit down at table, for they preserve the same peace and tranquility as a man who has just eaten. And however angry a father may be with his son, or a husband with his wife, or a man with his enemy, he must on no account show it, because they look upon the disorder of gluttony or of anger in a man as something very vile.
Lourenço Mexia
 
Very interesting. Most of the comments only apply to the samurai class, which only made up 1% of the Japanese population.

Even though swords have long disappeared from Japanese society, what they say about politeness, respect, control of emotions (e.g. not showing anger), and never revealing your true feelings to other people, all still apply to modern Japanese people of any social class.

They also still look down on the rest of the world, despite always being polite with foreigners. Once again that's because they were brought up to be always polite and respectful with everybody and never to show their true feelings. Their sense of superiority was of course much higher in the 1980s when the Japan had one of the highest GDP in the world. Things have changed a lot. Now Japan's GDP per capita is similar to that of Spain or Slovenia.

As for building houses in wood and not in bricks or stone, this is still the case today. Of course there are also modern buildings made of steel and concrete, but hardly ever bricks a stones. During my 5 years in Japan I heard many Japanese people say that it's because of earthquakes and apparently they already said the same thing in the 16th century. However that's not true. During the Meiji period (1868-1912) many public buildings were made of bricks or stones. A good example is Tokyo Station, which was one of the few buildings to survive unscathed the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. Another building that survived this earthquake without a scratch to its structure is the Akasaka palace, all built in stone and resembling Buckingham palace.
 
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16th century Portuguese travellers to Japan often mentioned that Japanese people have higher intelligence and memory than Europeans. From what I could observe, it seems that the main difference with Western countries is that they are less extremes of intelligence at both ends of the bell curve. In other words there are fewer very stupid people but also fewer exceptionally gifted people in Japan. I don't have the exact numbers and I don't think any study has been done on the subject, but if say 50% of Europeans have an IQ between 90 and 110, it's maybe that this number is somewhere around 70% in Japan. That would explain why Japanese society is also much more homogeneous in many respects.

In Japanese society people who stand out tend to be ostracised, which in a collectivist country is a very big deal and can lead to suicide. Being exceptionally gifted and asking questions that no one else does, or challenging 'the way things have always been done' is of course considered a way of standing out. So is being very stupid and behaving accordingly. It would stand to reason that after centuries of ostracizing people who were too different from the average, people with very low or very high IQs would have been progressively weeded out from the gene pool, leading to more homogeneous distribution of IQs close to the mean level.
 
Thanks for the input!

A few more quotes:

The Japanese are generally very healthy, on account of the climate which is temperate and healthy, and also because they eat but little and never drink cold water, which is the cause of many complaints. When they fall sick, they recover in a very short time without taking hardly any medicine. In nearly all their sicknesses they are accustomed to having their stomach, arms and back, etc, pierced with silver needles, and at the same time they cauterise with herbs. They sleep but little and their sleep is very light and for that reason they drink tea. On account of this and because they eat sparingly, they have very good judgement and understanding. They pick up our way of writing in less than two months, and they have excellent memories for any child can repeat a message, no matter how long it may be, just as it was told him.
Lourenço Mexia

The Japanese are slow and deliberate in their dealings, and similarly they never display outward resentment or impatience, even when they are inwardly much upset. They do not lightly murmur or complain, nor do they speak evil of one another. They are very secretive in their hearts. They are greatly addicted to formal manners and empty compliments, but know how to bide their time in silence very patiently. Whereas we on the contrary are usually quite the reverse. For we are hasty, choleric, free and easy in our speech, and straightway disclose our thoughts and minds, and we have no fondness for these formal manners and empty compliments.
Alessandro Valignano

We have no jurisdiction whatsoever in Japan, nor can we compel them to do anything which they do not wish to do, other than by pure persuasion and force of argument; they will not suffer being slapped or beaten, nor imprisonment, nor any similar methods commonly used with other Asiatic Christians, for they are so punctilious that they will not brook even a single harsh or impolite word.
Alessandro Valignano

Fish is with them an ordinary article of diet and is so plentiful as to cost very little. They usually eat this in a practically raw state, after having dipped it in a boiling vinegar.
Francesco Carletti

They observe much cleanliness and solemnity at table and are quite unlike us. Each person has his own table, but there are no tablecloths, napkins, knives, forks or spoons. All they have are two small sticks, called 'hashi', which they manipulate with such cleanliness and skill that they do not touch any of the food with their hands nor let even a crumb fall from their plate on to the table. They eat with such modesty and good manners that they observe just as many rules at table as they do in other things.
Alessandro Valignano

They value no less their katana, or swords, and the other weapons which they use. Here there seems to be greater justification because a good sword is prized in any country. However, they go to extremes here as well for they spend three, four or six thousands ducats on a katana. I once saw some very valuable swords and amongs others one which the ruler of king of Bungo showed me; he had bought it for 4,500 ducats, yet it carried neither gold nor ornamentation but only a blade of pure iron. When we ask them why they spend so much money on these objects, which of themselves are worthless, they answer that they do it for the same reason as we buy a diamond or a ruby for a great price, a thing which causes them no less astonishment. They add that buying expensive jewels is no less foolish than the custom, which we criticise in them, of buying such things at similar prices. Indeed, they declare that the things that they buy and treasure at least serve some purpose and thus their desire to give so much money for them is less reprehensible than the conceit of Europeans who purchase precious stones which serve for nothing.
Alessandro Valignano

