Of the Iland Japan, and other litle lies in the East Ocean. By R. Willes.THE extreame part of the knowen world unto us is the noble Iland Giapan, written otherwise Japon and Japan . This Island standeth in the East Ocean, beyond all Asia, betwixt Cathayo and the West Indies sixe and thirtie degrees Northward from the Equinoctial line, in the same clime with the South part of Spaine and Portugall, distant from thence by sea sixe thousand leagues: the travaile thither, both for civill discord, great pyracie, and often shipwracks is very dangerous. This countrey is hillie and pestered with snow, wherefore it is neither so warme as Portugall, nor yet so wealthy, so far as we can learne, wanting oyle, butter, cheese, milke, egges, sugar, honny, vineger, saffron, cynamom and pepper. Barley-branne the Ilanders doe use in stead of salt: medicinable things holsome for the bodie have they none at all. Neverthelesse in that Iland sundry fruites doe growe, not much unlike the fruites of Spaine: and great store of Silver mynes are therein to be seene. The people are tractable, civill, wittie, courteous, without deceit, in vertue and honest conversation exceeding all other nations lately discovered, but so much standing upon their reputation, that their chiefe Idole may be thought honour. The contempt thereof causeth among them much discord and debate, manslaughter and murther: even for their reputation they doe honour their parents, keepe their promises, absteine from adulterie and robberies, punishing by death the least robbery done, holding for a principle, that whosoever stealeth a trifle, will, if he see occasion, steale a greater thing. It may be theft is so severely punished of them, for that the nation is oppressed with scarcitie of all things necessary, and so poore, that even for miserie they strangle their owne children, preferring death before want. These fellowes doe neither eate nor kill any foule. They live chiefely by fish, hearbes, and fruites, so healthfully, that they die very old. Of Rice and Wheat there is no great store. No man is ashamed there of his povertie, neither be their gentlemen therefore lesse honoured of the meaner people, neither will the poorest gentleman there match his childe with the baser sort for any gaine, so much they do make more account of gentry then of wealth. The greatest delight they have is in armour, each boy at fourteene yeeres of age, be he borne gentle or otherwise, hath his sword and dagger: very good archers they be, contemning all other nations in comparison of their manhood and prowesse, putting not up one injurie be it never so small in worde or deede, among themselves. They feede moderately, but they drinke largely. The use of vines they knowe not, their drinke they make of Rice, utterly they doe abhorre dice, and all games, accounting nothing more vile in a man, then to give himselfe unto those things that make us greedy and desirous to get other mens goods. If at any time they do sweare, for that seldome they are wont to doe, they sweare by the Sunne: many of them are taught good letters, wherfore they may so much the sooner be brought unto Christianitie. Each one is contented with one wife : they be all desirous to learne, & naturally inclined unto honesty & courtesie: godly talke they listen unto willingly, especially when they understand it throughly. Their government consisteth of 3 estates. The first place is due unto the high Priest, by whose lawes & decrees all publike and private matters appertayning to religion are decided. The sects of their clergie men, whom they doe call Bonzi, be of no estimation or authoritie except the high Priest by letters patent doe confirme the same: he confirmeth and alloweth of their Tundi, who be as it were Bishops, although in many places they are nominated by sundry Princes. These Tundi are greatly honoured of all sorts: they doe give benefices unto inferiour ministers, and do grant licences for many things as to eate flesh upon those dayes they goe in pilgrimage to their Idoles with such like privileges. Finally, this high Priest wont to be chosen in China for his wisedome and learning, made in Japan for his gentry and birth, hath so large a Dominion and revenues so great, that eftsones he beardeth the petie Kings and Princes there. Their second principal Magistrate, in their language Vo, is the chiefe Herehaught, made by succession and birth, honoured as a God. This gentleman never toucheth the ground with his foote without forfaiting of his office, he never goeth abroad out of his house, nor is at all times to be seene. At home he is either carried about in a litter, or els he goeth in woodden Choppines a foote high from the ground: commonly he sitteth in his chaire with a sword in one side, and a bow and arrowes in the other, next