Othering the National Self: 'Japan the Beautiful' as Lethal Aesthetic

Tim Cross, Fukuoka University

Abstract: During the eighties the impenetrable cultural distinctiveness of Japan was employed as a strategic response to American demands to open Japanese markets. Disputes about the parameters of Japanese identity are a continuing feature of Japanese public life, and recently have tended to focus on issues of historical interpretation. The aesthetic sphere deserves closer attention because of the way these texts seductively naturalise what are seen to be politically problematic issues. Notions like the four seasons and the transience of human life have been important elements in aestheticising Japanese identity for domestic and international consumption from the modern period onwards. An aestheticised cult of death was a significant presence in the Showa formation of 'the authentic' Japan. Cherry blossoms were employed by political elites to advocate a death in the name of the Japanese nation. The ideological application of literary and visual texts also implicates cultural practices like tea in the creation of patriotic fervour. Rikyû'sseppuku, and his existence as a historical man of tea, a legendary embodiment of tea values, and a set of aesthetic preferences present in the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of theKitano Ochanoyu (1936) and Rikyû's death (1940) all locate tea in the blurring of the distinction between cultural and state nationalism. This distinction collapses in the use of sacramental tea as a prayer for military victory in the practices of Fukuoka's Hakozaki Hachimangu: sen shô kio gan kencha.

Keywords: communication practices, sakura [cherry blossoms], seppuku [ritual suicide]

... begin by posing the problem of national identity itself, to ask how it might be analyzed and what importance communication practices might have in its constitution.

(Schlesinger 1987, p.234)


Critical Communication Studies: Nature as National Culture

Nation Building: Politicised Culture Othering the Self

           Lethal Transience in Meiji Literature: Beauty and Death as Citizenship

           Early Showa Painting: The Textual Drift of Self and Other

           Meji Tea: The Aesthetic Seduction of an Ideological Tool of State

           Showa Tea for War, Showa Tea for Peace

Towards A Critical and Effective History: Sakura Now

Retreat to Utopian Coda (for Yogi Cross Yasutake)



Critical Communication Studies: Nature as National Culture

In the field of communication studies, collapsing the contradictory complexity of Japanese identities and cultures into a neater but false unity appears to be an inevitable analytical evil.1 The dischordant reality of lived experience confirms the inaccuracy of reducing diversity to a single 'Japanese' identity or culture. Despite efforts to invest the status quo with the legitimacy of an unbroken tradition, including the use of the rhetoric of harmony to prevent any interrogation of power masquerading as culture, there is a long record of struggle between vested interests with competing versions of how life should be experienced or history understood. This paper is primarily concerned with the aestheticizing of 'Japan the beautiful' as a strategy for nation building and outlines the dizzy oscillations between national self and foreign other evident in Meiji (1868-1912) literature and early Showa (1926-1989) painting. Once the inherent contradictions of inventing the national are outlined, the paper argues that behind platitudes like "Japan has four seasons" is a coercive slippage between the natural and the social. Tea practices centring on Sen no Rikyû are elements of a politicised Japanese culture whose ideology communicates the lethal transience of human life by insisting on the primacy of state over individual. The paper concludes by examining the persistence of militarist appropriations of nature.

Nation Building: Politicised Culture Othering the Self

Since the Meiji Restoration, construction of Japanese national identities for domestic and international consumption has been intensely contested. Before the top down promulgation of the Meiji Constitution on February 11 1889, intellectual freedom was curtailed by internal security legislation that included publishing restrictions (1869), newspaper ordinances (1873, revised 1883), limits on assembly (1880, revised 1882) and a total ban on revealing the contents of petitions to the government and the throne (1884). (Ienaga 1978, pp.13-4) In addition to these restrictions on civil liberties, the cultural sphere was pressed into the political service of 'Japan the beautiful' (Raeside 1997, p.195). These aestheticised identities were the product of both competitive attempts to present certain social practices and texts as the embodiment of this cultural exceptionalism "to capture the symbol's definition and its legitimating effects" (Verdery 1993, p.39), and inevitable resistance to the constrictions of government supervision. With varying degrees of success, the domestic identity was often shaped by the changing external needs of Japanese foreign policy, and this contradiction highlights the tenuous nature of thenihonjinron claim to cultural uniqueness. This tension between self and other was most apparent in the convoluted distinctions that justified developments in literature and painting.

The following section quickly surveys the early modern foundation of discourses of the nation to demonstrate the specific costs of accepting certain tenets of the national narrative. In the same way that an emerging body of literature has documented how domestic and international political requirements have favourably assisted the production and reception of Shakespeare's texts as the achievements of 'the world's greatest dramatist', my discussion of the work of Rowley and Winther-Tamaki shows how reproduction, transformation and transmisssion of literary and visual artefacts have been zones of contestation and tools for co-option and resistance in the construction of the narrative of the Japanese nation.

