Thursday 10th May: Mrs M Builds A Mighty Fortress!

On Wednesday I lengthened out Doctor M’s “History in English” class so that we could finish the book we have been reading over much of the past year, “A Mighty Fortress” by Steven Ozment. It has been an interesting read, although the style leaves much to be desired. Ozment’s conclusions are bold and optimistic, and he rightly gives Guenter Grass and the Green Party “Fundis” some stick for having wanted to perpetuate Germany’s division after 1989, arguing, I think correctly, that it is better for Germany, Europe and ultimately the whole world if Germany pursue “normal nation status”.

The title of the book is of course taken from Luther’s great hymn, the battle cry of the Reformation,

Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,
Ein’ gute Wehr und Waffen;
Er hilft uns frei aus aller Not,
Die uns jetzt hat betroffen.
Der alt’ böse Feind,
Mit Ernst er’s jetzt meint,
Groß’ Macht und viel List
Sein’ grausam’ Rüstung ist,
Auf Erd’ ist nicht seins Gleichen.

Translations vary, but I guess Ozment was thinking of Hedge’s classic:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid
the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to
work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

We know much about the threat of German power, but Germany has also had much need of mighty fortresses in her time, having been trampled upon severally by Romans, heathen tribes from the East, by the French, the Swedes and I wot not who else.

Modern Germany is constituted of five layers, writes Ozment, from the most local level of identity, the town or village, the state, the nation, participation in Europe, and ultimately the cosmopolitan arena or the world stage.

That latter identification of the German with the worldwide “everyman” is not so new either. A 19th century German ethnologist saw the German as possessing characteristics of the various races of the world, including, incidentally, a large proportion of “Jewish” traits. Going out into the world to discover a local German identity was not an uncommon activity for German intellectuals. At a time when Germany was divided into hundreds of petty principalities the Grimm brothers sought to strengthen the Germans’ sense of their higher unity through the medium of language. However, the fairy stories they published had been culled from various European traditions both within and outside Germany (although the Grimm brothers were somewhat economical with the truth about that).

[The German Invention of Race]

Next week we’ll study A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and then next month we begin reading the first volume of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which, unlike A Mighty Fortress, is beautifully written, and has much relevance to the modern world.

The following day I was strolling up to the doctor’s for our monthly session of mahjong when I heard somebody call out “Herro!” behind me. It is not an unusual experience in Japan to have some fellow call out “Herro!” behind your back and since the crier never calls out of a genuine desire for communication it is best ignored. So I ignored it and kept on walking at a slightly brisker pace, only to hear the cry repeated and see the younger Doc M come running and puffing up.

“Oh, sorry Doc,” I said, “I thought you were just some madman crying after me in the street. There are a lot of madmen in Japan you know. Best avoided, what?”

When we arrived at the senior doc’s residence, the junior doc’s face fell perche c’era la bicicletta del suo zio nella entrata.

“Oddio!” disse.
“Suo amico e’ venuto a giocare?”, chiesi.
“No. Mio zio. E’ sempre collerico,” rispose.

We went in and I could hear la voce dello zio booming out as I headed discreetly upstairs. Lo zio parti and the family joined me in the upper room. Dr M. senior showed me a recent acquisition, an antique edition of Turner’s “Rivers of France” complete with copperplate prints, (first published 1837).

We settled down around the table and played out the East round with only one moderately sized hand, won off Mrs M by Dr M jr for 12,000 points. Every other hand was for piddling amounts until Mrs M’s took over as (last) Oya and began to rack up the tenbo. In one game, she opened her hand to claim the White and Green Dragons, then a few tiles later she threw the Red Dragon, and Dr M jr promptly did likewise. We were laughing about that when I threw the seven of Characters, which Dr M sr had thrown safely the previous turn, only to hear Mrs M cry out “Ron!” I only suspected anything was amiss as my fingers relinquished their hold on the tile, but it was a stupid oversite really, and quite costly too and marked the beginning of my downward slide (not that I had won anything earlier, just that nobody had won anything much off me).

Mrs M finished top and continued to do well in the second game. In two hands in a row South was Dora in the South round of play, and on both occasions I had either three or four of the little buggers, but both times Mrs M started chuckling to herself and then went out on relatively small hands! It was at this stage when it seemed to me that I was taking the lead with the risky tiles while the doctors were able to safely follow that I repeated to Dr M jr a phrase from the last chapter of Ozment’s A Mighty Fortress about being “a canary in a mine”.

Four Wind tiles were shuffled to reallocate seats after the second game and I shifted to where Dr M jr had been sitting and Mrs M moved to my seat. I told her not to worry, for I feared that the bad luck was moving with me. And so it proved, just as it was with Job so it was with me:

For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.

Up the slippery pole to Tenpai, and then back down again as somebody else declared Riichi or went straight out. Then Mrs M began to chuckle again and advanced her time as Oya through five or six wins, emptying out my tray. Having two periods of Ryanshi in one session at the doctor’s had never happened before.

Another event that I have not often experienced occurred at my expense when I was making a charge for Chinitsu with the Coins. I opened my hand for the 8-Coins Pon, and then upgraded it to a Kan, but my “kong” was well and truly robbed when Dr M sr went out on my 8-Coins on an Iipeiko, Tanyao hand.

I requested a sixth beer observing to Dr M jr, nomu shika wa nai – there ain’t nothin’ else to do but drink.

I did finally complete a hand – my only one of the evening!! (Boy am I glad there’s no Yakitori penalty – the XXXX Batsu are bad enough.) It was a nice one, however, being Riichi, Tsumo, Honitsu, North (Player’s Wind), and the West Wind as Head and also counting as two Dora.

Still, it had been an highly entertaining evening and after my indulgence on the beer and pies front it was only right that I should give something back to the market!

The game had extended perilously close to the witching hour. The last tram had gone and so a lanky and thoroughly unfit English chap could be seen legging it for the station, which he hopes will put him in good stead for the start of the DEH football season, soon to be upon us…

David Hurley