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

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Early January, 1567

The proverb “The whole year’s plans should be made on New Year’s Day​” showed just how important the New Year’s Day was to the people of the Sengoku era. And the mochi as offerings were inseparable from this day.

Originally, mochi was a sacred food to be offered to the gods, and an essential part of celebrations and festivals. It was common sense that even the poorest peasant would prepare mochi for New Year’s Day without fail. Of course, Shizuko too had started to prepare for New Year’s Day, and had been gathering a variety of things towards the end of the year.

When preparing for the New Year’s Day, the most important items were “Kadomatsu”1, “Shimekazari”2, and “Kagami Mochi”3.

In the first place, New Year’s Day was the day where everyone welcomed the Year God coming from the high mountains, who was said to bring happiness for the upcoming year to the houses. As such, the Kadomatsu was a landmark for the descending Year God and served as a vessel to receive him. The Shimekazari symbolized that the place had been purified and was suitably clean and sacred to receive the Year God. The Kagamimochi served as an offering to the visiting Year God and also held the meaning of being a vessel for the god.

It was generally considered good to prepare these up to the 28th of December, but should be avoided beyond that. Shizuko had also had other things to do besides this.
She had to prepare the New Year’s banquet. In contrast to last year, this time there were the additions of Nisaku’s village and the new villagers, turning it into a quite big banquet. With all these preparations to do, Shizuko busily greeted the new year.

 

New Year’s Day.

This day was an exception, as the villagers, who usually holed up because of the cold, were up and about before sunrise. They assembled in the village square and started a bonfire while waiting for sunrise. Several hours later, with the first rays of the sun, all of them folded their hands and wished for good health in the coming year.

After that had finished, came the mochi making. With a prepared mortar and pestle, steamed glutinous rice would be pounded until it turned into a homogenous mass. Since there was such a large number of people, several mortars and pestles had been prepared.

A short while after the mochi making had started, the villagers from Nisaku’s village arrived. After exchanging their New Year’s greetings, they handed over a gift to Shizuko. Recounting his luck in having hunted down a large boar a few days ago, Nisaku had brought some of it with him.

Musing over how she should best cook it, Shizuko decided to make Botan-Nabe4. However, the pot had been the most basic cooking utensil since ancient times and was seen as something sacred, making the act of soiling it with one’s chopsticks unthinkable. But as the proverb “to eat out of the same pot” existed, eating while huddled around the same thing was also a way to strengthen solidarity. In the end, she had played it off by eating around the same “Irori” instead of around the “pot”.
To be on the safe side, she had also prepared cooking chopsticks.

Aside from the boar dishes, Shizuko had prepared the New Year’s Day staple of soup dishes focused around mochi, the so-called Zoni.5. The term Zoni first appeared in the “Suzuka Family Records” written in the Muromachi era. But prior to the Edo period, rice was a valuable good in which taxes were paid, so commoners would eat taro6 instead of mochi.

In samurai society, it was an auspicious food eaten at the very beginning of feasts.
It is brought out at the very beginning as if to say that a feast can’t start without it. However, in regions where crops other than rice were harvested on regular or slash-and-burn fields, people saw eating or offering mochi in the first three days of the new year as a taboo. The reason for this was, as rice was a foreign crop that could not grow on their land, it couldn’t be considered worthy as a vessel for the divine.

There was an amusing story about Zoni. Zoni originated from soup dishes served as the appetizer to high-class meals during the Muromachi era, and would contain healthy ingredients such as mochi, yam, taro, and soybeans.
There had been cases of seafood being in some regions, too. When the Edo period came around and mochi became readily available, the custom of eating Zoni on New Year’s Day spread around the entire country (excluding Hokkaido and Okinawa).

At that time, the term Zoni was interpreted as “Take a mix of many things and boil them”, and contrary to its origins, unhealthy ingredients started to be added to Zoni. One of the theories why Zoni can taste completely different depending on the region today was that it might have been caused by this mistaken interpretation.

When the mochi making was finished, everyone gathered in the village’s hall-like building.

“Ahem, Happy New Year.”

Shizuko spoke the words of blessing to welcome the Year God in the new year.

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“Happy New Year”

Following Shizuko, the villagers mimicked her words of blessing.

The meaning behind this interaction was that, by exchanging words of thanks to the god between people, they rejoiced from the depth of their hearts in having welcomed the Year God.