Lethal Transience in Meiji literature:beauty and death as citizenship

After two hundred years of being regarded as a text for scholars, The Tale of Genji [Genji Monogatari] was repositioned for the mass market by the appearance of five new editions between 1890 and 1913. This resurrection was supported by two separate institutional programmes of action. The Institute for the Study of Imperial Classics was established by politicians anxious to contain the People Rights movement and popular demands for a constitution, and the other was led by conservative scholars of 'national' literature at Tokyo University. From 1882 the Institute for the Study of Imperial Classics and the Classics Training Course in the Faculty of Letters gave considerable attention to "establishing institutions to train a new generation of custodians of the canon; articulating the principles of their project; and attempting, through translation, to transform Genjiinto an instrument for the edification of the new mass readership of the 'new Japan'." (Rowley 1997, p.2)

While this institutionally created surge of interest arrested the decline of national literature by insisting on Genji's status as something for all citizens to read, this construction of the authentic Japanese identity relied on counterfactual ironies. The establishment of authenticity required an othering of the self. In serving the political demands of the day, citizens of all social stations were asked to collectively identify with the idealised linguistic, historic and social other of Genji.

The primary task of these Japanese literature scholars who considered themselves to be the "custodians of a tradition of scholarship, a body of texts, and 'Japaneseness'" (Brownstein 1987, p.438) was to translate the text into the recently popular genbun itchi style and replace anachronistic yamato kotaba with Chinese compounds. After being translated into comprehensible Japanese, this text was instrumental in creating the nation, palatable for international consumption. The following paraphrase identifies how the 1911 writings of Sassa Seisetsu sought to placate 'yellow peril' anxieties about military succcess in the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese War by deliberately othering the national self: "The true Japanese is a lover of beauty, a person of gentility and feeling, in other words, a latter-day Heian courtier." (Rowley 1997, p.9) According to Sassa's essentializing of Japanese identity, citizens were being presented with this role model of an upper class aesthete who spoke an unintelligible language at the very time when warfare was an arena for the performance of loyalty to the nation and the military codes were being revised. The frontline diligence of Japanese Christian soldiers during the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War lead to government recognition of "Christianity as one of the 'Three Religions' of Japan ... by the end of the Meiji Era in 1912." (Reischauer 1957, p.361) The delicate sensibilities of early twentieth century Heian courtiers were subject to appeals to " 'the attack spirit,' 'confidence in certain victory,' 'loyalty to the emperor,' 'love of country,' 'absolute sincerity,' and 'sacrifice one's life to the country, absolute obedience to superiors'" (Ienaga 1978, pp.47-8) by the Infantry Manual of 1909, the Army Education Regulation of 1913 and the Field Regulations of 1916. I would argue that this use of literary texts as propaganda is an extension of the official Japanese strategy, documented by Valliant (1974), to manipulate Western opinion during the Russo-Japanese War and to endeavour to 'enlighten' the United States until 1919.

Sassa invoked the endorsement of Ichijo Kaneyoshi (1402-81) to argue that Genji exceeded the literary achievements of Greece and Rome. His presentation of Japanese tradition as the international avant-garde demonstrates Japanese "superiority in terms of the literary vocabulary of the West: Genji must also be 'modern', the world's first exemplar of true 'realism'." (Rowley 1997, p.9) According to Iriye (1997, p.20), Sassa's manoeuvre is typical of countries wrestling with the nationalist desire to be a modern nation-state while also aspiring to the internationalist status of being a member of the global community.

Reading the ideological work performed by Genji in terms of its utility to the  expansionist ambitions of early modern Japan suggests that the notion of an aestheticised death was an important contribution. "Aileen Gatten suggests that this link of death with beauty may originate with Murasaki ... Superior beauty is tightly bound to brevity of existence. That which is exceptionally beautiful is short-lived. " (Wallace 1997, p.185) While the formation of the modern citizen was an ongoing process shaped in part by contigent networks of intertextual readings across a wide range of cultural sources and practices, this linking of death and beauty gave political elites a powerful vocabulary that collapsed the distinction between the natural and the social.

Honda's remark that "in Japan, the aesthetics of emotion have been colored from earliest times by the brevity of the life of a flower" (1989, p.28) is an example of this discursal use of natural metaphor. This construction of Japanese nature required that Japanese subjectivity be natural-ised. This conjunction of the natural and the social has been useful in accounting for, shaping and justifying what now appear to be oppressive social relationships. A corollary of this emerging national discourse that integrated inevitable cycles of life, death and rebirth with political demands for sacrifice was the personification of nature. This is apparent in the following poem of Jiyen the Monk (1115-1255) which attributes agency to the powerless.

Let us not blame the wind, indiscriminately,

That scatters the flowers so ruthlessly;

I think it is their own desire to pass away before their time has come.

(Suzuki 1997, p.390)

Naturalised Japanese agency embraces oblivion.

