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

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Early December, 1566

To make sugar, quite a bit of manpower would be required.
As such, Shizuko had some villagers who looked free help her out.

First, the sugar cane stems were shredded into small pieces before their juice was pressed out.
Ash made from Oyster shells was then added to this juice to aid precipitation.

After the impurities have settled to the bottom, the upper layer of this mixture are removed and boiled down to form crystals.

In the modern era, the purified juice would be further refined using a centrifuge, but neither did centrifuges exist in the Sengoku era nor did anything one could use as a substitute.

(It could be done by using something like a bicycle for the rotation… but then person pedaling will have to go through through hell…)

Using brute force would be possible, but going that far was neither necessary, nor worth the effort.

Brown sugar itself was already enough of a high-class product in the Sengoku era.

“Village chief, this juice is really sweet–”

“Don’t eat too much of it.
The lord will be furious if the amount goes down noticeably.”

Shizuko answered the villager, who was chewing on a piece of wrung out sugar cane, with a wry smile on her face.

Since ancient times, alcohol and sweetness were treated as offerings to the gods, meaning peasants would rarely get to taste them.

And if they did, it was in the form of Amadzura syrup1, Mizuame2, Shisou3 or similar, whose sweetness was nothing like that of sugar or honey.

But, in contrast to salt, seasonings such as sugar were not essential for survival.

Furthermore, as people usually ate fruits for snacks, pure sugar was more or less a luxury good.

(If I remember correctly, sugar was also used to display one’s power, or something.)

In the Sengoku era, sugar couldn’t be produced in Japan, so it was completely reliant on imports.

Although nothing is known about the quality or color, records show that in the Muromachi era 1 kin (approx.
675 g) of sugar was valued at 250 Mon4, making it a pricey luxury good.

As such, having a lot of sugar was a way of showing your surroundings that you had good connections to overseas kingdoms and a vast amount of wealth.

“It started getting sticky, village chief.”

“Looks like it good to go then.
Please transfer it to the containers we prepared.”

The boiling process had removed water and concentrated the sugar.
Letting this mass cool down and solidify would yield the brown sugar.

After filling the prepared molds with the liquid sugar, it will be left to cool down (to room temperature) before being moving it to a cold place in lieu of a natural refrigerator.

In contrast to white sugar, brown sugar still contains some minerals, and can be a sweetener just as nutritious as honey when used in calculated amounts.

(Just in case of an emergency, I really want to stash away some of that sugar.)

While watching the sugar being poured into the molds, Shizuko thought about how much sugar she wanted to store.

On the fundamental level, pure sugar is not an essential nutrient.
Rather, it might even be better for one’s health if one did not eat it.

If one is just concerned about “sugar” as a provider of energy, that is already covered sufficiently by rice and miso.

Therefore, the exclusive use of sugar will be as “medicine”.

In fact, sugar is hydrophilic and can drain water from food, suppressing the reproduction of microorganisms.

Even though treating a wound using sugar sound ridiculous, an American doctor tested it for seven years, and found that indeed it has some positive effects.

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The reason for this is, that while the sugar absorbs water and thereby suppresses the reproduction of bacteria, it does not hinder the healing process of the wound.

Granulated sugar is said to work best here, but even brown sugar leads to acceptable results.

She didn’t have enough sugar to use it in that fashion, but she wanted to keep at least some if it comes to the worst.

(According to the “Shinchō kōki”, Chosokabe Motochika from the Tosa province (Kochi prefecture) has gifted 30 kin (approx.
19 kg) of sugar to Nobunaga.
With that in mind, around 3 kg should be sufficient as tribute.)

As she was thinking this, someone addressed Shizuko.

“Excuse me, Shizuko-sama, may I have a moment of your time?”

It was Aya.
Until now, she had not been able to keep up mentally and then missed her timing to ask, but now she had finally found an opportunity.

“What is it? If it’s about candies, I’ll later make some for you, okay?”

“That is definitely not it! Since when have I become a glutton!?”

“Oh, okay, sorry.
So, what’s up?”

Filled with indignation at the disgraceful label that had been stuck on her, Aya calmed down and slightly cleared her throat.

Then Aya quietly spoke to Shizuko so that only she would hear it.

“You said it is sugar, but… is that substance inside those molds sugar? I have seen sugar once before and back then it was more… like a powder.”

“Aah…”

Simply speaking, brown sugar was made by pressing out sugar cane, boiling down the juice, and the cooling the result down to solidify it.

Aya probably couldn’t connect the liquid state in this process to the sugar inside her memories.

“When it cools down and hardens, it will become the sugar you know, Aya-chan.
You know how water turns to ice when it gets cold?”

“That is… yes.”

“This is the same.
Right now, it still contains some water, so it looks like syrup.
When the water is gone, it will turn into the powdered sugar you know.”

“Is that so.”

“Well, to be honest, there are some more detailed process steps to go through, but this much is the limit for an amateur like me.”

