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February 14, 2012 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Is it in poor taste or offensive to pass around this photo in a class presentation?

I'm taking beginner's Japanese this Spring and we have to pair up for short cultural presentations. We selected topics from a list.. anime, manga, fashion, whatever, and my partner and I chose cherry blossoms, sakura. In my research, beyond the obvious tradition of having viewing parties, I discovered that in WW2 the symbolism of the cherry blossom - the ephemerality of life - was used in military propaganda and used to romanticize not just soldiers in general but specifically kamikaze pilots. I was truly moved and am grateful to have learned about it, because now it's not just all about parties and prettiness. I'd like to pass around the photo shown here in class, along with of course other photos of the parties, or pastries, or a special tea made with the blossoms, a blossom forecast chart for 2012, at other times during the presentation. I asked my boyfriend what he though, and he said as long as it's presented sensitively and not with this ignorant "ZOMG KAMIKAZES, CRAZY RIGHT?" air, which I'm basically incapable of, then it should probably be fine. But maybe I should skip it. I don't want to offend or anger anyone, especially the Japanese professor, and maybe I should just mention it without passing the photo around, but the photo moved me so, it struck home the point...I'd like to share that with my classmates. What should I do?
posted by Sayuri. to Society & Culture (55 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why risk it?
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:52 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Best answer: It would be unfortunate if you let the fear of offending somebody get in the way of real learning. I learned something from your post and the photo. Do the same for the class. You can present it in the proper historical context. If somebody is offended they would need to explore why. Higher education, done correctly, should offend some people all of the time.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 1:58 PM on February 14, 2012 [35 favorites]


I think you should go for it. In language learning you're definitely going to put your foot in your mouth a lot, because you don't know the rules. You can't constantly second-guess yourself about whether you're being sensitive. Teachers know this and will cut you some slack -- someone who's hypersensitive about social niceties would find it almost impossible to teach languages.

This is interesting and, indeed, moving, and you are approaching it from a position of respect.

There's nothing offensive about that, and in the worst case that your instructors see a problem, then you might learn something interesting.
posted by grobstein at 1:59 PM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree with your boyfriend -- it's not like you're treading into some sort of forbidden history -- but if you're having real doubts, just ask the professor if they think its okay.
posted by griphus at 1:59 PM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am not Japanese, but would you use a picture of a Nazi soldier in a presentation about (present day) German culture? It doesn't seem to have much relevance unless the presentation is about history.
posted by desjardins at 2:00 PM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can't fathom that being seriously offensive to anyone.
posted by wrok at 2:00 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am not Japanese, but would you use a picture of a Nazi soldier in a presentation about (present day) German culture? It doesn't seem to have much relevance unless the presentation is about history.

Nice try with the Nazi's and all...

If I were giving a presentation about <some german plant> and the Nazi soldier intentionally had <some german plant> for a meaningful reason, uhhh yeah I would.
posted by wrok at 2:02 PM on February 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Best answer: Why not ask your instructor in advance, who would presumably know if there were offensive connotations you didn't know about? It doesn't strike me as inappropriate, but I don't know enough to say that with confidence. (I'd say that the story is fine, but the picture might not be.)
posted by jeather at 2:02 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I discovered that in WW2 the symbolism of the cherry blossom - the ephemerality of life - was used in military propaganda and used to romanticize not just soldiers in general but specifically kamikaze pilots.

I think that is a very cool point, and one I'd like to know about. I agree with Seymour Zamboni that education can be uncomfortable and even offensive sometimes.

I am not Japanese, but would you use a picture of a Nazi soldier in a presentation about (present day) German culture?

If I were talking about an important cultural icon that had some fascinating associations with Nazi iconography I would.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:02 PM on February 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ask the professor. You should be going to office hours anyway if you'll ever want a recommendation from them.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:08 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's important to keep in mind the purpose of the lesson. It's a language lesson, with a cultural bent, not a chance to educate people about touchy subjects. The point of the lesson is not the Cherry Blossoms.

