Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, author of 14 books in English and Japanese, translated in many other languages. She was appointed the distinguished chair of modern culture at the Library of congress in DC in 2009, and is a member of the American academy of Arts and Science.
In her last book “Flowers That Kill: Communicative Opacity in Political Spaces”, comparing the uses of Japanese cherry blossoms and German roses, she demonstrates how a quotidian symbol, like a flower, and the folk aesthetic can play a role in leading people to violence and wars.
General theories about the role of symbolism and folk aesthetic in historical and cross-cultural perspective; Symbols of identity in Japan.
Rice as Self: Japanese Identities Through Time. Princeton University Press, 1993.
Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History. University of Chicago Press, 2002. (Also in French, 2014.)
Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers. University of Chicago (Also in Russian and Polish translation), 2006.
Flowers That Kill: Communicative Opacity in Political Spaces, 2015.
This project examines late medieval Japan period as a launching pad for a larger research project on the power of symbols. The focus is on the struggles between the emperors and warlords, which centered on the symbols of prestige and honor rather than material goods or military strength. The Japanese emperors, who originated as shaman-rice farmers, never had a standing military force. During a span of barely half a century toward the end of the medieval period, warriors usurped the imperial power without revolution or bloodshed. Yet they never completely ignored the symbolic power of the emperors. Furthermore, they established their own culture underlined by their own aesthetic system, which today is considered the Japanese culture.