Shizuko was scratching her head in embarrassment at her shortcomings, but the production of sugar by itself was already absolutely amazing to Aya.

As they were being carried into the dark, Aya looked at them once more.

She couldn’t gauge exactly how much sugar this would yield, but she was sure that it would be a small fortune.

In her mind, Aya asked herself whether the place she had been sent to was still part of this world, or not.

“The last tributes for this year will be soybeans, brown sugar, dried persimmons and other dried foods.
Aya-chan, go check for me when I can deliver these kinds of things, okay?”

“…As you wish.”

“Well, we lack the tools and experience to properly make brown sugar so the amount is a little small.
But next year we will increase the output.”

Aya shared the opinion that reporting this was necessary, but the problem was the size of the tribute.

She did not know the final amount of brown sugar and didn’t think Shizuko would be able to give her those numbers.

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What amounts she did know right now though were 25 dried persimmons, 50 dried Shiitake, and 200 kg of soybeans.

(I hope I will not get scolded for reporting these numbers…)

In particular, the amount of soybeans was much too large, worrying Aya on how to report it.

Roughly a week later, when the sugar production was finished and the brown sugar transferred into pots, a message from Nobunaga arrived.

Its contents could be summarized as follows: Nobunaga will send an escort to the tribute transport this time, and Aya and Shizuko are to accompany the transport.

Since she had completely left this kind of work to Aya lately, it had been quite a while since Shizuko had visited the castle.

After finishing their preparations, both headed out and arrived at the castle without incident.

As always, Shizuko was dressed up and made to look presentable, but in contrast to previous visits, this time she wasn’t left waiting in the audience chamber for too long.

After around one hour, Nobunaga entered the audience chamber.
Despite being slightly surprised by this, Shizuka greeted him with all necessary formalities.

“The tribute this time is truly splendid.”

Those were the first words Nobunaga spoke to Shizuko with a small smile on his lips.

Shizuko was stunned by the sudden praise, but Nobunaga ignored that and continued on.

“War funds in the form of dried Shiitake and sugar.
Soybeans necessary to raise war horses.
With these, my army can greatly increase its strength.
This strength will help enormously in the conquest of Mino.”

At first she didn’t know what he was talking about, but these last words allowed Shizuko’s understanding to catch up.

Up until now, all tributes had been produce which weren’t seen as military supplies.
With the singular exception of rice.

But with soybeans, sugar, and dried Shiitake, this time almost all of it had a military use.

They could be traded off at high prices for additional war funds, or used as a display of Nobunaga’s power.

Not exclusive to the Sengoku period; in any time period, including modern days, in both the Occident and the Orient, luxury items were an important way to show of your own wealth and influence.

In europe, this role was filled by spices.

During the late Middle Ages, spices such as pepper were so highly valued as to be worth their weight in gold.

In particular pepper held the most important position among these spices.

Because it fills three roles as a preservative, a deodorant, as well as a seasoning.

For the carnivorous culture of Europe, it was a magical spice until the refrigerator was invented.

But in that time period, pepper could only be grown in tropical or subtropical regions, so Europeans mainly obtained their pepper from trade with muslim merchants.

And, of course, with the number of merchant hands the pepper passed through, its price also spiked up sharply from the initial value.

To the point that stories of pepper being sold at 60 times the initial cost existed.

As an aside, it is said that the Age of Discovery was also caused by the Ottoman empire destroying the Byzantine Empire, which resulting in the loss of traffic and trade with muslim merchants and a consequential lack of access to pepper.

Of course, this kind of mentality was not unique to the Occident, so Japan too had its share of it.

In ancient Japanese cuisine, a “befitting color” was said to be more important than the taste of a dish.

Even now, while there are tasty dishes, as a whole, appearance is prioritized over taste.

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It is for this purpose, that expensive ingredients such as pepper, sugar or Shiitake were necessary.

“The skill with which you cultivated Shiitake, a feat everyone thought impossible, is worthy of praise.
The other dried food, dried persimmons are splendid as well.
I was never picky about what I eat, but the dried persimmons you made were truly a feast.”

Nobunaga spoke as if talking to himself while repeatedly nodding his head.

Until the agriculturist Dr.
Mori Kisaku invented the believed to be impossible cultivation method of Shiitake in Showa 17 (1942 A.D.), the mushrooms were an unattainable luxury.

Even back in the Edo period, there were attempts at cultivating Shiitake, but they consisted of cutting gashes into freshly cut trees to make it easier for Shiitake to grow, which was a lot of work for little benefit.

As such, this method was very much a gamble that could yield vast riches upon success, or plunge your family into ruin upon failure.

“I will give you whatever you want as a reward this time.
Tell me what you want.”

Nobunaga said with an extremely pleased expression.

On the spot, Shizuko couldn’t think of anything she wanted.
But if she refrained here, it would mean smearing dirt on Nobunaga’s honor.

