Monday, September 26, 2016

Brett J. Esaki's "Enfolding Silence"

Brett J. Esaki is Assistant Professor of American Religions at Georgia State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Enfolding Silence: The Transformation of Japanese American Religion and Art under Oppression, and reported the following:
Lucky me! Page 99 contains the same image as the book cover. It is of Linda Mihara’s Peace Sphere, a magnificent sculpture folded from a single sheet of paper without glue. (Quick shout out to the artists at Oxford University Press who made the beautiful cover: in person you can see the texture of the paper, the play of light and shadow, and Mihara’s artistic skill.) Like the title implies, the sculpture represents the ideal of a united world as well as the practical requirement of uplifting each other to forge world peace. Underlying the surface ideals are history, culture, and religion, and this follows an overall goal of the book to enable readers to see such depth in Japanese American art.

Origami cranes embody layers of meaning. Across the world, the crane represents origami itself and the nation of Japan. In the chapter, I explain that this is due to the history of the spread of origami via western colonial exploitation, Japanese imperialist expansion, and Froebel kindergarten. In Japan, it is associated with surviving the atomic bombs, largely due to mythologizing the story of Sadako Sasaki, a girl who died of radiation sickness and whose statue is at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. For Japanese Americans, the crane symbolizes weddings since it is a Japanese American tradition to fold 1,000 cranes for wedding ceremonies. The crane also symbolizes cultural survival through early twentieth century racism and through the political and cultural oppression carried out by the World War II internment camps.

On page 99, I explore the religious history of the crane. The folding technique that founds the Peace Sphere is called connected cranes, which was originated by an eighteenth century Buddhist priest named Rokoan Gido and popularized in his work Senbazuru Orikata (One-Thousand Crane Folds). As I write,
This book was ingenious because of its folding technique and because it combined the Shinto symbolism of cranes, Confucian interpersonal relationships, and the Buddhist appreciation of the moment. This made origami full of emotion, including the emotion of relationships and a sense of wonder at the possibilities of nearly nothing becoming something lifelike.
My book highlights silences from art, history, culture, and religion that are fused in rituals that “enfold” them together, and thus it illuminates the significance of silence for Japanese Americans. By conveying all these dimensions, silence serves as a strategy of resisting oppression, sustaining Japanese Americans dehumanized by systematic racism and multiple colonial projects while preserving history and culture in the face of erasure. Silence contests silencing and at the same time teaches the wisdom and beauty of silence.
Learn more about Enfolding Silence at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue