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

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Mid October, 1566

After the major events of harvesting and presenting the harvest to their lord were finished, a somewhat lazy mood had spread throughout Shizuko’s village.
Normally around this time, the people would put their effort into securing enough food for the winter, but there was no need to do that this year.
It might be an exaggeration to call it overabundant, but there were enough potatoes and vegetables in the form of pumpkins to get through the winter.
They also had a sizable stockpile of rice, so unless they overindulged they wouldn’t have to worry about food until next fall.

And there was not much work to do besides further enlarging the arable area.
They had sown turnip rape1 to make oil from its seeds, but all other winter vegetables were already growing on their fields.
As for expanding the arable area, there were no complicated steps/paper works like in the modern era, and it was more like a simple “let’s turn the area from here to there into a field”.
Of course, they had to report this expansion to Nobunaga later on, but Shizuko decided to leave these sorts of matters to Aya, so there was no need for her to venture out herself.

“So, let’s go mushroom hunting today.”

“…Shizuko-sama.
Please cease actions such as suddenly making me shoulder a basket and accompanying you into the forest.”

In reaction to Aya’s calm retort, Shizuko quickly faced forward and started whistling despite being unable to.
Aya was exasperated beyond measure, but admonishing Shizuko seemed pointless too, so she simply sighed deeply.

“Now, now, fall is a mushroom season, so help me with the mushroom hunt.
There are a lot we could gather, but just not enough helping hands.”

A bitter smile settled on Shizuko’s face as she scratched the back of her head.

Although there are slight differences between the different species, mushrooms are generally harvestable during September, October, and November at the latest.
But, as a general rule, the main harvesting season for mushrooms is October.
The owner of the mountain was Nobunaga, but she had been told that she was free to use it as she saw fit aside from certain specific resources.
In particular, findings of any kind of metal such as silver, gold or iron should be reported immediately.

“Muahaha… last year was quite hectic so I couldn’t get many, but this year we’ll properly gather all of them!”

There were no other villages nearby aside from Nisaku’s, so as long as they didn’t intrude on their territory they could harvest as much as they wanted.

In short, they were free to savor the taste of autumn to the fullest.

“Excuse me, but what are you aiming to gather?”

Aya couldn’t manage to match Shizuko’s enthusiasm, but despite her slight fear of it, she needed to confirm what they were going to do, so she asked the jovially spinning Shizuko.

“Hm? Yeah, right.
This year I’m aiming for Maitake, Honshimeji, Bunashimeji, Kabushimeji, Nameko, and to top it off, Matsutake! Ah, and I failed at it last year, but maybe the Shiitake cultivation went well this year?”2

In that instant, Aya spat out with immense momentum.
On top of that, she had started coughing, so Shizuko hurriedly stroked her back.

“A-Are you okay!?”

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“I am fine.
I just choked a little.”

Aya might have said so while bringing her breathing under control, but Shizuko still looked at her with worry.
Aya calmed down her heart and donned her usual poker face.

“(It might be sudden, but….) Let us go, Shizuko-sama”

“Okay… Don’t overdo it.
If it gets too hard you have to say so, okay?”

“I am fine.
Rather, I would be unable to close even a single eye if I left you by yourself,  Shizuko-sama.”

“No that’s uncalled for.
Despite my appearance, I’m quite familiar with this mountain!”

Her argument would convince nobody, but Aya let the issue slide and simply release a small sigh.
Rather than master and servant, their relationship was closer to friends with an age gap between them.

“(But I do need to report this.) While on the subject, Shizuko-sama.
If I might ask, what do you intend to achieve by cultivating Shiitake?”

“What I want to achieve? Is there something besides eating them? Well, if you want to make soup stock, you should dry them first.
It’s tastier that way.”

Hearing this reply, Aya wanted to hold her head in agony.

As Shizuko had spoken from a modern point of view she wasn’t aware of it, but until the cultivation method of Shiitake had been established in the 20th century, they had been luxury goods.
While they had been gathered in Japan since antiquity, as there had been no cultivation method, people could only gather the naturally grown Shiitake.

On the other hand, Shiitake were an essential component for soup stock in Shojin/Buddhist cuisine.
They were essential to the point that there are stories about a Kamakura era Zen monk called Dogen who traveled to the Southern Song Dynasty, one of the Chinese dynasties at the time, and was asked by a local monk whether he had some Shiitake on him.
It was a mushroom luxurious enough to have meals using it recorded in the history books, but for Shizuko as a person with modern sensibilities, they were just cheap mushrooms you could buy at the supermarket.

In contrast, Matsutake mushrooms, which she considered a luxury, were a common thing for the people of the Sengoku era.
They grew everywhere on the mountains and not many people actually wanted to eat Matsutake either.
In a period where filling your stomach was the top priority, people who had the leeway to care about enjoying the flavor of food were few in number.

“Well, I failed last year, so this year might be a bust too.”

After easily uttering this, Shizuko reshouldered her basket.
After this, Aya followed her with an exceedingly complicated expression on her face.

(It is as Mori-sama has said.
This person’s sense of value is somewhat different….)

Aya glared at the back of Shizuko, who was humming cheerfully.
One could even feel killing intent from this gaze, but the person it was directed at didn’t seem to notice it in the slightest, merrily climbing the mountain.

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“We’re almost at the Shimeji field, so please get your basket ready.”

The opposite indeed, as she directed a smile void of malice back at Aya.
Aya thought that she really didn’t understand the individual called Shizuko, and decided to simply stick to faithfully fulfilling her duty.

“(It seems that I will have to spend some time on this.) Understood.
Additionally, please look ahead when walking.”

Her duty of investigating the depths of Shizuko’s talents

After walking and talking for several minutes, the duo finally arrived at the first of Shizuko’s target locations, her Shimeji field.
Despite calling it a field, it was only an area where they naturally clustered, and Shizuko herself hadn’t done any artificial cultivation.
It was only an area Shizuko had arbitrarily dubbed Shimeji field as it was easy to gather the titular mushrooms here.

“This one looks ready to eat.
This one not yet….
This one’s poisonous.
Oh, this one’s really big.”

She might have possessed a sharp sense of smell, as Shizuko put one mushroom after the other in her basket.
In the blink of an eye, the small basket in her hands was filled and she transferred them to the basket she shouldered, carefully stacking them inside.
Shizuko gathered all the mushrooms in the surroundings, leaving only the small ones and the poisonous ones behind.

“Next is Maitake, and Matsutake after that.
We can take care of the Shiitake last.“

Without even leaving Aya the time to interject, Shizuko reshouldered her basket and headed for the next place.
Aya followed her in a hurry, but keeping up with Shizuko who was familiar with this mountain was the best she could do.
She barely had the breathing room to ask any questions.
Aya finally realized that Shizuko had reduced her speed out of concern for her physical condition when they were ascending the mountain.

“Here we are, the Maitake hunting grounds.
And I already found one!”

Aya thought that she could take a short break after they had arrived, but having found a Maitake, Shizuko ran off.
As she didn’t exactly have the energy to run around anymore, and it wasn’t a distance where she would lose sight of Shizuko, Aya wiped the sweat off from her forehead and moistened her parched throat with water from the bamboo canteen on her waist.
The slightly cool water felt very good to her heated body.

“This should be around 10 kg now.
Ah, there’s another one! This year really is a great year!”

Neglecting Aya who was leaning against a tree, Shizuko dedicated herself to collecting Maitake.

After harvesting the different kinds of Shimeji, the Maitake, and the Matsutake mushrooms their baskets were full, so they decided to descend the mountain.
Shizuko thought that leaving the Shiitake for another time would be fine, but Aya insisted on wanting to see them, so the two girls climbed the mountain a second time.
And after a few minutes, they reached the Shiitake cultivation area Shizuko had made.

“Looks like they grew this year–”

Said Shizuko while posing as though she was looking into the distance.
In contrast, Aya held her breath as she beheld the scenery before her.

They didn’t cover the whole field of view, but a large quantity of Shiitake were growing here.
This much could easily be sold for a fortune.
Yet Shizuko was simply happy that she had succeeded in growing Shiitake.
Aya couldn’t feel the slightest bit of greed from her.

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“(This is…) I really do have to report it to the lord at this amount.”

“Huh? You do? Because of something like Shiitake?”

At this reply, Aya released an extremely tired sigh, intentionally obvious enough for Shizuko to notice.

