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three pairs of lovers with space


Luís Fróis

Luís Fróis (1532-97) was a Portuguese Jesuit missionary who settled in Japan in 1563. His treatise
Tratado em que se contêm muito sucinta e abreviadamente algumas contradições e diferenças de costumes entre a gente de Europa e esta província de Japão (Treatise containing in very succinct and abbreviated form some contrasts and differences in the customs of the people of Europe and this province of Japan.) was written in 1585, by when his knowledge of the Japanese language and customs made him uniquely well-qualified to draw the comparisons he did. When he refers to “us”, his explicit meaning is “Europeans”, but it appears that his book was designed specifically for the introduction to Japanese customs of Jesuits newly sent out to Japan as missionaries.

Fróis’s manuscript was not apparently intended for publication, and was only first published in 1955, as a German translation. It was first translated into English in 2014,[1] edited and annotated by Richard K. Danford, Robin D. Gill and Daniel T. Reff as The First European Description of Japan, 1585. A critical English-Language edition of striking contrasts in the customs of Europe and Japan by Luis Frois, S.J., from which the following brief references to Greek love are taken. An excerpt from Fróis’s introductory remarks is included as an indication of his approach to his subject.


Treatise containing in very succinct and abbreviated form some contrasts and differences in the customs of the people of Europe and this province of Japan. […] Many of their customs are so distant, foreign, and far removed from our own that it is difficult to believe that one can find such stark contrasts in customs among [us and] people who are so civilized, have such lively genius, and are as naturally intelligent as these [Japanese].


3. Concerning children and their customs

10. Our instructors teach our children the catechism, [the lives of] the saints, and virtuous habits; the bonzes teach the children to play music, sing, play games,[2] fence and carry out their abominations with them.[3]

4. Concerning the bonzes[4] and their customs

2. Among us, one subsequently professes vows to be pure of soul and chaste of body; the bonzes profess vows to all manner of inner filth and all the nefarious sins of the flesh.[5]

16. Our religious focus their principal efforts on interior purity and cleanliness; the bonzes keep their dwellings, gardens and temples extremely clean, but keep their souls abominable.


[1] Published by Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon., and New York.

[2] Jugar. Frois is probably referring here to board games such as shogi and go, which are similar to chess. [Editors’ footnote]

[3] Frois’ allusion to pederasty (“their abominations”) hints at his less-than-objective attitude toward Buddhist temple-schools. The mastery of hundreds of Chinese characters clearly occupied most student’s time. And yet Frois is correct in suggesting that pederasty was a part of temple-school life (see Chapter 4). Indeed, judging from the literature, which goes back a thousand years, there was rather intense competition among temple-schools to recruit attractive boys. Although pederasty was not uncommon in Europe, particularly in school settings, Europeans ignored it or made a great show of horror when it was discovered. [Explanation by the editors, citing Isabel M.R. Drummond Braga, “Foreigners, Sodomy, and the Portuguese Inquisition.” In Pelo Vaso Traseiro, eds. Harold Johnson and Francis Dutra, pp. 145–165 (Tucson: Fenestra Books, 2008), 156-158; Keith Thomas, The Ends of Life, Oxford, 2009, 205–206.]

[4] With bonze/s we follow the customary Anglicization of the Iberian bonzo/s. Like all Japanese words, bonso or bonzo has no number. Bonzo is properly a low-ranking Buddhist monk, while Frois uses it to refer to all Buddhist monks. Japanese editions of the Tratado change Frois’ references to bonzos to the common general term bozu, which includes higher ranking monks, or the Chinese characters for a rare word for the same, butsuso, with the pronunciation indicated as bonzo. Frois’ denigrative tone is captured by affixing a rude plural suffix ~ra to these terms. [Editors’ footnote]

[5] In his eleventh century treatise on sodomy, The Book of Gomorrah, St. Peter Damian acknowledged that sodomy was commonly seen as “the vice of the clergy.” (Luiz Mott, “My Pretty Boy: Love Letters from a Sodomite Friar, Lisbon (1690).” In Pelo Vaso Traseiro, eds. Harold Johnson and Francis Dutra, pp. 231–262 (Tucson: Fenestra Press, 2008); John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 187.) At the time Frois wrote, pecado nefando (unspeakable sin) remained widespread among Catholic clerics, monks and religious, even if the Church and inquisition railed against it. (Federico Garza Carvajal, Butterflies Will Burn (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003).) Sodomy certainly seems to have been less controversial among Buddhist monks and the Japanese as a whole, but it is hardly true that Buddhist monks took vows to “all inner filth.” [Editors’ explanation]




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