Other men argue against divine providence as they do not understand the mysteries contained in this marvellous plan; for they believe that it must be imperfect because God shows favouritism by making some people rich and others poor, especially as they look on poverty as something very detestable. Other people are instructed only by their haughty imaginations and thus do not grasp the divine mysteries; when they are told of them, they declare that the Creator and Maker of the angels was both imprudent and unwise, for he created Lucifer knowing that he was to fall from the happy state in which he had been placed and be condemned eternally to the pains of hell. And they use the same argument about Adam, for God created him knowing that he was to sin, thus showing (in their view) more inhumanity than mercy.
Marcelo de Ribadeneira

A man will cut his own belly before another can disgrace him by killing him, for to kill oneself is regarded as an honourable and courageous course, and is praised by others. This act of killing oneself is attended by much ceremony and solemnity in the presence of many people, who watch to see how he cuts himself. From their pride and meticulousness springs the determination not to show any weakness or cowardice when the authorities execute them (and even women), whatever the manner of their death may be. Instead, they exchange courtesies with people present, and show great courage and tranquility for they are resolute in dying.

I know a gentleman, the vassal of a lord and the governor of one his estates, who killed an ambassador sent by the Duke of Satsuma to his lord, merely because this envoy had slighted his master in his presence. As soon as he had killed him, he went to the place where the dead man's companions were staying and told them why he had killed him. He added that he wished to cut his belly in their presence and thereby atone for the ambassador's death in the eyes of the Lord of Satsuma. In this way the death would not cause any strife between his master and the Lord of Satsuma. In the presence of the other party (whom he could have killed had he so wished, because they were in his territory), he gaver orders for carpets to be spread in a clean place. Then in a loud voice he told them to watch carefully how he cut himself. He seated himself on a platform on a beach and with his own hand he wrote his will slowly and calmly, asking his lord in this testament to look after his son and household for he was about to die for his honour. When he had finished this, he bade farewell, and ate and drank a little with a cheerful countenance. Then in front of them all he fearlessly cut his belly from top to bottom and then again from side to side, and so he died.

This sort of thing often happens. Gentlemen condemned to death do the same in the presence of the soldiers of the lord who has sentenced them. The same thing happens in castles when the defenders can no longer hold out. First they kill the women and children, and then after setting fire to the castle so that nothing of them will remain, they cut their bellies.
João Rodrigues

They like seeing black people, especially Africans, and they will come 15 leagues (~90 km) just to see them and entertain them for three or four days.
Jorge Alvares

These Japanese are much more ambitious of honor than any other nation on earth.
Fernão Mendes Pinto

The difference there is between the Chinese and the Japanese, the Japanese pride in being ferocious and brave, the Chinese in being meek, moderate and long-suffering. [...] This Japanese nation vanishes in their bravery and arrogance they have, in being more barbarian than discreet, and rightly, since they not only are daring in war, they kill themselves so as not to let the executioner to do it, when sentenced to death. They consider it an act of nobility and on this occasion they gather their friends and knights to witness they are dying with daring, without fear [...] The Chinese are not as daring.
Rodrigo de Vivero y Velasco

In the view of responsible people who have seen various parts of Europe, Japanese construction in wood does not appear to be surpassed or even equalled elsewhere. [...] The high quality may be noted in the excellence of the construction, the manner of building, and the proportions observed, as well as in the magnificence, neatness, and everything else.
João Rodrigues

It may be noted in general that when the Japanesee and the Chinese come to construct their houses, cities, and castles (especially the larger ones), and when the nobles erect buildings for public functions, they pay much attention to the position of the sites in respect to the four parts of the world, to wit, the front, rear, left-hand, and right-hand sides, for as regards seating arrangements their courtesies and ceremonies depend on this. Among the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese (for they all follow the Chinese method), the south is the front part, while the rear or back is to the north; the east is on the left-hand, the west is on the right. The left-hand side or part is more honourable than the right. [...] There are various considerations to be taken into account concerning the Japanese way of building. First of all, there is the site of the building. It is a widely observed custom in China and other countries that have adopted her customs to pay much attention to a building's site, not so much as to whether it be convenient or not, but wherether it be good or bad in respect to the positions and imagined influences of the Heavens.
João Rodrigues
 
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All the quotes about manners and lifestyle still ring as true today as they did in the 16th century. It's interesting that the Japanese already didn't sleep much back then. Nowadays, according to a study on sleep reported in The Economist, the Japanese are the people who sleep the shortest amount of time among all the countries surveyed, sleeping in average 1 hour to 1 and 1/2 hour less than their Western counterparts. Most people tend to think that this is because they work too much, but if it was already true in the 16th century then it may just be a natural predisposition.
 