In the end, they harvested all the Shiitake and returned home, where Shizuko immediately wanted to fry some and eat them.
Aya stopped this with all her might, and they turned all mushrooms without bug bites into dried Shiitake.
By drying them in the sun, the Shiitake lost their vitamin B, but in return gained ten times the amount of vitamin D.
In addition, this increases the amount of Umami components in them, improving their flavor, and thus making dried Shiitake superior to fresh ones.

“But honestly, are Shiitake that expensive?”

Still doubtful of the value of the Shiitake mushrooms, Shizuko asked Aya while they were steadily processing them.
Aya stopped working, letting out a small sigh, and started speaking while looking at the Shiitake which were arranged in the drying basket.

“I do not know the details either, but I have heard that an amount of 15 Kan (approximately 56.25 kg) would allow one to buy a castle.”

“Then this much should allow you to buy a really big house, right? Well, cleaning it would be a hassle, so I wouldn’t want that though.”

“…..If you could hire a large amount of people, would you build a large mansion?”

“Huh? If it’s too big, I wouldn’t be able to use all of it.
I’m fine with the house I have now.”

Aya had tried to gauge the depth of Shizuko’s greed with this hypothetical conversation, but to her surprise, she was met with a lack of said greed far surpassing her expectations.

Harvesting the bounties of fall wasn’t a task completed in just one or two days.
One needed to go into the mountains several days, gathering whatever was the current target and then taking measures to preserve the results.
To top it off, the targeted items changed on a daily basis.

She collected many bounties of fall such as both sweet and sour wild persimmons, chestnuts still in their prickly hulls, dug up japanese yam3, as well as abundantly lying around acorns.
She also harvested other fruits besides persimmons, but as they couldn’t be preserved, she mainly ate them as a snack while collecting the rest.

“Let’s quickly turn these sour persimmons into dried persimmons.”

In front of a simmering pot, Shizuko peeled the skin off of sour persimmons.
After peeling them, she tied a thread to their stem and passed them through the boiling water for around 5 seconds.
With this process finished, she tied the strings to a drying rack she had prepared in advance, taking care that the persimmons wouldn’t touch each other.

Although the number of persimmons was a measly 30, Shizuko’s skillful handling had even surprised Aya. 

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“This looks fine.
They should be ready in around 40 days.”

Looking at the host of items laid out to dry such as the persimmons and Shiitake mushrooms, a content smile rose to Shizuko’s lips.

“Fall really is bountiful, right?”

“….Indeed.
Incidentally, Shizuko-sama, you appear to be knowledgeable on the topic of mushrooms.
Might I inquire where you have come to know of this?”

While taking care to make it blend into the conversation as natural as possible, Aya posed this question to Shizuko who was checking the items laid out for drying.
Aya did this to avoid having her true intentions seen through, but unfortunately, Shizuko was a bit airheaded, so she didn’t have the slightest idea that Aya’s question might have had a hidden meaning.

“Huh? Well, one of my relatives is a mushroom scholar.
“Mushrooms are really interesting, Shizuko!” he’d say while excitedly teaching me bits and pieces about them.”

“Is that so.”

“The place where I used to live suffered from population aging.
That might have been why everyone wanted to find a successor.
So I was taught quite a lot of stuff.
Since I was taught from a young age, I managed to get enrolled into an agricultural high school directly under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

“Agri, Agriculture, Forestry? Agricultural… high school? En, enroll?”

Aya couldn’t understand the meaning of the latter half of Shizuko’s words at all, leaving her with the fact that Shizuko’s broad knowledge was the result of the people of her village imparting their wisdom onto her out of a desire for a successor.
In short, Aya thought, Shizuko was the collection of that village’s knowledge.

(A village possessing technology this advanced….
I have never heard of such a thing)

“Alright, we’re finished.
It’ll get cold soon, so let’s return back inside.”

“….As you wish.”

She had tried to find out more about Shizuko’s background, but instead, the mystery had only deepened, leaving Aya puzzled.

 

field mustard, Brassica rapa subsp.
oleifera  In order: Lyophyllum shiimeji, Hypsizygus tessellatus (brown beech or brown clamshell mushroom), Lyophyllum Fumosum, Pholiota microspora, and Tricholoma matsutake.  Dioscorea japonica 

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