Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History

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Date: Oct. 2005
From: Philosophy East and West(Vol. 55, Issue 4)
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,411 words

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Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History. By Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Pp. xvii + 411.

In the 2004 American presidential campaign, a film clip of a young John Kerry testifying against the Vietnam War before a congressional committee hearing received significant television air time. In the clip, Kerry poignantly asks: "How do you ask a young man in his twenties to be the last to die in the Vietnam War?" In Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History, anthropologist Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney attempts to answer a similar set of questions regarding the best and the brightest young Japanese men sent to their deaths as kamikaze pilots in the closing days of the Pacific War. "How and why," she asks, "do individuals sacrifice themselves for the[ir] country?" "When a soldier 'volunteers' to die for his country, does he do so both in thought and in action? Or does he sacrifice himself only in action without espousing the ideology of state nationalism in toto?" (p. 1).

Ohnuki-Tierney suggests that in recent years, as a reaction against structuralism, many anthropologists have shifted their attention to issues of praxis (what social actors and agents do). This shift is certainly evident, but I wonder if her next characterization is accurate: "Thus we now seldom differentiate between reproduction of behavior and that of an ideology or thought structure" (p. 186). She is certainly correct to answer two of her own additional questions in the negative: "Is identifying reproduction in behavior enough for us to understand historical continuity and discontinuity? Is our quest satisfied if we find that a perfect reproduction takes place in action, even in the absence of reproduction in the thoughts and feelings of social agents?" (ibid.). She is wrong, though, to suggest that few other scholars have recognized and addressed this issue. If anything, the issues surrounding structure and change or cultural reproduction and change have been at the center of the work of Marshall Sahlins, James Fernandez, and Talal Asad, to name only three such scholars of note in anthropology....

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A137969253