You picked this from a list -- were all of the items on the list pretty innocuous? If so, that implies the teacher was probably aiming for pretty cheerful presentations, not controversial ones.

I can't offer an opinion on whether this particular angle on Cherry Blossoms is so potentially hurtful that you should avoid mentioning it, because I don't really know how that time and those actions are viewed in Japanese culture, but if you're aware of the issue enough to know it could be a problem, this seems like it might not be the right venue for that kind of info.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:09 PM on February 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's a time and a place for everything. I'd save this for a presentation specifically about WWII.
posted by deanc at 2:15 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Would you hold up this image to represent Christian iconography in the Southern United States?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:20 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do it, while providing the full context behind it. It's interesting and informative and there's no logical reason why anyone should be offended about it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:21 PM on February 14, 2012


I'm not a sociologist, but my experience has been that WWII can be a touchy subject with the Japanese (just as it can be a touchy subject with the Germans). It's not a topic of national reverence, as was America's Greatest Generation, etc.

Really, why risk it? It's a presentation in language class; I don't think the historical context you've identified adds anything to the assignment. To elaborate on the Godwinism above, this is like doing a German class presentation on edelweiss and diverging into the murder of the Edelweiss Pirates by the Nazis. Tenuously relevant, sure, but I'd steer clear.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:22 PM on February 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can't honestly say if it's in poor taste, but if you are trying to give an oral presentation, don't pass around a prop or picture, it distracts from the task at hand and diminishes your impact.
posted by juniperesque at 2:23 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Would you hold up this image to represent Christian iconography in the Southern United States?

As one part of a larger discussion on the American cultural symbolism of a cross? Absolutely.

I do agree that it would be appropriate to discuss this with the teacher, first, so that he or she isn't surprised and can be prepared to moderate the discussion if needded.
posted by muddgirl at 2:26 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


As one part of a larger discussion on the American cultural symbolism of a cross? Absolutely.

And if this were a "Japanese history" class or a "Japanese cultural symbolism" class then that would be entirely on point. But it's a Japanese beginning language class. This is, at a minimum, a complex subject--one that cannot be adequately canvassed in beginner-level Japanese. This really doesn't add anything useful to the class and could potentially derail it pretty badly.
posted by yoink at 2:31 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Best answer: As long as you do it in a tasteful and sensitive way, I don't believe it is problematic to discuss the use of cherry blossoms by the Japanese government in WWII.

You may also want to read up about gyokusai before you do your presentation, if you haven't already.

There is an excellent interview in my undergraduate history professor's oral history, (Japan at War: Haruko Taya Cook & Theodore Cook) "Bride of a Kamikaze" which is very poignant. It may not be useful for your presentation but it's something I never forget reading:


posted by Modus Pwnens at 2:33 PM on February 14, 2012


Link didn't take in previous post, I apologize.

http://wgordon.web.wesleyan.edu/kamikaze/writings/haruoaraki/index.htm
posted by Modus Pwnens at 2:34 PM on February 14, 2012


So the only appropriate way to discuss any symbol in a beginner-level class is to focus on positive connotations and not negative ones? That doesn't seem right to me.
posted by muddgirl at 2:35 PM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree with muddgirl. As someone who taught Intro to Comp-type classes, I never felt annoyed or disappointed in a student who delved more deeply into the course material, demonstrating that they had actually learned. What's more, it's entirely possible that the professor is aware of the nuances of cherry blossoms as a symbol. As a teacher, I would have been happy to act as host to a sensitive, thoughtful discussion.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:39 PM on February 14, 2012


So the only appropriate way to discuss any symbol in a beginner-level class is to focus on positive connotations and not negative ones?

No, I think the appropriate subjects for a beginner-level class are topics that are reasonably simple--where you're not trying to convey extremely morally and intellectually complex ideas. The kamikaze campaign is the kind of subject that will pull people away from expression in Japanese and into expression in their native language. We don't like to talk about complex issues in a language we feel ourselves not to be masters of--we are (rightly) afraid of saying something stupid and/or offensive.

Topics for a class such as this should be of the kind that the teacher can happily encourage students to venture a few words on in the language that they're learning. If it were simply that cherry blossoms are associated, say, with death and the transience of living things, that, for example, would be a "negative" association that would seem to me perfectly fine.
posted by yoink at 2:42 PM on February 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


If the cultural aspects of this class are authentic, you can go ahead and use the picture. If it's OK with everybody it's no problem, and if it's not OK nobody will tell you. However, if you do use this picture, I would spend some extra time going into the symbolism of any non-sakura elements in the picture. The turtle-neck thing? I dunno, everything else might be flight-oriented, but in context there seems like there should be more to say about the pic than just the sakura.
posted by rhizome at 2:43 PM on February 14, 2012


PhoBWanKenobi, Comp is not language learning. You cannot, possibly, have "a sensitive, thoughtful discussion" of any subject in a "beginner's Japanese" class unless you're having it in a language other than Japanese--which would be diverting the class from their reason for being there. A sensitive, thoughtful discussion of a morally complex issue in a Comp class is, obviously, a completely different thing--teaching your students how to discuss complex ideas is exactly the purpose of that class.
posted by yoink at 2:45 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do not do this.

There is too much buried and unexploded ordinance left over from this period of history on both sides, ready to be set off by the most casual or well-intentioned touch.

From your own link, for example:
Ichizô Hayashi 1922-1945, was a graduate of the Imperial University of Kyoto, drafted as a student soldier in November 1943, assigned to be a tokkôtai pilot in February 1945. He died in April of that year off the coast of Okinawa, with the rank of navy ensign. He was 23 years old. His diary was titled, A Sun and Shield: Diary and Letters to Mother, Writings Left by Hayashi Ichizô. The Sun and Shield part of this title was taken from Psalm 84:11, ‘For the Lord God is a sun and shield.’

From his diary…

‘It is easy to talk about death in the abstract, as the ancient philosophers discussed. But it is real death I fear, and I don’t know if I can overcome the fear.

Even for a short life there are many memories. For someone who had a good life, it is very difficult to part with it. But I reached a point of no return. I must plunge into an enemy vessel.

To be honest, I cannot say that the wish to die for the emperor is genuine, coming from my heart. However, it is decided for me that I die for the emperor.’
This particular kamikaze was quoting from the Bible!

He was probably a Christian, therefore-- and he clearly wasn't exactly a volunteer.

Were Japanese Christians more likely to be forced to be kamikazes, then?

It would certainly make sense from several points of view we can reasonably impute to Japanese leadership at the time, but raising the issue in your class now could upset everybody to no good end that I can see.
posted by jamjam at 2:47 PM on February 14, 2012


So the only appropriate way to discuss any symbol in a beginner-level class is to focus on positive connotations and not negative ones? That doesn't seem right to me.

In a beginner-level language class, where the emphasis is on building a meager vocabulary and learning conjugation of verbs? Yes, I think it's entirely appropriate to stick with pedestrian topics. In baby Spanish, we had presentations about recipes for a hamburguesa and the music of Celia Cruz, not the autos da fe of the Spanish Inquisition. Complex subjects require a more nuanced command of language than you find in beginners' classes.

Plus, as I said above, a lot of Japanese people I've met think WWII is something of a downer, and this really doesn't add much to a presentation about cherry blossoms.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:47 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


PhoBWanKenobi, Comp is not language learning. You cannot, possibly, have "a sensitive, thoughtful discussion" of any subject in a "beginner's Japanese" class unless you're having it in a language other than Japanese--which would be diverting the class from their reason for being there.