“Eh, I want to express my joy in being able to safely arrive in the new year.
There are a lot of things to do, but eat and drink for the next three days, and gather strength for the new year.
Now then, itadakimasu!”

“Itadakimasu!”

When the excited villagers loudly said so, the New Year’s banquet started.

If you are reading from a pirate or aggregator site, please read from the translator’s site: yado-inn (dot) com.
We have to put the link like this or else the bots will remove it, sorry.

Despite the strange combination of Zoni and boar stew, the villagers ate it with relish.

Looking at this scenery from the seat of honor, Shizuko conversed lightly with Nisaku, his family, Daiichi, and the others, when halfway through the banquet, a visitor appeared. The person in question hadn’t entered the area of the banquet as Aya had informed her of the visitor, but it seemed to have been a fast horse messenger from Nobunaga. Feeling bad for the messenger if she were to let him wait, Shizuko stood up and went to receive him.
As soon as she had stepped out into the hallway, she shivered from the cold.

“Uaa, cold….
Ah, that’s right.
The messenger will be cold too, so could you please prepare some tea for him.”

“With tea… do you refer to those dried mulberry leaves?

To make it, mulberry leaves would be washed with water and then steamed lightly.
After steaming they would be wrung out, chopped into 3 mm large pieces, and then dried out completely under the sun. Despite being this simple to make, mulberry tea was a healthy tea with many positive effects.

“Yes, that one.
Prepare a big cup made with lukewarm water and a small one made with hot water.”

“Two cups? Why…”

“It’s fine, just do it as I said for now.
I’ll explain it later.”

Despite her doubts about her instructions, as she was promised to hear an explanation later, Aya decided to follow them obediently for now.

After seeing her run off to do so, Shizuko headed towards the waiting messenger. When she went outside through the entrance, the bite of the cold felt even harsher.
Being outside for a prolonged amount of time probably was tough.

“You must be Shizuko-sama.
I bring orders for you from the lord.”

The armored warrior standing next to his horse called out to her the moment he noticed Shizuko. Probably from forcibly enduring the cold, his body was shivering slightly.

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“Tomorrow, the lord will hold a banquet to reward his followers.
And by his order, Shizuko-dono, you are to attend as well.”

“Acknowledged.”

“For this occasion, you are to bring the bow called kurosubou.”

“Eh, Ah, okay… (Hmm, did I show the crossbow to the lord?)”

Although she was wondering about this a little, Shizuko reasoned that she had shown it to him at some point and decided not to dwell on it further.

After affirming her participation to the messenger, Shizuko told him the following.

“You must be freezing in this cold weather.
I have had some hot tea prepared for you, so please enjoy it.”

“Ah, no… I’m indebted to you.”

The cold must have really sunken into his bones deeply as the messenger slightly bowed his head.

Shizuko tried to lead him towards the entrance of her house, but before they got that far, Aya had come outside with the tea. Having done as she was told, Aya carried a big bowl of tea made with lukewarm water and a small cup of steaming hot tea.

“Let us quench your thirst first.
Please start with the bigger bowl first.”

“Huh? Fine…”

Although he wasn’t completely convinced, the messenger did as he was told and drank from the big bowl. At first he only took small sips, but once he noticed that the lukewarm tea could be drunk easily, he gulped it down. It must take a lot of stamina to ride a horse, Shizuko vaguely thought.

“Now, please have some of this piping hot tea.”

“Thank you very much… hot, hot…”

This time she had handed him the tea that was hot enough to give off wafts of steam. For someone like the messenger, whose body had grown numb from the cold, this one was a nice source of heat to warm up his hands.

(Although Ishida Mitsunari’s Sankencha7 was probably a literary creation of the Edo period, it’s quite excellent as a form of hospitality)

While Shizuko had decreased the number of cups from three to two out of consideration for the hurry he must be in, the messenger was still very thankful for her consideration.

In this cold weather, even a single cup of plain hot water would be welcome. Moved by her generosity, the messenger turned towards Shizuko and bowed deeply.

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“It was delicious.
Thank you very much for your consideration, Shizuko-sama.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it.”

“I will be on my way then.”

After bowing once more, the messenger swiftly mounted his horse and rode off.

If you are reading from a pirate or aggregator site, please read from the translator’s site: yado-inn (dot) com.
We have to put the link like this or else the bots will remove it, sorry.

The New Year’s Banquet continued on enthusiastically until just before sundown.

