The focus of the lecture is the symbolism of cherry blossoms which the Japanese military state used as the master trope for soldiers’ sacrifice for the emperor – thou shall fall like beautiful cherry petals. The lecture starts with illustrating, with a number of slides, a rich array of meaning assigned to cherry blossoms in Japanese culture. It will then move to the militarization of the flower with the central question: did the tokkōtai (kamikaze) pilots reproduce the authoritarian ideology in action as well as in thought? Contrary to the prevalent image outside of Japan, many of the pilots were graduates of top universities who were intellectual créme de la créme, steeped in cosmopolitan education. Lengthy diaries left by the pilots will be introduced to examine their complex thought processes. The Japanese historical experience will be placed in broader comparative perspectives on the role of symbolism and aesthetic in authoritarian/totalitarian regimes.
Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, native of Japan, is William F. Vilas Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her last two books are on the militarization of Japan that culminated in the tokkōtai operation.