"We don’t simply believe or do not believe.
I know very well it’s a fake but, nonetheless, I let myself be … affected. Illusion persists.
Something…in the illusion [is] more real than in the reality behind it."
Anonymous whispered : I feel like it was a while back when you talked about having some book and if anyone wanted to know the history of the tree or legend or something that we should ask? im late and idk if this is meta but. now i am asking haha.
Ah yeah! That’d be “Kamikaze, cherry blossoms, and nationalisms: the militarization of aesthetics in Japanese history” by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney. I don’t currently own this book - I’d checked it out from my uni library last summer - but I highly recommend. It’s a really readable look at the mythology/iconology/symbolic history of cherry blossoms in Japanese culture in the first section and an analysis of tokkotai pilots’ motivations in volunteering in the latter. I recommend it, though please note I am not anywhere close to an expert on Japanese culture or history and so can only judge it so well.
Essentially what Ohnuki-Tierney is arguing is that during WWII the government of Japan manipulated cherry blossom imagery in order to fuel nationalism in its war-time population, particularly soldiers and volunteers. Although she’s received various criticism for some vagueness in defining how this was done, and some lack of addressing others’ works in sociopolitical constructions of symbols (though this may be with a eurocentric slant, so grain of salt there), what really hooked me was the way I saw this change as laid out in her book reflected in the Tokyo Babylon mythos of Sakurazukamori.
Sakurazukamori and their sakura tree as it appears in TB isn’t entirely novel, because for it to be all new would negate its purpose as cultural symbol, and it doesn’t necessarily contradict pre-Meiji sakura symbolism. However, it’s a uniquely 20th century conception of what precisely the relationship between sakura, life, and death is. In her assessment of pre-Meiji symbolism, Ohnuki-Tierney details how “[i]n premodern poetry and literature, the cherry blossom in full bloom is associated with evanescence (youth, women, courtship) and the falling cherry blossom with pathos (impermanence, decline, sometimes death) [..and] the depiction of identity: non-normative identity ([madness, homosexuality]) and collective identity ([…] the imperial court, “Japaneseness”). (Quote from Vanessa B. Ward’s review of the book, published in Anthropological Quarterly v.76 no.2 in Spring 2003.) That’s a broad overview of symbolic meanings, notably without their major contexts, but nevertheless one can see what some of TB’s Sakurazukamori symbolism is drawing on but also that there’s an explicit connection to both death and the government that is absent in earlier interpretations.