Aestheticising the inevitability of death made Greater East Asian War demands for absolute loyalty to the state possible, and this rhetoric was tempered by the implied promise of vernal rebirth in the eternal edifice of the nation. Cherry blossoms, symbol of peace and war (Ohnuki-Tierney, 1995), advocate the inevitability of individual obliteration as nation building. The private retreat of Kobayashi Hideo (Mujô to iu Koto, 'Transience' 1946) into Japan's glorious past of medieval poetry and prose may have been a well intentioned action for a scholar who "did not sympathize with the aggressive acts of the militarists" (Keene 1978, p.93), but ironically, escape attempts of this sort brought more attention to the necessity of natural and human transience and were neatly appropriated to reinforce the grand narrative of Greater East Asia: "By stressing the mutability of all things, he made young, intelligent men accept death and destruction of the battlefield." (Sato 1982, p.224)

It is important to note the existence of Jiyen's poem more than 600 years before provisions of the 1908 army criminal code that awarded the death penalty to any "commander who allows his unit to surrender to the enemy without fighting to the last man or who concedes a strategic area to the enemy" (Ienaga 1978, p.49), and to contrast this mercenary image of the national spirit with Sassa's 1911 idealised, almost pacificist aesthetes. Successive governments have created the imaginary community of Japan by weaving aesthetic elements together into a series of intertextual relationships that endorse the exercise of explicit state power against the interests of individuals. The sphere of culture became the frontline of conflict as political elites used their power to instrumentally define a nationalised cultural canon and control education to indoctrinate the population. Kishida Kunio argued in his 1943 Chikara toshite Bunka, 'Culture as Strength', "that 'Anglo-American' culture will be swept from our country and East Asia ... If for some reason one must absolutely read an American or English book, it should be with feelings of hostility, putting to one's own use the contents of the book as if it were some item of war booty." (Keene 1978, p.92)

The righteousness of the mission to unilaterally impose the Japanese way throughout Asia was created despite a "conscious, organized attempt to invert the relationship between education and nationalism ... [by] viewing one's countrymen through the eyes of humanity, instead of viewing humanity through the eyes of one's countrymen". (Lincicome 1999, pp.339, 350) Increasingly ultranationalist interpretations of the 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education from 1910 onwards (Wray 1973) erased from popular memory the fact that Japanese soldiers were captured in the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese War. Instead of anticipating Tojo Hideki's 1941 imperative in the Field Service Code, "Do not be taken prisoner alive" (Ienaga 1978, p.49), Japanese officers demanded respect for their rank and better treatment from their captors: permission to ice skate and the right to drink vodka. (Keene 1994, p.38) It is with the image of well-fortified officers on ice that I would like to conclude this survey of the ideological work of literary texts like Genjiand move on to the realm of the visual.

Early Showa Painting: The Textual Drift of Self and Other

Equally dizzy gyrations in search of authentic Japanese identity were visible in the field of painting, given the basic distinction between Japanese nihonga and Westernyôga. The government's introduction of yôga in early Meiji asserted the representational superiority of Western painting while also fuelling interest in nihongaduring the latter half of the 1880s. (Winther-Tamaki 1997, p.155) The realist accuracy of Western oil painting had great propoganda value and the war painting genre of sensôga was another representation of Japanese ideals during the Sino-Japanese War 1894-95, the Russo-Japanese War 1904-5, and "the late 1930s and early 1940s when as many as three-hundred artists served in the military." (Winther-Tamaki 1997, p.146)

Fujita Tsuguji's ecstatic proclamation in 1944 echoes Sassa's positioning of Genji as global aesthetic pioneer: "The Greater East Asian War has called forth a great unprecedented revolution in Japanese painting. ... Today's sensôga is the pride of Japan, an art that I believe has no parallel in any other country. ... Our paintings contribute to stimulating martial spirit in wartime and will be preserved for posterity. Thus there can be none so happy as we Japanese painters today." (Winther-Tamaki 1997, p.176) Implicit in this creation of a highly politicised genre which prophesied a jubilant national future, in dire contrast to the individual miseries of everyday life during the terminal throes of war, is the propaganda value of textual reception and reproduction. These images were presented as authentic records of actual conflicts in exhibitions like the Great East Asia War Art Exhibition, Daitoa Sensô Bijitsuten from 1937 (Ienaga 1978, p.123) and others sponsored by the Patriotic Society of Japanese Art, Nihon Bijitsu Hôkoku Kai..

The deployment of official war artists, jyûgun gaka, to the front line might imply a certain historical accuracy. However propaganda requirements sometimes results in visions which do not tally with the fatality figures documented by military historians. Winther-Tamaki extends Tanaka Jo's 1988 analysis of the echoing in Fujita Tsuguji's 1941 'Battle on the Bank of the Haluha, Nomonhan' of the horizontal format of a thirteen century emaki commemorating the military success of Takezaki Suenaga. " Fujita resorted to Japanese art history to simulate victory ... In an ironic sleight of hand, Fujita disguised the failure of the Japanese invasion of Soviet-controlled Outer Mongolia in 1939 by evoking the glorious specter of the successful defense against the Mongolian invasion in the thirteeenth century." (Winther-Tamaki 1997, p.176) The aesthetic sphere occasionally functions as a vocabulary resource where intertextuality transmutes a failed attack, the death of 9,000 Soviet soldiers costing 50,000 Japanese lives, into a decisive repulse.

In addition to the slippery movement of visual language across Japanese historical periods, the nationalist imperative was also served by the appropriation of more recent symbols from across the national borders of European opponents to Japanese 'liberation' of Asia. The 1944 admiration of Uemura Takachiyo for the way Delacroix's 1830 'Liberty Leading the People' "not only represented historical fact but also went beyond documentary to symbolize the spirit of liberty" (Winther-Tamaki 1997, p.154) produces a universalized reading of Miyamoto Saburo's 1941 'Attack on Nanyuan.' There is an inevitable tension between self and other in the way these visual texts serving state-centred nationalism express what Karatani Kojin describes as the "mutually supporting ... desire for universality and the erasure of the consciousness of exteriority." (Lippit 1999, p.42)

This paper has so far given an overview of the ideological applications of Meiji literature and early Showa painting, in particular, how national ideologies employ national myths as convenient tools in the creation of identity. It has outlined something of the complicated manoeuvres necessary to stabilize Japanese identities for domestic and international consumption. This didactic use of literary and visual culture is consistent with the Meiji Theatre Reform Movement engeki kairyô. While attempts were being made by Ichikawa Danjuro IX to revitalize the kabuki tradition by making it more realistic, the Ministry of Religious Affairs (Kyobosho), established April 21 1872, "placed actors and entertainers under its wings, and enrolled them as 'teachers' to educate the masses." (Tschudin 1999, p.83) On November 25 1872 the Ministry of Religious Affairs was amalgamated with the Ministry of Education, (Coville 1948, p.5) and entertainment's contribution to citizen formation was indoctrination.

Meji Tea: The Aesthetic Seduction of an Ideological Tool of State

It is in this context of the intersection of discourses of government-approved popular culture and emerging nationalism that I would like to review arguments for the centrality of tea in the national life made by Gengensai in his 1872 petition to the Meiji government. In contrast to Kishida's argument for the imposition of government control of cultural captital to suppport the creation of the Greater East Asia cultural sphere, Gengensai's Chadô no gen ii (Fundamental Principles of the Way of Tea) was a voluntaryattempt to legitimate institutionalized tea pedagogy as the embodiment of 'Japanese values', an aesthetic crystallization of "values of co-operation and self-restraint, as [later] expressed in the Imperial Rescript on Education". (Nolte 1983, p.283)

The petition was an argument "from a position of impotence ... [for] the timeless nature of values espoused in the tea cult. Those statements clearly contradict 200 years of historical evidence ... Tactical maneuvers are here disguised as strategic, time-stopping statements." (Kramer 1985, p.183) With this emphasising of the ethical components of tea and a silencing of the aesthetic elements, tea insinuated itself into the edifice of national mass culture. This counterfactual image of tea as the one unchanging constant of cultural life facilitated co-­option of texts like Genji into the symbolic vocabulary that constituted the myth of national unity. Tea's apparent continuity gave credibility to the efforts of Meiji political elites to convince Japanese of their citizenship. The Houses of Sen became producers in "an exploitive culture, projected and disseminated by business interests, political interests, ideological or religious interests, and dominant class interests. It is a powerful mechanism, serving to disempower people from maintaining and cultivating their own culture." (Jamrozik, Boland & Urquhart 1995, p.27 [emphasis in original])

In presenting the legacy of Rikyû as an instrument of state ideology, Gengensai offered the state an act of mutual constitution in return for official recognition that tea was more than a vestige of samarai and court play. As a narrowly held family businesses, Sen tea received the legitimating benefits of the state by emphasising the conservative values deemed to be desirable for welding individual will into the life of the nation. The following translation of Gengensai's petition from Sen Soshitsu's 1988 Chanoyu: The Art of Taking Tea shows an ideological range spanning the individual, family and nation:

[The] original intent of the Way of Tea is to instill loyalty, filial piety and the Five Constant Virtues (benevolence, sincerity, righteousness, wisdom and trust); to uphold modesty, propriety and frugality; [to encourage] the unflagging fulfillment of one's allocated role in family affairs; [to promote] service toward the peace and well-being of the realm; to have people treat another with no distinctions of closeness or distance, wealth or poverty; and to revere divine providence for the sake of the health and longevity of generations to come." (Mori 1992, p.13)

As tea positioned itself as the sacrament of the state, "attempts to escape from the fuedalistic oppression by such devices as the No dance, the art of tea, literature, and other social and artistic entertainments" (Suzuki 1997, p.308) were reduced to receiving an aesthetic caress of state power. Governmental control defined the parameters of popular culture, and cultural practices were codified, commodified and nationalised as authentic modes of citizenship. The power of the state was affirmed in the intersection of discourses of consumption and play, and authentic Japanese identity itself became the commodity underlying these 'traditional' leisure activities.

Showa Tea for War, Showa Tea for Peace

Autobiographical comments of the current Urasenke Grand Master (Nihon Keizei Shimbun 1886-87, Asahi Shinbun August 15th 1980, Chanoyu Quarterly) create an impression that the "Peace through a bowl of tea" campaign was the result of his considerable reflection on the nature of wartime experience in general, and more specifically, serving tea to other tokkôtai squad members and then hearing their final radio signals before their kamikaze attacks. However, historicising this privileging of the individual subjectivity of one grand master highlights tea's role in creating a sense of Japanese identity and solidarity during the 1930s when the existence of a distinctive national culture was argued to be evidence of the Japanese duty to unify Asia against European imperialism.

