A Thousand Leagues of Wind

Chapter 25

6-2 Youko didn’t have a good idea of who Enho was. Keiki arranged for her to come to the orphanage and asked him to be her teacher. According to Keiki, Enho was a distinguished scholar. She hadn’t been able to get anything more out of Enho either, other than that he was also the superintendent of Kokei.

The day after she arrived, Enho had Youko come to his study in the afternoon and then after supper so that they could get acquainted. At first, they chatted about nothing important. After that, he spent several days inquiring into her personal history. Then he asked about Yamato. What kind of country it was, the nature of the geography, what kind of business and industry it had, how it was governed. What people thought and dreamed about.

As Youko conversed with Enho, many things surprised her. She was mortified at how little she knew about her native land.

After straightening up the kitchen after lunch, Youko slipped down the portico to the study. Along the way, she allowed herself a sigh. Another day answering questions. Day after day, the breadth and depth of her ignorance grew and grew.

When she got to the study, Enho wasn’t there. She looked out at the garden and saw him sitting in the gazebo-like tea room, bathed in sunlight.

“Oh, there you are.”

When she walked out onto the veranda facing the tea room, he smiled. “The weather’s turned out so nice today. Youko, come and have a seat.”

She obediently sat down on the bench in the tea house.

“This must be your first winter here. How are things going?”

“It doesn’t feel so different from Japan.”

“Oh?” said Enho. He nodded. “Kei is fortunate compared with the kingdoms to the north. Still, in the northern part of the kingdom, you can freeze to death living outdoors. Game is scarce in the fields. It’s not the same as the warmer kingdoms. There, even if the yield is poor, you can plant during the winter and gather a harvest. So, during the winter, what do you think the most important thing is to people?”

“Um, a warm house?”

Enho stroked his beard. “I can see how that would be true in Yamato. But, no, not a house but food. Yours is the opinion of someone from a country whose people do not suffer from starvation.”

Youko bowed her head in chagrin.

“It is a particularly grave concern in the kingdoms to the north. A spate of bad weather during the summer will show up in the fall’s harvest. A poor harvest is taxed no less than a bountiful one, and a proportion must be set aside for next year’s planting from what remains. Eat your seed corn and next year you will starve for sure. Even when the storehouses are full, in some kingdoms, goods cannot be easily transported during the winter. In some kingdoms, even if you are starving, the ground will be frozen too hard to dig for roots.”

“I get that.”

“Talk it through and you’ll figure it out. You only have to work at it.”

Youko glanced at Enho’s profile. “Were you perhaps testing me?”

“No. I don’t set out to test people. I just try to determine where the problems are. You’re a stranger in a strange land. The gulf between here and there is vast. There’s no way that I’m going to be able to comprehend where you’ve come from.”

Right, Youko said with a nod.

Enho gazed at the garden for several minutes. Then he said, “It is a universal truth that the foundations of the kingdom are in the land.”

Caught a bit off guard, Youko came to attention.

“All citizens receive a plot of land when they reach their majority. A single allotment is equal to one hundred are, or one hundred paces squared [one hectare]. Nine allotments form a well brigade. A well brigade, or one square ri (900 are or nine hectares), is owned by eight families.”

“Wait a minute. The units of measurement . . . ”

Rokuta, the kirin of En, often crossed the Kyokai to Yamato and was well-versed in things Japanese. He managed to bring back with him some books and a few tools. According to what he’d taught her, one pace was equal to 135 centimeters.

“If one pace is 135 centimeters, and one ri is 300 paces, then . . . ”

Watching her run through the calculations, Enho laughed. “You’re thinking about it too hard. One pace is equal to two strides. This is a stride.” Enho took a single step forward. “The width of a step is one stride. Two strides, left, right, is equal to one pace.”

“Oh. That makes sense.”

“So two steps, or strides, makes one pace. When referring to area, one pace squared is also called a pace. And a shaku is as follows.”

Enho put his hands together as if praying, and then opened his hands, spreading out the palms. “The width of my hands is one shaku. One shaku is ten sun, so each sun is approximately the width of a finger.”

“Got it.”

“One jou is harder to describe but it is generally the height of a man. One shou can be thought of as the amount of liquid scooped up with two hands.” He added with a smile, “Because a large man has a longer stride, his ri will be bigger than an actual ri. Similarly, a small man’s shou isn’t going to add up to an actual shou. Keep this in mind and things should average out right.”

