Arc 2 – Ninth Year of Eiroku Era, Owari Province Agricultural Reform

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Mid-September, 1566

Around this time, Oda Nobunaga had laid siege to Mino and engaged in a back and forth battle.
Back in Shizuko’s village, where none of this war could be felt, all villagers came together for the rice harvest.
The rice that had grown so plentifully it was threatening to burst from the fields and could not be called anything but a great harvest.
But among all activities related to rice cultivation, harvesting the rice was one of the hardest labors.
Traditionally, the rice was harvested by cutting the rice plants with a sickle and bundling them into small packs.
As this method needed one to bend over, it inevitably puts a huge strain on the lower back,

As a countermeasure, Shizuko prepared a human-powered cutting harvester.
And although this machine only cut the rice without bundling it, there was no need to work bent over anymore.
By using this machine and splitting the people into different groups, tasked respectively with either mowing or bundling the rice, Shizuko succeeded in reducing the workload.
Yet the unprecedented amount of rice they had to harvest meant that despite introducing the harvesting machine, there was still enough workaround for everyone to be more than just busy.
But there was no sign of dissatisfaction (lit.
agony, pain) to be seen among the farmers.

“What a nice and big harvest.
It is a little bit less than planned, but we have been able to harvest it smoothly.”

Shizuko nodded contentedly while watching the villagers harvest the rice.
It might be slightly less than what she had planned, but for this era, it was an exceptional harvest.
She would have liked to relax a little after the harvest is finished, but there was still a lot of work that needed to be done afterward.

Firstly the rice needed to be dried.
The drying process of airing the rice bundles by hanging them from a pole greatly impacted the taste of the rice.
It depends on the weather, but the drying process usually took one to two weeks.

After this step, the rice was threshed, the rice husks removed, and finally, the rice was polished.
But once the husks are removed, the rice can’t be stored for long periods.
Therefore, the rice is packed into bales without threshing. In this Sengoku period, where freezers are still a long way off, it was obvious to prioritize long term preservability.

Concerning husking and polishing, polishing was time-consuming but could be done with a watermill.
It took roughly 6 hours to process 1 koku[1] (roughly 15 kilograms) of rice, but most of the work could be automated, and on top of it, the rice did not get heated as much in this process compared to polishing by machine, so the original flavor of the rice was preserved.

But husking is different.
To be precise, the separation of rice seeds and husks after the husking was the issue.
Shizuko used a separation method where rice and husk are given onto rocking plates with beveled holes.
These plates were then oscillated horizontally, causing rice and husks to separate due to differences in their mass and friction coefficients.
But in the end, the result still needed to be checked by a human [2].
Unlike the traditional method of sieving the rice, this method didn’t require much skill and made the work relatively easy, but in front of the enormous amount of rice, this didn’t matter much.
Faced with processing the mountains of rice, everyone would get weary.

(Fully automating the process….
would be nice)

The completely modern rice cultivation with machines taking care of everything from harvesting to drying, husking, and polishing is nothing but a pipe dream.
And while she had started introducing machines to increase work efficiency, all of them were human-powered.
As expected, there was a limit to the things you can do.

(Well, seems like this is the limit.
Aiming too high will come to no good.)

Wishing for more efficiency at this point was futile.
Accepting this fact, Shizuko, aware that she too should join the work, moved towards the rice fields.

There was a fifty-fifty chance that she would be interrupted by a certain person.

————————————————————-

“Firstly let me praise your hard work.
You did well to harvest that much rice”

“Thank you for your praise”

Facing the broadly smiling Mori Yoshinari, Shizuko bowed her head deeply.

It had been Mori Yoshinari and his guards who had come to Shizuko’s village.
She had been surprised by the sudden visit but speculated that Nobunaga had probably spouted something unreasonable again.

“Now, what brought me here was a favor I would like to ask of Shizuko-dono”

“Yes, how can I be of help?”

And like this, her speculations were affirmed.

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“We are currently attacking Mino.
But stretching this war out any longer will be hard on our army”

“(No wonder, in this era losing one-tenth of one’s army already means defeat) …y-yes.
Excuse me, how is this related to me…?”

Shizuko timidly asked Mori Yoshinari this.
In fact, the status of the war had next to no connection to Shizuko.
The things Nobunaga had ordered her to do were related to agriculture, and only that.
He had not told her to do anything beside it and she had no intention to presumptuously argue about it.
One needn’t say what happened when one tried to do something above their status.

“The issue is nothing less than the aftermath of Mino’s capture”

“After Mino’s capture…?”

Hearing this, Shizuko thought back on history.