We don't know that the discussion will be in Japanese. I completed a similar cultural project in an undergraduate Chinese class in English--it's not all that unusual to have course time devoted to learning about aspects of that culture (and not all that unusual for that information to be covered in English, either).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:49 PM on February 14, 2012


Response by poster: Just to quickly add, the presentation is ~7 minutes, in English (we've barely got some grammar under our belts) and she has suggested visual aids, hence the handouts. I would devote a few sentences to the military symbolism, but not go into a long discussion. Another sensitive topic I want to briefly touch on (like, two sentences) is how though cherry blossom festivals take place in other countries, in the formerly-occupied places like Korea, it can be a bittersweet thing (as during the occupation many trees were planted to "claim" the territory, many have since been destroyed symbolically.. though there are also many native cherry trees... I ramble...) The class is almost entirely composed of Korean and Chinese undergrads. I haven't clocked out my 7 minutes yet.
posted by Sayuri. at 2:50 PM on February 14, 2012


The 'topic' is not kamikazes. The topic is cherry blossoms, which have a meaning tied to the history of Japanese fighter pilots in WWII.

Unless there's some reason to think that people in the class aren't already familiar with kamikazes which would require a lengthier and more sensitive discussion, but that doesn't appear to be the case.
posted by muddgirl at 2:53 PM on February 14, 2012


As a student of Japanese who's attended many nihongo classes in California, I'd say, no, for the reasons articulated by Admiral Haddock. Sure, talk it over with your professor, if you like. Is he Japanese? If not, maybe no big deal -- but I know that bringing up almost any aspect of the Pacific War in any of my classes would've been at best embarrassing to the many older women who've been my teachers. Who knows -- maybe the pilot in your photo was one of their relatives.
posted by Rash at 2:54 PM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


In response to all the posts regarding this discussion being inappropriate for a beginner language class, I would note that we did have discussions like this in my beginner Japanese language class. Ignoring the fact that WWII occurred while discussing Japanese culture is similar to ignoring the fact that the United States fought a war of independence with Great Britain, in that both events had deep effects on the nations and their cultures.

Is it more sensitive to discuss kamikazes and the Japanese regime of the 30s and 40s? Yes, obviously. You just treat it with a little more delicacy.
posted by Modus Pwnens at 2:54 PM on February 14, 2012


I'm going to second the thought that it's an introductory language class. The point is to built vocabulary and learn some grammar, not to analyze history and so on. Hence, I would leave out the picture.

Moreover, you're not going to have enough time to go through all the ideas associated with that picture to a degree where you can give a good presentation on it. If you can't do a decent job of it in the time you're given, don't do it, because you'll leave important things unsaid and it'll take away from the significance of it all.

I would stick to simple things. If you were only given 7 minutes to do the presentation, it's not meant to be complex.
posted by cyml at 2:54 PM on February 14, 2012


Best answer: This sounds exactly like the Beginners Japanese class I took in my first year of uni.

My understanding of the attitude to WWII in Japan is that, as others have said, it's a touchy subject. From various readings around the web (the authority of which I cannot vouch for), there is no small amount of denial in Japanese educational material on the subject. I think that it would be problematic to dive into any kind of moral commentary on kamikaze pilots, especially if there were any Japanese people present. However, simply mentioning that this was something that happened in the wider cultural envelope of the sakura shouldn't be anything you need to worry about.

Do this, keep it light, and be sensitive.

My cultural project was on the origins and development of the haiku, through its beginnings as the opening of renga to the modern day..
posted by fearnothing at 2:56 PM on February 14, 2012


Best answer: For what my opinion as a middle-aged Japanese is worth, I personally wouldn't be offended at all, in most part because WW2 is something that happened long ago that I learned about in textbooks. But I'm not everyone and I can imagine someone from, say, my father's generation or older being offended, saddened or feeling uncomfortable because those times are still very much personal to them.

I don't know how old your professor is, but I'm sure he/she already knows about the symbolism of cherry blossoms, so I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be offending your prof. But as you can see from the discussion above, people have strong opinions about Japan's role in WW2 and your presentation might end up going in a direction you didn't intend.