The men from both Shizuko’s and Nisaku’s village were all completely wasted, so it had gradually turned to Nisaku’s villagers staying in Shizuko’s village. Though, as many were completely drunk on that day, regardless of their gender, most of the people just fell asleep on the spot, inside the banquet hall.

On the other hand, Shizuko had been bathing and cleansing her body since the morning, trying to make herself as beautiful as possible. Although one might think that a banquet to reward followers would have a somewhat rough and wild atmosphere, banquets in samurai society are better classified as quite stiff.

To make it short, it would be better to think of it as a high society party.
Being unable to maintain a certain degree of manners would mean smearing dirt on the host’s reputation. And this time in particular, it was impossible to attend in the clothes of a warrior family’s woman, but required a military commanders outfit, so she would have to crossdress.

(It’s cold… I want to hole up in the room with the Irori…)

Shivering all the way, Shizuko arrived without troubles at Komakiyama castle where Nobunaga was staying. As she had already come in suitable clothing, she didn’t need to change clothes inside the castle this time. But this didn’t mean that she could immediately go to the banquet.
In the strictly stratified samurai society, she would first have to deliver her New Year greetings to Nobunaga. Yet Shizuko was by no means the only one having to do so.
The warriors directly serving Nobunaga, as well as their retainers, were all scheduled to deliver their New Year’s greetings to him. As a result, a long line had formed in front of the audience chamber.

(…having a “the line ends here” sign would be quite funny.)

The scenery right before an event, Shizuko strangely thought before lining up.

The moment she had lined up, the warrior in front of her suddenly turned around and looked at her with astonishment on his face. Shizuko wondered at first what this was about, but soon understood what had surprised the man.

It was the difference in their heights.
The warrior only reached up to Shizuko’s chest, putting him somewhere in the low 150 cm range. Despite this, he was on the taller side, as, looking further up the line, there were even smaller warriors here and there.

(Well… the average height in this time period was somewhere around 140 cm.)8

Having once again realized how tall she was, the realization still didn’t make her any smaller. As a result, until she could enter the audience chamber, Shizuko was looked at by the surrounding warriors as though she was part of a freak show.

And after standing in line for a few dozen minutes, it was finally her turn. Yet she didn’t choose any fancy words and simply delivered some safe words of greeting, similar to what the person in front of her had done.

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After the greeting, she moved to the banquet hall. As though the seating order had been assigned from the beginning, a servant-looking person guided her to her seat. But a while after sitting down, Shizuko noticed that she had been the only one to have been guided to her seat.

Everyone else already seemed to have known their seats beforehand.

(Okay… This place… I have a bad feeling about this…)

Her bad premonition would be spot on.

Shizuko felt something cold coming from around her.

She regretted that she hadn’t noticed earlier that her seat was strangely close to Nobunaga’s throne9Manshiro: The podest he’s sitting on in the manga10.

Moving only her eyes around, Shizuko observed her surroundings.
Next to her was the retainer of Oda Nobunaga with most military achievements under his belt, “Sanza of the Offense”, Mori Yoshinari.

On her other side was, Takigawa Kazumasu, a man who would later become one of the Oda Four Heavenly Kings, but he had a troubled expression on his face.

A little further away was a man who was currently receiving a cold treatment, but would later become part of the Oda Four Heavenly Kings, and be known as the Oda clan’s best general, Shibata Katsuie.

And quite close to Nobunaga, (having become relatives by marriage two generations ago), one of the Oda Four Heavenly Kings, one of the Oda Five Generals, and a general on part with Shibata Katsuie, Niwa Nagahide.

The remaining member of the Oda Four Heavenly Kings, Akechi Mitsuhide, is said to have become a retainer to the Oda clan between the 11th and 12th year of the Eiroku era, so he’s not present at this point in time.

The one later known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Kinoshita Toukichirou, is, as expected, also seated quite close to Nobunaga. 

In short, Shizuko was seated between Nobunaga’s prominent retainers.

(My stomach… I want some stomach medicine…!)

The intimidating aura of the warriors around her made Shizuko think that a hole might open up in her stomach, but asking to change seats now would be impossible, so she could do nothing but silently endure.

To tell the truth, Shizuko was not very good with situations like this, and when she attended, she would usually just inconspicuously pass the time in the corner. Furthermore, it was her disposition to stay holed up and not go out on cold days like these.

(Urgh… can’t today end already–)

In contrast to her wish, even after several tens of minutes, the banquet hadn’t even started yet.

 

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