Kumakura plots the reemergence of the iemoto system with two large public gatherings which were held during the period when the major practitioners of sukisha chaall died: the Showa Kitano Ochanoyu Kinen Okenchakai (October 8th - 12th 1936) commemorating the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of theKitano Ochanoyu; and theRikyû 350 Nenki Ochakai (April 21st - 23rd 1940) commemorating the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Rikyû's death. (Kumakura 1994, pp.18-20)

While it is convenient to assert that the original Kitano Ochanoyu was the national convention of wabi cha (Hisamatsu 1993, p.23), it is important to remember the extent to which that event was redolent with the exercise of power. What was ostensibly a display of cultural authority, masterpieces with provenances associated with the Ashikaga shogun or historically significant tea practitioners, also included tea ware confiscated or 'donated' as Hideyoshi used tea as a persuasive supplement to naked military might to unify the nation. Representating the event as egalitarian requires reading Hideyoshi's order as an invitation, and reproduces tea's image of itself as a purely aesthetic practice devoid of political and commercial concerns: "All serious Japanese practitioners of chanoyu -- warriors, attendants, townspeople, famers, and men of lower classes -- as well as people on the continent were invited to attend and participate." (Guth 1993, p.69) Hideyoshi's coercive use of tea included compulsory attendance for all tea practitioners and bans on the private preparation by those who failed to attend.

Davis's assertion that "Between 1936 and 1941, there were strenuous efforts made to express, and define, what makes Japanese people and life so Japanese" (Davis 1996, p.2) suggests that the discourse of the nation was the dominant frame that positioned the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of theKitano Ochanoyu and Rikyû's death. Regardless of the private sentiments of individual participants, reports of the gathering of four thousand people in the 1936 event which took the Showa name were received in the dominant tone of the day. The production and reception of prescriptive mass media texts were officially manipulated to express the sacramental Japanese identity. Given the scale of "the large public chaseki Tenshôsha, [in which] more than twelve thousand sweets were served" (Kumakura 1994, p.19) it is extremely unlikely that the event could have ideologically separated from the Showa mood of jingoistic celebration. Honouring the national convention of wabi cha became part of an ultranational didactic trope that was concerned with the transmission of bushidô values to all Japanese men, women and children.

Given that the historical existence of practices like seppuku was used to justify the naval and air force special attack squads of which the current Urasenke Grand Master was a member, preliminary reports of the gathering of 5,000 people in three days may construct the event as no more than the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Rikyû's death. However, in the same way that the 1930s popularity of Okakura's agument for Asian unity "within an art historical context ... when Japan began to move towards the 'Great East-Asian Co-Prosperity'" (Karatani 1998, pp.155, 156) assumed a political dimension, the wartime commemoration of Rikyû's seppuku gave militarists an ideological text that could be appropriated to justify the divine right of Japan to unify East Asia. Rikyû was no longer merely a historical man of tea conjured in anecdotes, a legendary embodiment of tea values, and a set of aesthetic preferences present in the tea rooms of Meiji and Taisho sukisha and Showa grand tea gatherings; his legacy of tea values was to be subsumed into the larger narrative of the nation.

The mechanics of an aesthetic death in the name of the nation suggests a similarity between Rikyû's resoluteness toward his own death and the sacrifice demanded of wartime Japanese citizens. Through legislation of daily life, the state retains the power to restructure individual will in such a way as to present personal annihilation as an incorporation with the nation.

There is no doubt that, during the fifteen-year war (1931-45), "dissolving into the whole" immediately suggested the physical erasure of the self or kyoshi, which could mean one's own death. The sloganichioku gyokusai or "the total suicidal death of one hundred million," another version of "the final solution," was propagated all over Japanese territories toward the end of the Second World War, and, in view of the manner in which Watsuji conceptualized authenticity in his ethics, it was no coincidence that the final moment of the total suicidal death was imagined as the aesthetic experience of ultimate communion. Death was appropriated into an experience in which one dissolved and got integrated into the body of the nation: death was transformed into the imagined experience of togetherness and camaraderie; the resoluteness toward one's own death was translated into the resoluteness toward identification with the totality. Death was consequently aestheticized so that it could mediate and assimilate one's personal identity into national identity. Finally, the nation was turned into the community of destiny (unmei kyodotai) toward death. To use Watsuji's vocabulary, absolute negativity equals absolute totality and was internalized into the finite totality of the nation-state. In this sense, the absolute totality lost its transcendence and infinity and became "expressible." Watsuji's ethics of nakayoshi (being on good terms) transformed itself into the ethics of ichioku gyokusai (the total suicidal death of one hundred million).

(Sakai 1997, pp.101-102)

Sakai's reading of the collapse of Watsuji's ethics of good companionship into a nationalised aesthetic death implies that the global "Peace through a bowl of tea" campaign repositions the sorts of coercive discourses of the nation that reigned during the early Showa period. Tea room camaraderie, with its vicarious participation in questions surrounding Rikyû's annihilation, reads as a metaphor for embracing the nation's lethal caress.

While Kumakura is silent on the question of whether patriotic sentiment fueled tea's popularity, I would argue that the tea's cherishing of the instant became indistinguishable from Tojo's military regulations that demanded individual sacrifice in the name of the nation.

Given the number of participants, magnified by newspaper and thematically related radio coverage, and considering the government regulation of the cultural sphere through "Dai-Nippon Bungaku Hokokukai (Japanese Literature Patriotic Association) and the Dai-Nippon Genron Hokokukai (Japanese Journalism Patriotic Association)" (Ienaga 1978, p.123), it can be argued that tea was a significant player in the "exploration, formulation and emphasis of a nation's identity [and the] creation, maintenance and enhancement of solidarity among members of a nation". (Yoshino 1992, p.215) This is popular consumption of the ultranationalist sacrament of tea, and the reporting practices of the newspapers of the day helped consolidate the connection between a distinctive national culture and war as an expression of those values.

