marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms

Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms:  The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History by Emiko Ohnuk-Tierney

An in-depth look at the meanings the cherry blossoms has held in Japanese history, the efforts to unify the country with a modern ideology, the selective use of cherry blossoms in World War II.

I personally found the first part, discussing the comparison of rice and cherry blossoms, and how cherry blossoms were mostly talked of in full bloom rather than falling, as symbols of life, spring, and fertility.  Poems invoked them as symbols of women and love.  Court might favor the plum blossom following Chinese practice, but even they gave way in due course.  Cherry trees were planted on riverbanks not only for their beauty and to help shore up the banks, but to purify, because the petals and leaves were thought to have antitoxic powers.  Still, even the earliest references sometimes brushed on its ephemeral nature.

The Restoration brought out a burning desire to emulate the West and strengthen the country.  Some modernizers attacked cherry trees as a symbol of the feudal past -- even chopping them down for it.  But it came to represent the spirit they wanted, with much emphasis on the falling petals.  Like the Forty-Seven Ronin, that ever popular play, that was also pressed into duty for the supreme duty of loyalty.  The saying the death is as light as a feather, but duty as heavy as a mountain.

More on the specifically kamikaze usage, and an analysis of some pilots -- the most liberal and educated of them, deeply Westernized in many respect, but nevertheless willing to climb into that plane and die.  The subsequent practices.  The Yasukuni shrine was first erected to appease the spirits of the dead from the Restoration, and the cherry trees were there to be beautiful as part of the appeasement.  Its purpose of channeling devotion to the dead enshired there slowly accumulated -- with the cherry trees becoming symbols of them.  The pilots would tell each other they would meet at the shrine.

I think the last part is the weakest, pressing this into duty as an example of manifold meaning being simplified and used, but the first portions are quite interesting.
Tags: history reviews: far east, loyalty

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