It is said that Oda Nobunaga attacked Inabayama castle, the stronghold of Saitou Tatsuoki By capturing this castle, Oda Nobunaga gained control of Mino.
The day of the castle’s fall is generally agreed to have been the 15th of August in the tenth year of the Eiroku era (1567).
At this time, Saitou Tatsuki had escaped down the Nagara river towards Nagashima in the Ise province.
After that, the twenty-year-old would never return to Mino as a daimyo again.

And after conquering Mino, Oda Nobunaga fought several small battles before taking the capital and backing the Shogun.
This would happen in the eleventh year of the Eiroku era (1568), meaning two years from now.

“Mino is a country belonging to the west (of Japan).
The Lord wants to get this country under his control under any circumstances.
After he has achieved this, the Lord is planning to fortify the foundations of our country.”

(Well~, by combining Mino and Owari he will have more than one million Koku.
Of course he wants to get his hands on that province)

“Thus, he wants Shizuko-dono to learn how to handle domestic affairs.”

“(It probably will be about improving our self-sufficiency rate, won’t it..)……what?”

Shizuko doubted her ears.
To say nothing of the modern era, back in the Sengoku era, women basically had no human rights.
They obviously had no part in the political world with every important position filled by men.
Back then, this was inevitable and common sense.

“Umm….
I am a woman, you know? It is the first time I have heard of a woman becoming involved with politics!?”

“Certainly, I too doubted my ears when I first heard it.
But the Lord seems to already have decided it to be so.”

“No, but… why?”

Even knowing how revolutionary Oda Nobunaga was, this was just too far outside of common sense.
To begin with, in this era, even the wives of famous Daimyos were seen as too insignificant to have their names recorded in the history books.
A woman becoming a village chief due to some circumstances might have happened, but for one to be a policymaker capable of influencing the direction of a country was basically unheard of.

“The Lord highly evaluates the achievements of Shizuko-dono”

“Is that so? I do not remember doing anything particularly worthy of such praise though….?”

“Fufufu, do not be so humble.
Shizuko-dono splendidly reinvigorated a village on the brink of death and earned your keep with the plentiful harvest this year.
This is no easily replicated feat.

“But that is all because of the villagers’ hard work…”

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“That might be so, but it would not have been possible without Shizuko-dono’s ability.”

Being openly praised made Shizuko feel restless.

“Yes… this is just my conjecture.
It might be that the Lord wants to do this as a precaution before other countries have a chance to take you.”

“Y-Yes… it is an honor beyond one such as me”

Regardless of what Shizuko had achieved, her reward was only one village.
Of course, the possibility that she would receive a better offer and leave Nobunaga’s side was not zero.
Aware of this, and to prevent her escape, Nobunaga put a leash around her.
Or something of that kind was what she suspected.

“Come to think of it, Shizuko-dono, would you mind if I asked you a question? It has piqued my interest before, but what are the bamboo-like things in the corner of the field?”

“Bamboo…..? Ahh, you mean the sugar cane”

“Sugar cane?”

Hearing the unfamiliar word, Mori Yoshinari tilted his head in wonder.

“Ahh, umm….
right.
Do you mind if I  come a little closer? This just between you and me but…”

At the moment, Shizuko did not wish for knowledge about sugar cane to spread, so she drew closer to Mori Yoshinari and lowered her voice.
Despite being slightly on guard, Mori Yoshinari understood that Shizuko did not plan anything malicious and relaxed slightly.

“(I will disclose this to the Lord and Mori-sama… those plants are the raw material to make sugar)” (they are whispering)

“(Sugar!?)”

Mori Yoshinari almost blurted out, only barely managing to keep his voice down.
But his eyes were wide opened wide and his astonishment was obvious.

“(Well, a taste can tell more than a thousand words.
I have a piece of sugar cane I cut off this morning to check the ripeness.
Please try chewing on this.)”

Saying this, Shizuko held out one of two pieces of sugar cane to Mori Yoshinari.
And as if to play food taster, Shizuko bit into the other piece.
Still unable to conceal his surprise, Mori Yoshinari quietly received the sugar cane and bit onto the edge of the sugar cane.

“(…..! This really is sweet….Could this really be the raw form of sugar…..!?)”

“(Yes.
Well, it does look like a giant version of maiden silvergrass[3], so nobody would think that this is something you would grow on a field)”

“(Indeed….that certainly is so.
I too thought it to be bamboo until your explanation)”

“(Hmm, another thing while we are talking like this.
It is about what I am doing with the materials I asked you to procure me over the last year.)”

“Hmm…..? Ahh, that matter”

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Since last year Shizuko had asked Mori Yoshinari to regularly provide her a certain material/substance.
Even while collecting this material, Mori Yoshinari hadn’t been able to come up with any use for it.
He had therefore asked for an explanation multiple times, but was always rejected with the reason that “It would be bad if spies got hold of this information so I cannot tell you now”.

“(So, you know.
At the moment I am not sure whether it will work or not.)”

About to finally hear the reason behind the secrecy, Mori Yoshinari was fidgeting in anticipation despite his age.
But that anticipation turned into another feeling in the next moment.

“(If that succeeds….
it will turn into gunpowder)”

—————————————————————

“Did it go well?”

After returning to Nobunaga’s side from Shizuko’s village, the first thing Mori Yoshinari did was to report to Nobunaga.
As Nobunaga had predicted something of the sort, he received him with priority to hear his report.
And the first thing he asked Mori Yoshinari was whether his orders were carried out successfully.

“Yes! She was quite surprised, but accepted the role wholeheartedly.”

“Is that so.
No wonder, a woman dabbling in domestic affairs is unheard of after all.”

“Indeed… But having gotten to know Shizuko-dono, I now understand why my Lord favors her.”

“Hou?”

With a move of his chin, Nobunaga prompted him to continue.
Seeing this, Mori Yoshinari ordered the nearby servants with a glance to present a certain something before Nobunaga.

“This is….?”

Upon the presented plate were several vegetable slices.
Daikon radish and turnip were beautifully cut into half circles.

“Shizuko-dono made this dish called ‘Nukazuke’[4].
As Shizuko-dono told me that it is rich in salt and not too much should be eaten at once, I took the freedom of only presenting a small serving.”

“As usual, that woman creates strange things”

With that as his only comment, Nobunaga picked up his chopsticks and placed a piece of radish into his mouth.

“Delicious.
The feeling of chewing on it is quite nice.”

“I too could savor her food, and all of it is exotic and delicious.”

“I was also surprised when I first tasted it”

“And now I can understand it.
There is something frightening about Shizuko-dono’s wisdom.
It will certainly be a great threat should her knowledge fall into the hands of another country.

“Yes.
So, how much rice did that woman manage to harvest?”

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“It is only a rough estimate, but I fathom it will about 200 bales.”

“Quite more than the 25 bales she was ordered to provide.
This much rice produced by a village with only around a hundred inhabitants.
If that one gets the necessary authority and is put to increase production further, I will have a much easier time waging war.”

It need not be said that during the Sengoku period, the amount of produced rice played a big role.
The unit for it was Kokudaka, the amount of rice necessary to feed one person for an entire year.
Converting the values from the mid-Edo period, it is equal to around 150 kg.
As the values from the Sengoku period were all self-reported, the exact values are a mystery and will remain as such.

But in both the Edo and the Sengoku period, the fact that Kokudaka played an important role did not change.

“But is there really a need for her to engage in domestic affairs? Wouldn’t it be fine as it is now?”

“That woman is somewhat of an airhead.
I won’t suffer having her betray me because a spy tricked her.
Furthermore, she is soft and the more lives depend on her, the less she will be able to run away.”

“That….?”

Nobunaga replied to Mori Yoshinari’s question after putting down his chopsticks and taking a deep breath.

“There are a lot of Shizuko’s talents I have a need of.
So there should have been the option for her to disobey my orders, flee, and serve under another lord.
But she did not.
That is simply because that one could not abandon the villagers.”

“That certainly seems to be the case.”

“She can not cut off people depending on her.
And exactly because of that childish naivety I will bestow authority upon her.
By doing so, I can make her knowledge mine while simultaneously preventing her betrayal.
But that knowledge can’t be wrung out of her as quickly as possible.
There is a possibility that Shizuko might catch on to us and escape.”

“She will certainly suspect that once she has offered all her knowledge, she will be disposed of.”

“Exactly.
And I still need her alive for her to work for me”

Like that, the conversation with Mori Yoshinari came to an end.
Nobunaga had him return and sighed lightly.

“Rich country, strong army… was it.”

Nobunaga spilled the words once said by Shizuko.

(That woman has distinguished herself more than I had expected.
It might be only domestic affairs for now, but I can see that in the future, there will be need for her Namban knowledge in matters of war too.)

Incorporating Namban wisdom into his army.
From now on.
Nobunaga would longingly wait for that day to come.

Footnote:

Volume measure of 18.039 l, used to measure rice.↩ For an example of how this process looks like, take a look at this: https://youtu.be/HWZrwZ1cn3Q?t=235.↩ ススキ, maiden silvergrass.
A type of flowering grass native to eastern Asia, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscanthus_sinensis.↩ Nukazuke (糠漬け) are a type of Japanese pickle, made by fermenting vegetables in rice bran (nuka). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nukazuke.↩

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