On page 2 of the October 8th 1936 edition of the Kyoto Shinbun a report of the ceremony commemorating military deaths is placed immediately above an account of the forthcoming Kitano Okenchakai. The thematic connection of these two items is textually and visually reinforced. Tea's seasonal discourse provides a headline reference to those who died in the Manchurian invasion (As autumn deepens ...) and the visual dominance of the photograph of the cavalry parade with crossed flags points to the omnipresence of patriotic sentiments in Showa daily life. The thematic power of this visual element underlines the problematic nature of conceptualising a retreat into the nostalgic innocence of culture as intelligensia's resistance to oppressive shaping of daily life by nationalist policies.

The central dilemma posed to these resistant acts was how to maintain the integrity of culture as a neutral territory when individual autonomy was increasingly subject to state intervention. "Once created, this imaginary space, increasingly absorbed by the interests of the state, might be filled with any aesthetic, ethical, or spiritual values implied by the term 'culture.' " (Pincus 1996, p. 221) As tea positioned itself as the sacrament of the state, "attempts to escape from the fuedalistic oppression by such devices as the No dance, the art of tea, literature, and other social and artistic entertainments" (Suzuki 1997, p. 308) were reduced to receiving an aesthetic caress of state power. Governmental control defined the parameters of popular culture, and cultural practices were codified, commodified and nationalised as authentic modes of citizenship. The power of the state was affirmed in the intersection of discourses of consumption and play, and authentic Japanese identity itself became the commodity underlying these 'traditional' leisure activities.

To return to the question of the shift from Showa tea for war to tea for peace, this vision of tea's postwar utility is more than the private insight of one individual. This apparent reversal of position, from tea as a jingoistic instrument of the militarist state, to tea as the beverage of choice among pacifist internationalists, is consistent with the strategy adopted by Gengensai in his 1872 government petition: position tea as the expression of the nation. Shimizu Ikutaro observed in 1950 that prewar patriotism was unconnected to democracy, and argued that "the world-historical transformation that occured after the war, caused by the advent of nuclear weapons, called urgently for the 'completion of democracy.' Therefore, 'peace' and 'democracy' had to be intimately connected to any rebirth of patriotism that might occur in postwar Japan." (Koschmann 1996, p.219) While tea profited from its representation as the embodiment of Japanese material culture during the early Showa period, Shimizu's analysis suggests that the postwar shift from a nationalist rhetoric to the possibility of a global market for tea knowledge, utensils, and practices was almost inevitable. This positioning of tea as the epitome of the reconstructed Japan involved erasing tea's complicity in stitching the aesthetic response of individuals into the militarist arsenal. This is consistent with how the optimistic fervour of the introduction to a book of ukiyoe prints assigns the cultural to the position of an outcome, and not a domestic means of achieving that goal: "On that glorious day when we have triumphed in the Greater East Asia War, when America and England have been conquered, and the radiant splendor of Japanese culture shines throughout the world, Japanese arts will illuminate the universe". (Ienaga 1978, p.123) The postwar coupling of tea and peace recalls Sassa's 1911 representation of early modern Japanese agents of expansion as refined Heian aesthetes. Culture as nationalism asserts its neutral inevitability while structuring its position in the foreground of the national identity.

Moving the focus away from the tea practices of Kyoto which have generally been the postioned as the metropole in English tea scholarship (Anderson 1991, Mori 1992) reveals an explicitly military application of tea. Between 1941 and 1945 in Fukuoka's Hakozaki Hachimangu, there were tea ceremonies that sought divine assistance for victory. These ceremonies, senshô kigan kencha, were prayers for victory in the Pacific War.2 More recently, kencha services have been offered in sites associated with the complex of issues related to the separation of church and state, internationally controversial visits by Japanese Prime Ministers, and ultranationalist right wing political groups. During October the Urasenke School of Tea has annual tea rites at Yasukuni Shrine where the souls of Japanese war dead, including Class A war criminals, are interred.

Towards A Critical and Effective History: Sakura Now

In drafting an outline of a contigent history of the present, I intend to closely read a range of recent popular culture texts as an implicit answer to why this particular version of national sentiment continues to be a sonorous presence in daily Japanese life. Before that, however, I would like to comment on the topicality of this paper making two points. First, the political use of what often appears to non-Japanese consumers of orientalist images as nothing more than quaint aesthetic symbols was in the 1930s leveraged by advocates of Japanese uniqueness and other cultural particularists into a counter-orientalist discourse with disastrous domestic consequences. Second, there has been a similar semantic shift from war to peace in two symbols of Japan: sakura and tea. My intention is to take advantage of Ricoeur's 1974 distinction between the hermeneutics of suspicion and the hermeneutics of trust as one way of deconstructing a nationalized ideology of cultural uniqueness, and to document the persistance of this lethally patriotic discourse.

