6-5 Youko said, “This is one happening town.”
The crowds of people bustling back and forth and proprietors shouting out their wares from the storefronts only added to the lively atmosphere.
“I’d heard that En was a wealthy kingdom, but when I saw Ugou for the first time, even I was taken aback.”
Youko nodded. The streets were wide in the same way that the dimensions of the whole city were big. The castle walls that surrounded the city had to be a good ten meters thick. On the city-side of the walls, shop stalls had been hollowed-out of the stone and businesses were thriving there as well. They very much resembled under-girder kiosks in Japan.
The buildings were made of wood and reached three stories. The ceilings were high and every window was glazed with glass. Here and there was a huge building made of brick and stone. A “Chinatown-like atmosphere” by itself was not enough to describe the strange and curious ambience the place created. The streets were paved with stone, with drainage ditches running down both sides. There was a park and public square. None of this had she ever seen in Kou.
Youko said, looking at her surroundings, “I feel like a country bumpkin.”
Rakushun laughed. “I thought the same. And I am a country bumpkin.”
“Just how many layers of fortifications are there?”
Youko pointed out to Rakushun where the high walls could be seen here and there rising above the surrounding houses and stores.
“Well, technically, a city’s outer walls are called the ramparts, and the inner wall protecting the keep is called the bailey. In Kou, cities with baileys are rare. Those are probably the remnants of an old rampart left over from when the city grew bigger and expanded beyond it.”
Refugees from Kei were camped out at the foot of the ramparts and in the plaza, in neat and tidy rows of similar-looking tents that gave no indication of disorder. According to Rakushun, the tents were also provisioned by the local government.
“So, is this a provincial capital?”
“No, a prefectural seat.”
“The prefecture is one step below a province?”
“Two steps below. Starting with hamlets of twenty-five households, it goes, from smallest to largest: hamlet, town, township, county, prefecture, district, province. A district consists of fifty-thousand households.”
“How many districts are in a province?”
“It depends on the location.”
“If this is a prefectural seat, then district and provincial capitals must be huge.”
According to official designations, a district capital was a city that was home to a district administration, also called a district seat. For administrative purposes, districts were designated as having populations of fifty thousand households, though that didn’t necessarily mean that fifty thousand people lived in a single district. Generally speaking, in terms of urbanization, a town was bigger than a hamlet, a district capital bigger than a county seat, the capital of a province bigger than a district capital.
“How is it that En and Kou can be this different?”
Rakushun answered with a thin smile. “The difference is in the characters of the rulers.”
“The difference in their characters?”
Rakushun glanced back at her and nodded. “The Imperial En is an unusually enlightened monarch. He’s said to have reigned for five hundred years. The Imperial Kou has been around for at most fifty years. He’s hardly in the same league.”
Youko blinked. “Five hundred years?”
“Exceeded only by the Imperial Sou of the Kingdom of Sou. It’s said that the longer an emperor rules, the more enlightened his governance becomes. Sou is also a wealthy country.”
“A single emperor reigns for five hundred years?”
“Of course. Emperors are gods, not ordinary human beings. The degree to which Heaven allows an emperor to govern is commensurate with the caliber of the ruler. So, the better an emperor rules, the longer he will reign.”
“A kingdom undergoing a change of regimes always falls into chaos. A kingdom with a wise ruler prospers. In particular, the Imperial En has proved to be a shrewd reformer. And speaking of enlightened monarchs, the Imperial Sou is said to be one too. He’s made the Kingdom of Sou a place of peace and tranquility. En, on the other hand, is, as you say, a happening place.”
“It is, indeed.”
“No doubt about it. Oh, here’s the prefecture building.”
Rakushun pointed to a large brick building. The walls and eaves were decorated after a Chinese fashion, and though the architecture was in the “western” style, the combination did not clash. The interior decor was similarly a potpourri of Occidental and Oriental tastes.
The first thing Youko said after they left was, “This place is incredible.”
Rakushun nodded. “I always knew that Kou was hard on kaikyaku, but I wouldn’t have believed that En was this different.”
Youko agreed. She examined the wooden card she’d been given by the administrator. On the front was a red seal and beneath it in black ink, “Conferred in Ugou, Tei Province, Haku District, Shuuyou Prefecture.” On the back was her name. Her identification card.
The clerk had asked Youko for her name, her address in Japan, her occupation and other details, including, most surprisingly, her postal code and area code, before handing over the identification card.
“By the way, Youko, um, what are postal codes and area codes?”
The official had asked the same question as Rakushun. Apparently he didn’t know either. “Just following regulations,” he said, opening a volume in a set of books. Sneaking a peek at the Japanese-style bound volume, Youko saw that it contained rows of numbers printed with woodblock characters. Only after referencing one of the volumes did he hand over the card.
“A postal code, or zip code, is a number you put at the end of an address when you mail a letter. An area code is the number your dial when you call somebody on the telephone outside your local calling area.”
“Um, it’s a gizmo that transmits your voice a long distance so you can talk to people.”
“To think they have such things in Japan. But why would he ask about it?” Rakushun quivered his whiskers.
“Probably because someone who wasn’t Japanese wouldn’t know such a thing. Makes it easy to tell who is a kaikyaku and who’s not. Otherwise, you’d have people pretending to be kaikyaku all over the place.” Youko grinned and showed him her card.
“Yeah, that must be it.”
This card was proof of her bona fides, but it was good for only three years. In three years it was expected that she would find a livelihood, at which time she would settle on a permanent place of residency and be officially recorded on the census. In exchange, during her three years as a ward of the state, she would have free access to the local community colleges and hospitals. Not only that, if she took her identification card to a kind of bank called a trade credit union, she could collect a stipend to cover your living expenses.
“What a country!”
Kou was so much poorer, En so much richer. If nothing else, that’s what the card taught them.
The Imperial En should by no means be an unapproachable individual. Rakushun said she should ask him for help. She still had her doubts about the likelihood of that ever happening. She had her doubts about a lot of things, but felt more confident that she wouldn’t be rejected out of hand or summarily punished for making the attempt.