Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Animism of Cherry Blossom and Nose Art: D. T. Suzuki and the American Spirit

Prof. Takao Hagiwara.

Towards the end of Pacific War, D. T. Suzuki observed that Japan had been defeated not by American materialism, but by the American spirit, a spirit
he saw embodied in the gleaming fuselages of the B-29 bombers that flew over his house in Kamakura. Suzuki said that this American spirit is "goriseishin" (rationalism), which I see as symbolized by what is called "nose art," depictions of female nudes and other such images that the Americans painted on the fuselages of their fighters and bombers during WW
II. I think that there is an animistic element in nose art because the crew seemed to have felt that the painted women were almost real women, and they
may have subconsciously identified their planes’ fuselages with the female bodies painted on them. While it would have been unthinkable for the
Japanese military to condone such paintings, it had its own animism, deeply rooted in traditional Japanese animistic sensibilities. For instance, the war song "Doki no sakura" (Flower of Our Generation) sung by Kamikaze pilots and others can be seen as an expression of the traditional animism of cherry
blossoms. Not surprisingly, then, "Oka" (cherry blossom) was also the name of the Japanese military’s own rocket-propelled fighter.

My paper explores the interactions between these two types of animistic spirits, that of nose art and that of the cherry blossom, and investigates how these interactions underlie, affect, and in part constitute D. T. Suzuki’s Zen spirit. Some of the other topics I deal with include "soku-hi no ronri" (soku-hi logic, A is A because A is not-A), "reisei" (spirituality), and "bosei" (motherhood or womb sensibility). Through these explorations, my paper will clarify the nature of the raptures that Suzuki perceives as fundamental problems not only of the American spirit but of modernity in general, rifts that divide science (rationality) and religion (animism), enlightenment and barbarism, and patriarchy/fatherhood and matriarchy/motherhood, and that can be repaired only through "reisei" (spirituality). The point of my paper is that Suzuki’s concept of "reisei," which is based on the soku-hi logic, is in turn based on the womb sensibility that engenders the animism of the cherry blossom.


Prof. Takao Hagiwara  (United States)
Associate Prof. of Japanese and Comparative Literature
Dept. of Modern Languages and Literatures
Case Western Reserve University

  • Amrican and Japanese spirits
Person as Subject
  • Suzuki, D. T.

(Virtual Presentation, English)