Book of Ser Marco Polo


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A Description of Japan


Cipango3 is an island toward the east in the high seas, fifteen hundred miles distant from the continent; and a very great island it is.

The people are white, civilized, and well-favored. They are idolaters, and are dependent on nobody. And I can tell you the quantity of gold they have is endless; for they find it in their own islands and their king does not allow it to be exported. Moreover, few merchants visit the country because it is so far from the mainland, and thus it comes to pass that their gold is abundant beyond all measure.

I will tell you a wonderful thing about the palace of the lord of that island. You must know that he has a great palace which is entirely roofed with fine gold, just as our churches are roofed with lead, insomuch that it would scarcely be possible to estimate its value. Moreover, all the pavement of the palace and the floors of its chambers are entirely of gold, in plates like slabs of stone, a good two fingers thick; and the windows also are of gold, so that altogether the richness of this palace is past all bounds and all belief.

They have also pearls in abundance, which are of a rose color, but fine, big, and round, and quite as valuable as the white ones. In this island some of the dead are buried and others are burnt. When a body is burnt, they put one of these pearls in the mouth, for such is their custom. They have also quantities of other precious stones.

Now you must know that the idols of Cathay and of this island are all of the same class. And in this island, as well as elsewhere, some of the idols have the head of an ox, some have the head of a pig, some of a dog, some of a sheep, and some of other kinds. And some of them have four heads, while some have three, one growing out of either shoulder. There are also some that have four hands, some ten, some a thousand! And they do put more faith in those idols that have a thousand hands than in any of the others. And when any Christian asks them why they make their idols in so many different forms, and not all alike, they reply that just so their forefathers were wont to have them made, and just so they will leave them to their children, and these to succeeding generations. And so they will be handed down forever. And you must understand that the deeds ascribed to these idols are such a parcel of deviltries as it is best not to tell. So let us have done with the idols and speak of other things.

But I must tell you one thing still concerning that island (and it is the same with the other East Indian islands), that if the natives take prisoner an enemy who cannot pay a ransom, he who has the prisoner summons all his friends and relations, and they put the prisoner to death, and then they cook him and eat him, and they say there is no meat in the world so good!

2 , bk. iii, chs. 2, 4.

3 Cipango, the old name of Japan, represents the Chinese Jihpen-kwe, "the origin of the sun," that is, the country of the rising sun. Nippon, the name by which the Japanese know their country, has the same meaning.


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Chicago: "A Description of Japan," Book of Ser Marco Polo in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 477–478. Original Sources, accessed April 14, 2024,

MLA: . "A Description of Japan." Book of Ser Marco Polo, Vol. iii, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 477–478. Original Sources. 14 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: , 'A Description of Japan' in Book of Ser Marco Polo. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.477–478. Original Sources, retrieved 14 April 2024, from