The following discussion of six visual texts clearly locates sakura in the visual vocabulary of militarist discourse. The first two images discussed refer to a museum established near Kagoshima's Chiran special attack unit base by tokkôtai survivors. The use of sakura in these two images both accounts for the seductive persuasiveness of natural symbols and provides a degree of solace to surviving colleagues, relatives and citizens.

Inside Tokô Heiwa Kannon Dô is a wall mural which uses sakura in a way that contrasts with the predominantly documentary tone of other items exhibited in the museum. As the zero-sen victoriously crashes into its unrepresented target, the pilot's body is no longer restrained by the windshield that has flown off at the moment of impact. The falling crown signifies that pilot's faceless body has already lost its individuality as it is borne aloft by six female guardian spirits clothed in an ethereal transparency. The only remaining identity is national: the red and white of the national flag is conspiciously visibleon the pilot's upper left arm. The blooming sakura and scattering petals function as a metaphor for individual sacrifice in return for a disembodied eternity in the national edifice. More literally, it also refers to the use of sakura as the name taken by a special attack unit group (Iguchi & Nakajima 1951, pp.272-276), and to the practice documented by the Asahi Shimbun photograph of female Chiran high school students literally waving off the departing pilots with branches of blossoms (Muranaga 1989, p.85).

The second image contains a melancholic contrast between the full sakura at their peak and the empty stone lanterns which together line the road leading into Tokô Heiwa Kannon Dô. Those who survived the war and the visitors born in the post war period who visit the site during spring may gradually come accept the argument for inevitable sacrifice made by this highly politicised version of nature. Feeling the vernal surge of vitality that accompanies the annual appearance of the sakura and recognizing the inevitability of their fall is an act of social memory. This spring mourning participates in a mediated recreation of the Showa psyche of young tokkôtai members, and it is precisely this aestheticizing of patriotic death that this installation was designed to evoke and commemorate by providing a chance for reflection. As with any text, the intention of the creators is subject to all manner of textual drift and resistant readings. While a nationalized discourse of the seasons valorizes spring as the most 'authentic' time to visit this sacred site and memorial practices favour mid summer, a winter visit would not be rewarded with a fragrant softening of grief's sting. Even in the relatively mild winters of Kagoshima, the effect would be more of the hollowness of patriotic claims to protect the homeland. Given the presence of peace in the name of the museum, it can be argued that this critical reassessment of the national narrative is deliberate.

One month before Prime Minister Mori made his problematic "divine nation" remarks in mid-March 2000, the sakura of Yasukuni Shrine were featured in a calendar published by Eirei ni kotaeru kai, and this is the third image I wish to discuss. While literally translated as the Group Answering the Spirits of the War Dead, extrapolating from Tsurumi's rendering of eirei supplies something slightly more fervent: the Group Answering the Splendid Spirits of the War Dead. (Tsurumi 1986, p.75) The depth of this earnest zeal should not be underestimated, and the following extract documents the extent of the determination to protect the coherence of an ambiguous distinction between religion and state and Yasukuni Shrine's central role in that complex of issues.

On June 1, 1988, a historic 14-1 verdict of the Supreme Court of Japan, overturning the decisions of two lower courts, pronounced the termination in failure of a widow's fifteen year contest of the legality of state participation in the Shinto enshrinement of her deceased husband. ... The significance of the suit brought by Mrs. Nakaya Yasuko lies beyond the merely legal: the case reflects the incommensurateness of judicial capability and judicial will with the challenges she issued to Japanese militarism, to the Japanese treatment of religious minorities, and to the situation of women in Japanese society. ... The elaborate denial of the religious nature of SDF activity reads as a peculiar transmutation into legal terms of a postwar version of Shinto as not so much religion but folk custom. One might fairly ask, what's the difference? Rather than argue the distinction, it is important to point out its usefulness as a strategy for dismissing quibbles over the relationship of state and religion.  The "new form" demonstrated by Mr. Nakasone at Yasukuni (flowers and one bow) is a striking example. For all its contortions, the Supreme Court decision is a revealing conformation of the social and political truisms of contemporary Japan: don't be different; don't waste energy fighting in the courts against political strategies masquerading as common sense; understand that the religion of Japan is Japaneseness, which is best practiced in daily life. Cultivated to the point of invisibility by daily practice, this religion is resistant to challenge even in its more concentrated, obtrusive forms as manifested at Yasukuni or the Defense-of-the-Nation Shrines [where Nakaya Takafumi and others like him are forcibly deified]. 

(Fields 1992, pp.107, 108, 146-147)

This failure of one Japanese Christian to resist a veneration of her husband in the edifice of the nation reveals a persistance in the state-centred view of the world that made the special attack units, and the calendar graphics under discussion, possible and necessary.

The sakura of Yasukuni Shrine were integrated in a photomontage with a sculpture of one tokkôtai pilot against the background of the sun rising over the calm ocean which was protected by pilots commemorated in the sculpture. The pilot is visible from the knees up and stands tall with his hands on his hips as he gazes into eternity. What is interesting is the way the images of the sakura and the ocean visibly overlap and underlay the pilot's figure. The preferred reading of the dissolve of the pilot, sakura and the ocean may be a persuasive argument for the essential unity of the social and the natural. Considering how early twentieth century Japanese military education made appeals to the attack spirit as part of a discourse underlining the necessity of sacrificing one's self for the Emperor and nation, this dissolve also refers to the wartime doctrine of the spirit (Japan) triumphing over matter (USA). Below this top panel photomontage on the March-April page of this Heisei 12 calendar is a second horizontal panel combining a photograph of a 24 year old pilot, a photograph of his military issue hat (a sacramentalizing of relics, similar to the treatment given Rikyû's tea utensils but valued by the market quite differently) and a narrative text detailing his final conversation with his family. The sakura motif is abstractedly repeated behind the text as a pink moire.