his bodie he weareth blacke, his outward garments be red, all shadowed over with Cypresse, at his cappe hang certaine Lambeaux much like unto a Bishops Miter, his forehead is painted white and red, he eateth his meat in earthen dishes. This Herehaught determineth in all Japan the diverse titles of honour, whereof in that Iland is great plentie, each one particularly knowen by his badge, commonly seene in sealing up their letters, and dayly altered according to their degrees. About this Vo every Noble man hath his Soliciter, for the nation is so desirous of praise and honour, that they strive among themselves who may bribe him best. By these meanes the Herehaught groweth so rich, that although hee have neither land nor any revenues otherwise, yet may he be accounted the wealthiest man in all Japan . For three causes this great Magistrate may loose his office: first, if he touch the ground with his foote, as it hath beene alreadie said: next, if he kill any body : thirdly, if he be found an enemie unto peace and quietnesse, howbeit neither of these aforesaid causes is sufficient to put him to death. Their third chiefe officer is a Judge, his office is to take up and to end matters in controversie, to determine of warres and peace, that which he thinketh right, to punish rebels, wherein he may commaund the noble men to assist him upon paine of forfeiting their goods: neverthelesse at all times he is not obeyed, for that many matters are ended rather by might and armes, then determined by law. Other controversies are decided either in the Temporall Court, as it seemeth good unto the Princes, or in the Spirituall consistorie before the Tundi. Rebelles are executed in this manner, especially if they be noble men or officers. The king looke what day he giveth sentence against any one, the same day the partie, wheresoever he be, is advertised thereof, and the day told him of his execution. The condemned person asketh of the messenger whether it may bee lawfull for him to kill himselfe: the which thing when the king doeth graunt, the partie taking it for an honour, putteth on his best apparel and launcing his body a crosse from the breast downe all the belly, murthereth himselfe. This kind of death they take to be without infamie, neither doe their children for their fathers crime so punished, loose their goods. But if the king reserve them to be executed by the hangman, then flocketh he together his children, his servants, and friends home to his house, to preserve his life by force. The king committeth the fetching of him out unto his chiefe Judge, who first setteth upon him with bow and arrowes, and afterward with pikes and swords, untill the rebell and all his family be slaine to their perpetuall ignominie and shame. The Indie-writers make mention of sundry great cities in this Iland, as Cangoxima a haven towne in the South part thereof, and Meaco distant from thence three hundred leagues northward, the royall seat of the king and most wealthy of all other townes in that Iland. The people thereabout are very noble, and their language the best Japonish. In Meaco are sayd to be ninetie thousande houses inhabited and upward, a famous Universitie, and in it five principall Colleges, besides closes & cloysters of Bonzi, Leguixil, and Hamacata, that is, Priests, Monks and Nunnes. Other five notable Universities there be in Japan , namely, Coia, Negru, Homi, Frenoi, and Bandu. The first foure have in them at the least three thousand & five hundred schollers: in the fift are many mo. For Bandu province is very great and possessed with sixe princes, five whereof are vassals unto the sixt, yet he himselfe subject unto the Japonish king, usually called the great king of Meaco: lesser scholes there be many in divers places of this Ilande. And thus much specially concerning this glorious Iland, among so many barbarous nations and rude regions, have I gathered together in one summe, out of sundry letters written from thence into Europe, by no lesse faithfull reporters than famous travellers. For confirmation wherof, as also for the knowledge of other things not conteyned in the premisses, the curious readers may peruse these 4 volumes of Indian matters written long ago in Italian, and of late compendiously made latine, by Petrus Maffeius my olde acquainted friend, entituling the same, De rebus Japonicis. One whole letter out of the fift booke thereof, specially intreating of that countrey, I have done into English word for word in such wise as followeth.
Other such like matter is handled both in other his letters, and also in the Epistles written by his companions to be scene at large in the aforesaid volume. Amongst the rest this seemed in my judgement one of the principall, and therefore the rather I tooke upon me to do it into English.