The final section of The Travels of Marco Polo that I would like to analyze is his time in Japan. Polo starts his description of Japan, much like other sections of his narrative, starting with an detailed account of the people. He goes into great depth in describing the people and uses similar adjectives that we have before, such as “fair-complexioned”, “good-looking”, and “idolaters”, but he introduces some new descriptors in this section: “well-mannered”, “wholly independent”, and “exercising no authority over any nation but themselves” (Polo 244). It is interesting to note the pattern of fair skin being tied to a superior and more attractive appearance, as we have seen before in many travel narratives in this class, but this is one of the first instances that Polo uses the word “nation” in his personal account. He does not define the characteristics of a nation for us, however we can assume that religion and geographical location are two factors a part of his understanding of separate nations, as Marco Polo constantly uses them to differentiate between the places on his travels. It is interesting to note that Polo describes Japan to be independent and “exercising no authority over any nation” because that insinuates that there is a lack of knowledge available for international community about Japan, since there are less cultural connections between this country and others. This is certainly supported when reading rest of Polo’s account on Japan, since there is so much false information about the country that is just not believable.
First, Marco Polo does not include many details of Japan at all, compared to the locations that he has traveled, simply focusing on the riches and religion of the nation. He mentions that Japan has a great deal of gold and pearls available and then goes into a long summary of how the Great Khan took control over the country, before ending the section with a brief description of their religion. The lack of information that Polo has on Japan, since he was never able to actually travel to it, is supplemented by stories that he has heard, which we have seen before like in the section on India, however for Japan these stories are less believable due to their generic nature. As we have stated in class before, the trope of cannibalism was one that was extremely popular, especially for highlighting how a culture or community was strange and unusual. In the last couple of sentences of the section, Polo mentions “they kill their captive and make meal of him with their kinsfolk. You must understand that they first cook him; and this human flesh they consider the choicest of all foods” (Polo 248). He does not mention any other substantive details, but emphasizes the idolaters preference for human flesh, which reveals Polo’s ignorance towards the country and his choice to view them as strange and unusual due to his lack of information on the country. As we can see in this section, there is a pattern in the amount and kind of information, as well as a change in tone, when Marco Polo speaks of locations that he has not visited versus the ones that he has visited, which takes away from his reliability as a narrator, as he is trying to provide information for the reader, without highlighting that this information is based off rumors or stories that he has learned.