“I see,” Youko said with a small laugh.

“To sum up, one allotment is equal to one hundred paces squared, a plot of land four hundred paces in circumference. As farmland, it’s quite spacious. Nine allotments make up a well brigade. This land is divided up amongst eight families. The well brigade is the smallest division of jurisdictional discipline that the kingdom exerts over the citizenry itself.”

“Eight families on nine allotments?”

Enho gave her an approving smile. “One allotment serves as the commons. Eight families farm the eight allotments, and the ninth is held in trust by the kingdom. Eighty percent of the commons, called the kouden, is yielded to the government as tax. The remaining twenty percent, called the roke, is reserved for houses and gardens.”

Ah, that’s how it works, Youko thought, recalling the scenes of hamlets dotting the countryside. The hamlets consisted of the same general number of buildings. Not enough buildings to be called a village, but assembled together in a kind of proto-village.

“The kouden is eighty are and the roke is twenty are. And twenty are is?”

“Um . . . two thousand square paces.”

“That’s right. A single family’s share is two hundred square paces for the garden, fifty square paces for the house. Do you know how big a garden of two hundred square paces is?”

“Um, no.”

“Fruits trees and mulberry bushes are planted around the periphery. The land left over is devoted to the garden. The garden should be sufficient to provide for one house and two people. A house of fifty paces is small. Two rooms, living room and kitchen. I believe in Japan it is called a two eru-dee-kee.

Youko grinned. “A 2LDK.”

Enho smiled as well. “A house is generally counted as two people. There is enough land to supply the food and a house big enough for two. Eight such families constitute a hamlet. Three hamlets make a village. The village is smallest division of municipal incorporation. Three hamlets of eight families come to twenty-four families, plus the rike equals twenty-five.”

“And you can get a house in the village as well?”

“Yes. The hamlets are in the countryside, so when the land lies fallow, there’s not much for them to do there. During the winter, the twenty-four families return to the village.”

Youko smiled. If she listened carefully, right now she could hear the lively voices from around the rike. The women had gathered to spin and work the looms. The men had gathered to weave mats and baskets. They would be talking about the goings-on in their hamlets.

“In any case, the basis of everything is the one square ri that constitutes a well brigade. It is governed according to the seidenhou, the law of well and paddy.”

Youko took a breath. “Yes. It’s written in the Divine Decrees, on the scrolls of the Law of the Land.”

Oh? said Enho, hiking up his white eyebrows.

“But I could hardly read any of it.”

Not only was it written in medieval Chinese characters but in hakubun, a particularly dense kind of unpunctuated Chinese text. She found it mostly incomprehensible and she didn’t have access to a Chinese-Japanese dictionary. It was way over her head. Even having Keiki read it for her and following along in the text, she didn’t have a clue.

“It would be preferable if somehow you could learn to read Chinese.”

When Youko sighed, Enho laughed. “That’s okay. You’ve got a good memory. If you work hard and take things seriously, you have what it takes to get by okay.”

Unconsciously she straightened her posture.

“The smallest possible house on the smallest possible plot of land. Work hard, and if there are no natural disasters or unexpected phenomenon, you’ll never be left to starve. All citizens of the kingdom get this minimum allotment. Whether or not they can live comfortably depends in the end on their own resourcefulness.”

“And when there are natural disasters?”

“What you must keep in mind is the former, not the latter. Don’t try to shoulder the burdens of the entire population. You must concern yourself with water and land management and your own self-discipline, and by doing so extending your life if even just a little.”

“I know that, but . . . ”

“As for the things that you ought to do, they are quite limited. To prepare for droughts, create reservoirs and dig canals. To prepare for floods, build dikes and levees and improve the watersheds. To prepare for famine, stockpile grain. To guard against youma, train the military. Then there’s the untangling of the red tape that is the law. But that’s about it. And these are mostly the responsibilities of the ministers, not something you should be doing yourself. All right? Was there anything else troubling your mind?”

Youko laughed. “I guess you’re right.”

“Save superfluous thoughts like making the kingdom rich and prosperous for later. First, concentrate on quelling the turmoil and unrest, on making sure things are not getting any worse.”

Youko took a deep breath. She felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “Thank you,” she said.

Copyright Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved.