I Finally Figured Out the ‘Shōgun’ Pheasant Fiasco

I Finally Figured Out the ‘Shōgun’ Pheasant FiascoFX

There’s an inexplicable moment in the latest episode of Shōgun that I simply can’t shake. It’s not one of the many historical or political plots—and this scene has nothing to do with some aspect of seventeenth-century Japanese culture that my TikTok-warped brain simply cannot comprehend. At this point, I’m well-versed in the Tokugawa shogunate, from its real-life history down to the Game of Thronesesque power struggles on the new FX drama.

But there’s one thing that makes absolutely no sense: Why did a man die for touching a rotting pheasant?

In episode 5, Lord Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) gifts John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) a game bird. Wanting to age the pheasant, Johnny B. hangs it in front of his house. He tells everyone that whoever touches it will die...not knowing how literally his house will take those orders. When the pheasant begins to stink, there’s a house meeting to figure out who removed it—which leads to the death of Uejiro, the gardener?!? Blackthorne is pissed when he hears about it. “You put that old man to death?” he yells. “What the hell is wrong with you?” He complains to Toranaga that his culture is too unforgiving, but we can’t let Blackthorne off the hook for making his house smell rancid. Who is to blame here? Someone in this room has to be the crazy one. Is it Uejiro? Is it Blackthorne? Is it me? Well, I had to get to the bottom of this mess.

Okay, so let’s improve my nonexistent knowledge about how to age wild birds. According to Field & Stream, it’s normal to let pheasants mature, untouched, for a couple days in conditions of 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The decaying process not only makes it easier to skin and feather the bird, but it also tenderizes the meat. Animals experience rigor mortis in the twenty-four hours after they die, which causes a tightening of the muscles that can lead to tougher meat. That’s no bueno. Since it’s winter on Shōgun and the bird was hanging for only two or three days at most before it was removed, I’d say that Blackthorne knew what he was doing. (Yes, these are all sentences that I didn’t think I’d write when I stepped into the office today.)

There’s just one problem: The bird stinks! It smells so damn bad that Buntaro (Shinnosuke Abe) asks if someone died in the house. Flies join the party, and the town is forced to hold a meeting just to decide how to properly dispose of the thing. This can’t be good for the poor bird. Naturally, wildlife experts agree. When you’re dealing with a decaying animal, the feathers should act as a natural shield to protect and insulate the skin. If the bird is kept in the right environment—such as a fridge, a cold basement, or a shed—dangerous bacteria won’t spoil the meat. Somehow, Blackthorne’s bird still reeks. Field & Stream explains: “[If there is] the strong smell of guts coming from it, I get those birds cleaned and rinsed quickly. Otherwise, my birds get hung in the garage for anywhere from three to seven days, depending on the temperature outside.”

Maybe Toranaga’s falcon is to blame for killing the pheasant in the first place.FX

So maybe Blackthorne didn’t entirely know what he was doing after all? I’d usually give him the it’s the year 1600! pass, but I can’t imagine that many people would’ve survived E. coli back then. Later in the episode, Mariko (Anna Sawai) tells him that head villager Muraji (Yasunari Takeshima) held a meeting to decide what to do with the pheasant since it was causing such an olfactory disturbance. Muraji, if you recall, is the town’s lead fisherman and the carrier-pigeon handler. If you’re telling me that the guy who deals with fish and pigeons all day has a problem with the smell, then we really have a problem on our hands.

Still, it’s interesting that the town acts without Blackthorne’s permission. No one moves a finger in this series without an order from Toranaga—and yet they kill a guy because some Englishman who barely knows Japanese told them to? “Why in Christ’s name didn’t you ask me?” Blackthorne exclaims after he finds out that Uejiro was killed. Maybe he would’ve changed his mind! Blackthorne clearly didn’t know exactly what he said. The man barely knows not to eat something that stinks!

I’m not sure if this story clears up the pheasant fiasco for anyone. It seems, in fact, that everyone involved is indeed insane. Now at least I know it wasn’t me.

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