On preview, oh boy, your class is composed of Korean and Chinese students??? DON'T DO IT!!! Even if these students are there to learn Japanese, I really don't think this is worth treading into in just 7 minutes.
posted by misozaki at 2:58 PM on February 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yeah, for all I know OP, you are Korean, but blithely walking into the Japanese occupation of Korea in a seven-minute beginner's language class presentation in a class full of Koreans seems like a bad idea to me.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:03 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


If your class is composed entirely of Chinese and Korean students, I'd just avoid it. You still find deep hatred of Japan in both those countries. DEEP.
posted by fso at 3:04 PM on February 14, 2012


Have you expanded your historical research to find other occurrences of using the cherry blossom as a symbol? What about its symbolism in art? Perhaps the inclusion of other examples would serve to focus discussion on the cherry blossom itself, rather than on a specific use in a particularly sensitive period in time.

Admittedly, I do not know where your class is being held (in Japan? in the US?), and I do not know if your classmates are Korean and Chinese nationals, or of Korean and Chinese descent (ie second-, third-, fourth-generation?). I only assume it's in an English-speaking area because you mentioned Beginning Japanese and are presenting your material in English.
posted by CancerMan at 3:18 PM on February 14, 2012


I'm not seeing what could even be potentially offensive about this. You're covering all of the cultural meanings. You'd be leaving out important information and a great picture.

I am not Japanese, but would you use a picture of a Nazi soldier in a presentation about (present day) German culture? It doesn't seem to have much relevance unless the presentation is about history.

You would if you were doing a presentation on the cultural significance of Eideweiss.
posted by cmoj at 3:40 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"So the only appropriate way to discuss any symbol in a beginner-level class is to focus on positive connotations and not negative ones? That doesn't seem right to me."

No, this is missing the point, the only materiel appropriate to a beginner level presentation is the kind of materiel a beginner can actually communicate. The minefield of symbols that is WWII is categorically not properly navigable while you are still learning to conjugate basic verbs, sorry. Stick to ideas simple enough that you can use your new knowledge to convey them.

There is no need to bean-plate over this
posted by Blasdelb at 3:53 PM on February 14, 2012


Response by poster: Class is in the USA, I believe a mix of nationals and descendants, an assumption based upon past vocabulary and grammar exercises we've done. I'm white. Definitely going into art and poetry as well, passing around a couple woodblocks. The focus certainly will not be on kamikaze nor WWII; presentation-wise I just found that to be a thoughtful contrast to viewing parties. My gut reaction is that keeping it light is boring and easy... and all of us in the class are there to learn the language and culture of Japan, right? I guess who knows, maybe I'm being too serious. Perhaps just touching on subjects is just as treacherous as focusing on them, if I don't have enough time to do them justice, or lightly mixing them with pastries and parties is offensive on principle. But really? I'm there to talk all about cherry blossoms in Japanese culture, neglecting important ideas seems like just poor scholarship.

Just to reiterate, the presentation is in English. I will demonstrate how to draw the kanji for cherry blossoms on the board, probably quite poorly, too.
posted by Sayuri. at 4:03 PM on February 14, 2012


Mod note: Keep answers on topic please, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:03 PM on February 14, 2012


I'm there to talk all about cherry blossoms in Japanese culture, neglecting important ideas seems like just poor scholarship.

Except that the use of the symbolism by the Kamikaze pilots really doesn't seem to be an important aspect of the topic at hand. It's not as if the cherry blossom acquired its associations with evanescence because of its use by the Kamikaze pilots. No doubt the Kamikaze pilots participated in all kinds of aspects of Japanese culture--if you'd drawn the "haiku" would you seek out haiku written by Kamikaze pilots? If you'd drawn the "tea ceremony" would you have found accounts of Kamikaze pilots participating in tea ceremonies?

I imagine it would be pretty easy to find some powerful poetry/art discussing or deploying the cherry blossoms as images of death/transience/mono no aware etc. It doesn't seem to me that your choice is either "viewing parties" or "Kamikaze."
posted by yoink at 4:21 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my opinion, based on your location, the context of your presentation, and inclusion of other material, the photo is probably okay.

I assume the woodblocks and other pieces of art/poetry serve your topic of illustrating the cherry blossom's symbolism as a whole, and the photo in this regard is meant to add another level of detail. Particularly if your intent is to describe the "ephemerality of life" as it was embraced by all groups and individuals, be they warriors or artists, in art or religion or whatever you might discover in your research.
posted by CancerMan at 4:25 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


My gut reaction is that keeping it light is boring and easy... I'm there to talk all about cherry blossoms in Japanese culture, neglecting important ideas seems like just poor scholarship.

OP, keep in mind that the other topics you've indicated will be discussed are anime, manga, and fashion. That suggests that the goal is, in fact, to keep it light, and that this is not meant to be a test of your serious scholarship. Really, getting into the Japanese occupation of Korea in the context of a 7-minute presentation on cherry blossoms in a class full of Koreans, including visiting students, does not sound like a good idea, based on the Korean people I know. Same goes for the kamikaze pilot. These seem like really minor footnotes.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:29 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you choose to mention the link with the ephemeral nature of life, and its later military connotations, I would introduce these facts as something you had learned through doing the project. (Learning things is why we do projects, right?).

You might consider mentioning that sakura has had different meanings throughout history (it's a quite popular girl's name now, for instance).

I wonder whether, if you polled your friends, many of them would know its wartime significance, or its relation to literature.

As other people have mentioned, discussing your options with the professor might be useful.

Good luck with the presentation!
posted by Prof Iterole at 4:33 PM on February 14, 2012


I have no idea if it would be offensive per se - listen to people who know the cultures involved. But I do know that I never, ever want one of my students to gloss over complexity to produce false simplicity, nor to fail to investigate something they find interesting. I learned something from your link; I imagine others would too.
posted by cromagnon at 4:34 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I understand there are differences in the Japanese and German involvement in WW2, but I'm only really familiar with the one. So I'll say that speaking as one of German descent who participated in a beginner's German language class in which there was mature, honest and respectful discussion of Nazi history/symbolism/lasting effects I really think this has no risk of being offensive unless you present it offensively. Honestly, it happened, it's history and truth and you can't offend anyone by reporting on history (well, you probably can, but ideally..). If the cherry blossom was significant in that role then talk about it honestly and without bias and you'll be fine. My ancestors were German soldiers and prisoners alike, my family lost their home to Nazis and some of them were Nazis. If anything my ancestral connection to that horrible time made me more curious and thankful for open discussion of those very topics. Pretending like it doesn't exist isn't helping anyone learn and really, that is an epic piece of symbolism; the flower that made suicide attractive.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 4:35 PM on February 14, 2012


It is interesting and moving and fascinating, etc., but I honestly don't think I would include it in a 7 minute presentation, because I don't think 7 minutes is enough to do justice to the subject (of Kamikaze/sakura). With the other stuff you're covering all you're going to have time to say about this is going to come off as some variant of "ZOMG KAMIKAZES, CRAZY RIGHT?", due to the sheer time limitation.

Would I include it in a paper, or if I had an entire class period for a lecture? Absolutely.
posted by trip and a half at 4:47 PM on February 14, 2012


I don't know for sure about the Japan-specific thing here, but we talked about plenty of heavy, complicated stuff in my introductory Russian classes. We covered glasnost, perestroika, MADD, the gulag, the purges of the 1930s, and Hungary in 1956. In fact, our book had as one of its major themes all the confusion, frustration, and bizarre situations that emerged after the fall of the USSR.

I can't remember which chapter it was, but one of the very first lessons was organized around a "New Russian" maybe-mafioso "renting" golashes to the residents of the miserable concrete apartment block on a rainy day. There's lots of talk about shortages and how hard it is to get anything done; none of my teachers (some of whom were Russian) had any issues they shared with us. And my intermediate class talked about dictatorship and forced labor and all kinds of other unpleasantness, as well: it's real, it happened, it's more relevant to talk about than the silly bland stuff Rosetta Stone uses for its material.

I wouldn't say "this is too complicated a topic for your class," especially since it's quite clearly a culture-awareness exercise and not about conjugation or declension.

(Admittedly, it helped that a lot of the more advanced Russian vocab sounds a lot like English - политика/politika for "politics," созиализм/sozializm for "socialism," etc.)
posted by SMPA at 4:55 PM on February 14, 2012


But really? I'm there to talk all about cherry blossoms in Japanese culture, neglecting important ideas seems like just poor scholarship.

And your professor might agree with you. Or might not.

We're all just guessing, here. The most important person in the room is the person who will be giving you a grade. Is there a reason why you don't want to talk to them about the presentation?
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:01 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seven minutes goes by quickly and doesn't give you enough time to do justice to the photo. For that reason, don't include it. It sounds like you have more than enough other material.

On the other hand, may I suggest an FPP on cherry blossoms, including this photo? Seriously interesting stuff and I want to know more!
posted by Cuke at 7:31 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Best answer: The way I see it, one of the problems with talking explicitly about the cherry blossom in the context of WWII kamikaze is that it would be rather poor scholarship to then skip over the fact that the military association of sakura was far from being new - in fact, it had a solid history as the symbol associated with the samurai. And then, again, it would be leaving the topic incomplete to not at least make a passing reference to Bushido (check here for a discussion of the symbolism of sakura with reference to Bushido, and here for some of the central tenets of Bushido which can be understood in analogy to the life-cycle, as it were, of cherry blossoms - the more mindful you are of the evanescence of life, the brighter you will shine - hence also the seeming paradox of the flower-viewings on the one hand and the "live with death by your side" on the other. Not entirely unlike the European medieval awareness of transience leading to either Carpe diem or Memento mori).

So yes, this is not really a case of some gentle, melancholy symbol of the ephemeral randomly being appropriated by the Japanese government during WWII, or the flower that made suicide attractive, as someone said above (even though that way of putting it sounds quite pithy). Rather, it was the logical thing to draw on the symbolism and connotations of the sakura, given its prior strong associations with a code of military honor, the fact that in many quarters the samurai were themselves a symbol of a more idyllic, pre-European Japan, the fact that the flowers also functioned as shorthand for a particular worldview etc. etc. etc.

This is why, if I was to give a 7 minute presentation on your topic, and I didn't chose to structure it around the function of sakura in Japanese military history, I would use that image in a way that de-emphasizes the "OMG! WWII kamikaze! Crazy!" aspect of it. Instead, I'd try to conjure up a picture in which the WWII connection (which, by the way, seems to have been very strong - apparently fighter planes had cherry blossoms on them) is integrated in a long military history and a very specific, if changing, worldview. This could be done by, let's say, creating a slideshow of images suggestive of the different aspects of sakura symbolism, or juxtaposing images of samurai with your photo. Maybe intersperse some well-chosen sakura haikus, there are plenty of them, or relevant quotes, for instance from the Bushido. There could even be music in the background - apparently, there are quite a few songs about sakura, maybe one would provide an appropriate background. I'd leave the article accompanying the photo out of this presentation, and include it in a bibliography hand-out. But then this is me, and I am loath of introducing simplified versions of potentially controversial topics into the arena for the sake of "depth" and seriousness. So I'd try to avoid being overtly tendentious in a presentation, even though obviously our own biases cannot help informing whatever it is we are doing (for what it's worth, though I find the subject fascinating, I cannot understand for the life of me this aspect of the samurai code).
posted by miorita at 9:10 PM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you have to ask 'should I include this?'... the answer is always 'no.'
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:44 AM on February 15, 2012


Response by poster: I don't know how this post ended up in hobbies and recreation; I intended it to be put in society and culture, maybe it can be moved?
Interesting stuff about edelweiss!
I tend to err too strongly on the side of caution with regards to people's feelings and so I feel like I do need to ask. I wanted a variety of opinions from different backgrounds, which I received in abundance, thank you! Your thoughtful answers have been insightful. You also persuaded me to just ask the professor (I had been too shy and thought it too needy to ask). Her opinion is that this is a university, academic setting and I should present whatever I find interesting regardless of its controversy, as long as it's done in a sensitive manner. Which I will try to do in the utmost, incorporating many of your suggestions. And doing a mefi post might be neat, come cherry blossom season!
posted by Sayuri. at 6:50 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


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