The third horizontal panel of this calendar is the calendar proper. Against the time stopping strategies of the top and middle panels with their conflation of seasonal rhythms and timeless self-sacrifice, the calendar panel integrates three separate chronologies: the designation of the year by referring to the imperial era (in this case Heisei 12); the conventional pairing of days of the week with a number showing the date contrasts with the distinctive use of a national flag icon to mark national holidays; and the listing of cycles of auspicious days. The cumulative effect of this combination of elements is to confirm a particular world view. With the triumph of spirit over matter, nature is nationalized and the individual is deemed to be a necessary but disposable element of the edifice of the state.

The next two visual texts verify the extent to which this aestheticized death has become part of the commodification of the nation. This fifth text is a newspaper advertisement for a video series that records and represents the Pacific War battles fought by young Japanese. It is a repackaging of 12 film texts from 1940 to 1972, and this includes both colour and black and white documentaries and feature films. The Japanese character for sakura appears twice in this advertisement. In the bottom left corner, the following text is superimposed on an image of a naval ship and planes in formation: Kisama mo ore mo waratte shinô. Dôse chiru nara sakura no shiku. [You too, me too, let's die laughing. Anyway if we scatter, we are equal to sakura.] Superimposed over the close up of a soldier saluting in film number 3 is the following text: Sakura to ikari no sei shun fu. [The youth music of sakura and anchor.] These two examples point to the lethal slippage between the nation at war and nature.

Given my attempt to map out the discursal links between sakura and seppuku, it seems appropriate to conclude my mentioning a newspaper advertisement for a sword with a sakura bark hilt and sheath. This sixth text suggests that the embrace of transience is a marketable option, even at the lower priced kitsch end of the market. The advertisement's ambiguous positioning of the impressions created by this sword and the repeated claims of the sword's beauty assume most coherence in the light of Sakai's definition of Japan as a community of unnatural death. Even the surname of the craftsman, Sakurai, seems made to order.

This limited survey of the cultural sphere has conceptualized the aesthetic realm as a technology of national self. In tracing how the affective response of Japanese citizens to literary and visual texts and cultural practices like tea has functioned to inscribe a particular set of ideological values into individual subjectivity, my intention has been to destabilize essentialized notions of 'the Japanese' as existing beyond the influence of history and the agenda of domestic and international politics.

This extension of Mouer and Sugoimoto's deconstruction of the unity of Japanese identity is important for critical communication studies because it offers an incisive point of entry into Japanese national cinema. Analysis of the role of film texts in forming individual subjectivities and national identities is an integral part of critical communication studies. Films belonging to the genre of the jidai geki, literally period drama, often frame the nation in ways that resist and reinforce national mythology, and this tendency is evident in films representing tea as capturing the national essence.

           Four films representing Rikyû fracture these attempts to construct a monolithic Japanese identity. Both Tanaka Kinuyo's 1962 and Kumai Kei's 1978 Oginsama regender the nation by focussing on the choices made by Rikyû's adopted daughter in her love for one of Rikyû's followers, Christian daimyo Takayama Ukon. Kumai Kei's 1989 Sen no Rikyû: Honkakubo no Ibun and Teshigahara Hiroshi's 1989 Rikyû address the tension between anecdotal accounts of Rikyû's aesthetic life and the written historical record that documents his activities as a bullet merchant. While these four films reconfigure national identity, they imply a continuity between the values legitimating seppuku and tea's tenet of cherishing the instant. This common territory was historically significant when Japanese colonialism demanded citizens internalise a reified version of bushido values.

While acknowledging that sakura have symbolised both peace and war (Ohnuki-Tierney 1995), this brief survey demonstrates that the persistence of this ideological aestheticising of the nation in pop culture texts continues to provide an important context for the reception of certain film genres. Conceptualizing Kumai Kei's Sen no Rikyû: Honkakubo no Ibun as a villain film suggests the need for a vigilant distance from the various pleasures of viewing national cinema. The intersection of tea and sakura as a visual substitute for seppuku in his jidai geki draws attention to the power of a distinctive national culture to appeal to an ultimately self-destructive ideal as one means of shaping desire. The film's debates about historical changes in the essence of tea also emphasise an important continuity between Showa tea for war and peace. The sacramental use of tea for war resembles the postwar "Peacefulness through a Bowl of Tea" campaign sponsored by the Urasenke school of tea in that it attempts to shape a particular subjectivity as an expression of the nation. As institutionalised tea instruction denies its commercial and political components, it is important to note the colonizing aspect of tea pedogogy outside Japan results in that nation being presented as 'cultural'.  Representing Rikyû as a pure aesthete innocent of military and commercial concerns helps structure a discursal silence about imperial Japanese history.

Retreat to Utopian Coda (for Yogi Cross Yasutake)

Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too (Lennon, 1971)


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