She had received an elegant house for delivering the rice.
And she also already had Aya as her attendant.
She couldn’t think of anything else she wished for right now.

But what she couldn’t think of were “things she wished for”.

“….I, I have a request to my lord.”

“I don’t mind, tell me.”

“Currently, our village is expanding its farmland.
But the manpower is just not enough.
As such, I would like to borrow some workers for a month.”

Everyone in Shizuko’s village helped with expanding the farmland, but as they still had their usual work to do, they hadn’t opened as much new farmland as they would have liked to.

It was of no issue to the villagers, but Shizuko wanted to expand enough to have some breathing room.

Having to worry about starvation in a year with a bad harvest was a signature of the Sengoku period.
As such, surplus fruits needed to be sold for money or preserved as emergency rations.

“I would like to have about 200 workers.”

After saying this, Shizuko lowered her head.

She worried that this request might be too greedy, but she judged that it was more effective to borrow a large amount of people once rather than asking for more helpers one after the other.

The fields they were going to create this time would be the new standard size for growing crops in the future, so they couldn’t cut corners here.

Plus, she thought that opportunities where Nobunaga was in a mood as good as now and was willing to hand out a generous reward to her would be rather scarce.

“You want such a large amount of people.
There has to be some reason for it, right?”

“Yes.
This and last year, my village has been blessed with a plentiful harvest.
But that will not be the case forever.
There will probably come a time when the harvest will turn out to be lacking.
So that we don’t have to panic then, I want to amass a stock of emergency rations.
But, with the current yield, we can not even stockpile the absolutely necessary minimum.”

“……”

“It will only benefit the village, but please forgive me for this.”

“Kukuku, you really are a greedless girl.”

Neither land nor riches, but what she wants are workers to expand the farmland.

Nobunaga couldn’t bring himself to think of this as a reward at all, but as she herself had wished for it as a reward, he wouldn’t speak out against it.

“Fine, I will give you the authority to command 200 workers as you see fit.”

He said to Shizuko, smiling slightly.

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After talking with Nobunaga for a little longer, Shizuko’s audience with him ended.

About to return home from the castle, Shizuko was stopped by Mori Yoshinari.

It seemed he had business with Aya and, after telling Shizuko as much, took Aya with him.

Since wasn’t busy and had no need to hurry home, Shizuko decided to wait for Aya.

Sitting down at a place where she wouldn’t disturb anyone, Shizuko summarized everything so far by writing it in the dirt.

She had magnificently managed to acquire 200 workers, but not everything would go smoothly with just that.

They wouldn’t be modifying the existing fields, but rather making new ones from scratch.

Therefore she had to make a proper plan.
Otherwise she might end up having the 200 workers just twiddle their thumbs during the one month period.

(… let’s assign 3 ha of land to each farmer.
Right now I have about 80 farmers… but I will probably get more in the future.)

There was an additional reason for expanding the farmland besides creating a stock of preserved food.

The original villagers had been living under the guidance for two years now, while the farmers that were added this year had done so for close to one year.

And while there might have been problems left and right, the village had grown in these past two years like no other.

With their basic needs fulfilled, the villagers had lately come to consult her about something.

About whether they could call their scattered family members to join Shizuko’s village.

Most of them had sent their children away to work, basically selling them off.
But by selling this year’s harvest, they would make enough money to be able to call them back.

However, as they couldn’t just do as they pleased, they had consulted Shizuko about it.

To Shizuko, it would be great if the children, who will be the next generation, would return.

Yet there were downsides to this proposal too.

At the moment, feeding the villagers with the current manpower was no problem, but that didn’t mean they had plenty of surplus.

Being harsh, the question was whether they had enough food to feed children who only consumed without contributing to the labor force.

(Well, suddenly taking them would be difficult.
There’s also the children’s situation to consider… so let’s just take in 10 as a start.
Let’s make it 6 girls and 4 boys.
If that works out fine, we’ll start calling them here little by little.)

Shizuko decided against taking in all the children at once, opting to call them back in small batches.

If something goes wrong with the first few children, having called back more of them would mean a larger amount of damage.

In the worst case, the village itself might collapse from this.

“Taking this into account… with 3 ha per person, we will need 300 ha.
But just rice won’t be enough, so the actual fields will need to be even larger….
Ahh, we should start crossbreeding rice plants too.
But that takes at least 10 years… Okay…”

“What are you mumbling about?”

As she was repeatedly writing and erasing letters in the dirt, suddenly a boy’s voice addressed her from behind.

 

Manshiro: This was used in Japan before other sources of sugar became available.
It is a syrup made by boiling down the sap of vine plants. Manshiro: A clear and sweet syrup made from starch, similar to corn sirup https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mizuame Manshiro:Shisou refers to a white powder, containing fructose and glucose, that forms on persimmons during the drying process. Manshiro: According to the manga this would be around 30,000 yen.

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