Tratado em que se contém muito susinta & abreviadamente algumas contradições & diferenças de custumes antre a gente de Europa & esta provínvia de Japão

An original and often entertaining comparison of European and Japanese customs written in 1585 by Luis Froís, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary. It consists of one-liners about hundreds of topics, from the nature of God to the best way to smell watermelons. I translated below some of my favorite comparisons, using a French version of the Portuguese original. Italics are for personal comments.

Read for example what Froís says about the condition of women and children, and see how either civilization, knowingly or not, apparently borrowed customs from the other. Froís was clearly fascinated by Japan, where he spent most of his life; you cannot read him and continue to believe in the superiority of one civilization, one period or one moral system.

Table of contents of this writeup (which is approximately the table of contents of the book):

  • People
  • Women
  • Children
  • Religion
  • Eating and drinking
  • Writing and books
  • Miscellaneous


1.3. Every year we invent new clothes and new ways to dress; in Japan, the shape is always the same and almost never changes.

1.19. Our handkerchiefs are made of quality tissue; the Japanese use raw linen, or even paper. (Tissue handkerchiefs are considered non-hygienic in the West nowadays...)

1.24. We train for swordplay on posts or animals; the Japanese use dead human bodies.

1.27. We consider strolling a pleasant and healthy leisure; the Japanese never do it, and wonder at what they see as a work or a punishment.

1.33. We spit everytime and everywhere; the Japanese usually swallow their spittle back.

1.46. In Europe, a man who watches himself in a mirror is considered as effeminate; in Japan, it is common for men to dress in front of mirror.

1.53. Our people hide to wash their body; in Japan, men, women and monks do it in public bath houses, or at night outside their home.


2.1. In Europe, the honour and supreme asset of young women is their decency and the unviolated cloister of their virginity; Japanese women pay no attention to their virginal purity, and by losing them they lose neither their honor nor the possibility to marry. (On all issues related to morality, the Japanese were apparently much far ahead of the West, at least if we can trust Froís.)

2.2. European women praise blond hair; Japanese women hate them, and do their best to make them black. (On this topic, Western influence is obvious to anyone who has been to Shibuya...)

2.29. In Europe, men go in front and women go behind; in Japan, men go behind and women go in front.

2.34. In Europe, young girls are always very strictly kept in their houses; in Japan, girls go alone wherever they want, for one or several days, and are not answerable to their parents about that.

2.35. European women don't leave their house without their husband's permission; Japanese wives are free to go wherever they choose without telling their husband. (How far from today's stereotypes about Japanese women...)

2.43. In Europe, nuns are kept in a rigorous confinement; in Japan, convents almost serve as brothels.

2.45. Few of our women can read; an honorable woman in Japan is little estimated unless she can read. (See Murasaki Shikibu.)

2.47. In Europe, women are named after saints; Japanese female first names are: stewpan, crane, turtle, espadrille, tea, reed...


3.7. It's common in Europe to spank and punish children; in Japan, it's very rare to do so, or even to reprimand them. (Compare with the following one.)

3.11. Children in Europe reach puberty before they can even write a short letter; Japanese 10-year-old children have the intelligence and good sense of a 50-year-old man. (Don't stop here: read the next one.)

3.15. European children are raised with a lot of affection, good food and quality clothes; in Japan they grow up half naked and with almost no sweetness and care.


4.1. European take the vows to repent from their sins and for their salvation; buddhist priests do it to avoid work and live peacefully and pleasantly.

4.2. At home, we teach purity of the soul and chastity of the body; buddhist priests bring inner vermin and all the abominable sins of the flesh.

You get the point: bonzes love money, they drink, eat, get married, go almost naked, and care little about religion, while catholic priests are just the opposite. The fact that the author is a catholic priest is a pure coincidence. I'll give you only one more one-liner:

4.26. In Europe, the church and the outbuildings of the monastery belong to the Universal Religion; in Japan, when a bonze gets tired of his work, he sells the temple, the outbuildings and everything.

Eating and drinking

6.1. We eat everything with our fingers; the Japanese, men and women alike, only use two chopsticks. (Remember, Europeans did eat with their fingers then.)

Two examples, among many others, of Frois' attention for little things:

6.14. We cut the watermelon lengthwise; the Japanase cut it widthwise.

6.15. We smell the head of the watermelon; the Japanese smell its tail.

6.33. The water we drink between meals must be cold and clear; the Japanese drink it hot with a tea powder beaten with a bamboo brush. (Strange as it may look, that beverage had some success in the West later...)

6.41. We are reluctant to eat dog, but we eat cows; they loathe to eat cows, but eat nicely dogs as medicine.

6.43. In Europe, to make noise while chewing or drinking is considered as dirty; for the Japanese, it's good manners. (I will never forget the very well-dressed Japanese business-woman who, one day in a fast-food in Shinjuku, tore my Western education to pieces by eating her soup in three minutes with shocking mouth noises.)

Writing and books

10.1. We write with 22 letters; they use 48 kana letters and an infinite number of characters in various kinds of letters.

10.4. Where our books end, theirs start. (Which means that the Japanese read from the right to the left.)

10.10. We have only four or five kinds of paper; the Japanese have more than fifty.

10.14. In our letters, we need long sentences to say an idea; the Japanese only write short and concise letters.

10.27. Our stanzas contain four, six or eight lines; all the Japanese songs are made of two non-rhyming verses.


14.3. In Europe, in the event of a fire, everybody gets together bringing water and the neightbouring houses are demolished; the Japanese climb on adjoining roofs, wave straw fans and tell the wind to leave.

Last and not least:

11.22. In Europe, we scatter horse excrements in gardens and we throw human ones into the street; the Japanese throw horse excrements into the streets, and scatter human ones in their gardens.