Portuguese as decoration

I started a longish post but couldn’t find the mojo to finish it this weekend, so instead here’s a funny picture:

Dust jacket for Hyouge Mono Vol. 2, including text in fake Portuguese

What you see is the dust jacket for the original edition of Yoshihiro Yamada’s manga Hyouge-mono, vol. 2. The use of English text for purely decorative purposes, with little regard for sense or grammar, is well documented in East Asia and elsewhere (and of course the coin has a reverse side in the ornamental Chinese characters that so entrances those who cannot read them). But why Portuguese? As the cognoscenti would say, because of reasons.

Hyouge-mono (tastefully spelled in historical kana ortography as へうげもの) is a samurai manga centered on the figure the young Furuta Oribe, then still known as Sasuke. The premise alone is enough to awaken the curiosity of any tea ceremony aficionado; Hyouge-mono is a typical seinen manga with plenty of politics, war, sex, and people being sliced, which makes for a refreshing change of pace from the usual beatific platitudes. Compared to his more famous master, the venerated and austere (if sometimes brazen) Sen-no-Rikyû, Oribe is a very colorful historical personage that lends himself well to caricature. He was known as an extraordinary sukisha—“person who likes”: a devoted, even obsessed connoisseur of art objects and material things, particularly those with pedigree. It was said that he’d rather spend his days pursuing the tea than waging war, which wasn’t exactly a laudable personality trait in a daimyô at this period. One famous anecdote has it that Oribe was once pierced by an arrow after leaving shelter during battle, all because he glimpsed a bamboo stalk that was so perfectly shaped for a hanaire flower-vase, he just had to go and grab it. They also say that, when Hideyoshi invaded Korea, Oribe would run to those lords about to leave for the foreign country and ask them to enslave force have the fabled Korean master-ceramists bake his outrageous teabowl designs.

Truth to be told, despite the official discourse of wabi simplicity, the world of the tea ceremony had always nurtured a sukisha side, which included a healthy dose of foreign exoticism (much as we modern practitioners are drawn to the perfect world of a constructed Japaneseness). And, in Azuchi-Momoyama, foreign exoticism meant the nanban trade—the exciting and exotic culture of the “southern barbarians”, i.e. the Portuguese sailor merchants. This cultural exchange peaked right in the formative period of the tea ceremony, and left more than a few marks: other than decorative motifs and the like, the most salient examples are probably the Arabian-style tabako tray for use in the tea garden and the colorful konpeito sugar sweets. Both words came directly from the Portuguese language.

So is no accident that the designers of this particular manga cover have turned to Portuguese. As one would fear, the text is very wrong (likely the gibberish output of some online translator); I particularly like the word po̧s̃icao, which puts all the diacritics in illegal places and feels really bizarre (it might not even display here, depending on your font). They could have hired some poor Brazilian dekasegui to proofread it…

(An aside: This blog is obviously named for the “southern barbarians”. I figured that, as a Portuguese-speaking, hairy tea-ceremony practitioner from the Southern Hemisphere, I’m about as nanban as it gets.)

2 thoughts on “Portuguese as decoration

  1. Ah, the old “Couldn’t find time to write something deep, so here’s a manga scan” gambit. My old friend…

    Hyogemono is a really interesting revision of the sengoku jidaigeki genre in that it actively embraces the foreign influences of the time — e.g. Oda Nobunaga is constantly appearing in European-style clothes, and outrageous ones at that; it’s treated as a part of his personality rather than a quirk to be noted and discarded in favor of standard wafuku.

    The text on the back appears in a different language every volume (at least through the volumes I read), and even this is sort of provocative: it’s not at all unusual to see this sort of thing with English, but when you see it in Portuguese, and then Chinese, and then Korean (IIRC), etc., it stops being empty decoration and starts acting as part of the author’s artistic statement about the period and its oft-overlooked international/cosmopolitan side.

  2. Oh! I’m still on v2 so I had only seen English and Portuguese. Yes, it makes sense. (though the language nerd in me still wish they’d actually research each language—I’d die for actual 15th-century Portuguese on that cover, early rômaji and all!).

    I really enjoyed Nobunaga’s dashing & fashionable style. I meant to post a scan of Oribe biting his lip with envy as he rambled on about his lord’s mythical, shiny, fantastic birōdo vest, as another example of Portuguese loan: birōdoveludo, a cognate of Eng. “velvet” from their Latin ancestor villutus. Unfortunately I had already returned v1, & the FBI managed to scare filesharing sites into taking down conveniently scanned online raw manga.

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