Very interesting. Most of the comments only apply to the samurai class, which only made up 1% of the Japanese population.

Even though swords have long disappeared from Japanese society, what they say about politeness, respect, control of emotions (e.g. not showing anger), and never revealing your true feelings to other people, all still apply to modern Japanese people of any social class.

They also still look down on the rest of the world, despite always being polite with foreigners. Once again that's because they were brought up to be always polite and respectful with everybody and never to show their true feelings. Their sense of superiority was of course much higher in the 1980s when the Japan had one of the highest GDP in the world. Things have changed a lot. Now Japan's GDP per capita is similar to that of Spain or Slovenia.

As for building houses in wood and not in bricks or stone, this is still the case today. Of course there are also modern buildings made of steel and concrete, but hardly ever bricks a stones. During my 5 years in Japan I heard many Japanese people say that it's because of earthquakes and apparently they already said the same thing in the 16th century. However that's not true. During the Meiji period (1868-1912) many public buildings were made of bricks or stones. A good example is Tokyo Station, which was one of the few buildings to survive unscathed the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. Another building that survived this earthquake without a scratch to its structure is the Akasaka palace, all built in stone and resembling Buckingham palace.

There is a saying:

Japan has been living in the year 2000 since 1980.​

 
There is a saying:

Japan has been living in the year 2000 since 1980.​


I think you meant the other way around. Many foreigners mistakenly think of Japan as a high tech country when in fact it is very backward in many ways. It's probably the only country where fax machines are still in regular use today (in many companies). There are even companies that still use floppy disks from the 80s to back up their data! Many companies still prefer to write everything on paper then to digitalize their documents. That's in part because a majority of Japanese bosses are elderly but also because they are afraid of being hacked by foreigners (Russians, Chinese, North Koreans etc.).

And don't even get me started on Japanese banks. They are the most backwards I've seen in the world. I travelled around India in year 2000 and could get cash from my Visa card relatively easily. When I arrived in Japan in 2001 it was almost impossible to get cash with a non-Japanese card. It's better today but many banks still refuse foreign cards. I was last in Japan 2 months ago. A lot of Japanese businesses still do not any accept card payments. To make it worse, ATMs in Japan have very restrictive opening hours, whereas in other countries they are usually open 24/7.

To make a wire transfer from a Japanese bank account, you first need to register the beneficiary account by sending a paper mail to the bank headquarter! They say it's for security reason.

You can only buy a metro ticket in Tokyo or recharge you Pasmo card using cash! They are accept cards at all! Ditto for train tickets at vending machines. If you want to pay by card you have to queue at a special counter. Usually in Europe it's the other way around. Furthermore, nowadays in Europe there apps that let you buy metro or train tickets.

Even though Japan was the first East Asian country to reached the status of developed economy, if you check the digital skills gap index, you'll see that Japan only ranks 36th worldwide, while Singapore ranks first, and even Taiwan and South Korea rank 13th and 15th. Even mainland China does much better, in 18th position.

Online banking penetration is only 35% in Japan, while in Western and Northern Europe it is between 70 and 96%. In the EU, only Bulgaria and Romania have a lower penetration than Japan.
 
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I think you meant the other way around. Many foreigners mistakenly think of Japan as a high tech country when in fact it is very backward in many ways. It's probably the only country where fax machines are still in regular use today (in many companies). There are even companies that still use floppy disks from the 80s to back up their data! Many companies still prefer to write everything on paper then to digitalize their documents. That's in part because a majority of Japanese bosses are elderly but also because they are afraid of being hacked by foreigners (Russians, Chinese, North Koreans etc.).

And don't even get me started on Japanese banks. They are the most backwards I've seen in the world. I travelled around India in year 2000 and could get cash from my Visa card relatively easily. When I arrived in Japan in 2001 it was almost impossible to get cash with a non-Japanese card. It's better today but many banks still refuse foreign cards. I was last in Japan 2 months ago. A lot of Japanese businesses still do not any accept card payments. To make it worse, ATMs in Japan have very restrictive opening hours, whereas in other countries they are usually open 24/7.

To make a wire transfer from a Japanese bank account, you first need to register the beneficiary account by sending a paper mail to the bank headquarter! They say it's for security reason.

You can only buy a metro ticket in Tokyo or recharge you Pasmo card using cash! They are accept cards at all! Ditto for train tickets at vending machines. If you want to pay by card you have to queue at a special counter. Usually in Europe it's the other way around. Furthermore, nowadays in Europe there apps that let you buy metro or train tickets.

Even though Japan was the first East Asian country to reached the status of developed economy, if you check the digital skills gap index, you'll see that Japan only ranks 36th worldwide, while Singapore ranks first, and even Taiwan and South Korea rank 13th and 15th. Even mainland China does much better, in 18th position.

It meant both ways, in 1980 they were living in 2000, but also in 2024 they are still living in 2000.

On addition, there was a discussion on social media about how Japanese websites look, they still look so 2000-ish. :D
 
A small video about Luís Fróis' writings on the numerous cultural differences between Europeans and Japanese.

 

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