Fiction Friday, way way late: “Order of the Sakura”

This is new. A sketch of the alternate history of the Pacific Northwest in a Man in the High Castle scenario, told through a school essay by Protagonist. I wanted to explore the possible role of religion in a nation where religious institutions played a major role in an independence movement, as well as the possible syncretism that would come from a Japanese occupation of American west coast. Pretty raw, but interesting. The biggest challenge was writing in a deliberately awkward voice, simulating a young writer. Preamble by Protagonist’s biographer, long after his death.

The Order of the Sakura

We present, unedited and in full, an early paper from [protagonist]’s writing. We estimate that it was written in his late teens, probably an assignment for school. It is presented for what we feel to be historically significant glimmers of his future intellectual development; it is a work that both foreshadows the ethical underpinning of his career and shows significant changes to his thinking since his youth. While the writing is stilted and immature compared to his adult voice, there are early suggestions of the passionate, though even-handed, voice that he is known for today. The original copy had a notation; 3.5/5 5/5. We like to imagine it was his grade — 3.5 for style, 5 for substance, each on a five point scale.

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Report: Order of the Sakura

The Order of the Sakura is a religious movement in the Pacific States of America formed as a Japanese-sponsored branch of Christianity acceptable to the tyrannical occupation. I chose this movement to write about because I’m interested in the interaction of Japanese and Western religious ideas, as well as the church and the state, and because there are parts of the religion that I like, even though I’m not religious.

After the Japanese Empire invasion of the west coast of America in the First Imperial War, the Empire suppressed the occupied population, taking away rights such as speech and assembly and, important for this essay, religion. The Japanese occupying force under Governor Yamamoto didn’t ban religions entirely, but they closed churches, harassed clergy, and discouraged open display of religious symbols other than approved Shintoist and Buddhist symbols. This suppression led to some violence against the occupying military, so when the occupation turned into a collaborationist sham government, the controlling force decided that there needed to be a way of allowing religion but keeping it under control.

A conference was held in San Francisco in the Old St. Mary’s Church, chosen to reach out to Catholics, who were the hardest hit and most resentful of the religious oppression. Despite walkouts by many of the Christian leaders who couldn’t agree to the coercive “reforms”, an agreement was reached with accommodationist leaders from a variety of Christian churches, as well as some Jewish, Moslem, and other religious leaders. Japanese representatives had a great respect for the monastic tradition, which is very strong in Zen and Shinto religion, so the new church was organized on monastic lines, and given the name: the Order of the Sakura. (I will discuss the symbol of the Sakura later in this paper.)

Initially, the Order of the Sakura was distrusted, but more and more local religious leaders came to see that they kept a lot of freedom about how they performed their services even if they had to give up some parts of their doctrine. It seems that the occupation government was satisfied with outer support for show. For the first few years, the Order of the Sakura was little more than a show hierarchy that assigned government-loyal clerics to local churches.

However, in 1952, one man emerged from the hierarchy who would become the leader that made the Order of the Sakura a movement in its own right. That man is Prelate Alan Watts.

Now known for his role in the ongoing resistance against the collaborationist regime, Watts was first known in the Pacific States of America as a prominent young Episcopal minister in San Francisco. Originally from England, Watts had studied in New York to join the clergy. He was in San Francisco on an ecumenical exchange with a Zen Buddhist community when the west coast of the United States was locked down in preparation for a Japanese invasion, and was never able to return to New York. At this time, he later said in interviews, he was questioning his Christian faith in favour of Eastern religions, but he felt he could be of service to the Christian tradition by reviving a monastic contemplative practice.

Watts first drew the occupation authority’s attention because they believed a cleric that incorporated the Christian and Japanese Zen traditions could be perfect as a figurehead for their government approved religion. At that time Watts was apolitical, so he accepted, believing it was a great opportunity to unite and promote a new monastic tradition as the Order of the Sakura. Seeing how the government influenced religious leaders, and the thinly veiled contempt they had for Christianity politicized him, and he made contact with both PSA resistance members and British Canadian operatives. His efforts in the revolution in the PSA in the twilight of the Second Imperial War, as well as his reconciliation work in the new independent government made him a hero in the old PSA, and both the former American and Canadian regions of Cascadia.

After the revolution, the Order of the Sakura was reformed under Watts’ direction to religion that calls for individual self-discovery, and responsibility to all of humanity. He taught that all beings can discover and live their Christ-consciousness, and that “eternity” is a state we can all live in, not a goal to be found after death. He taught that Christ-consciousness isn’t just for Sunday but for every day, and not just for meditation but all the time. He taught an understanding that forgiveness is important, but just as important is atonement, or making up for ones sins by making it right with those you’ve sinned against. And he taught that living in Christ-consciousness is about flowing with, not opposing, natural processes.

Today, the Order of the Sakura is a popular religious organization in Cascadia and the California Republic, and is small but growing in the Peace Republic and the Rocky Mountain Free States. Although the Order does not prosthelytize, wandering monks of the Order have taken the message all over the world for those who have ears to hear it. The Order of the Sakura’s message is very much connected to Cascadia’s landscape, so it has more appeal here than in other places.

That is the history of the Order of the Sakura. But my reasons for wanting to write about it are more personal. I am not devoutly religious, but my parents and some grandparents were active in the reformed post-occupation Order, and raised me with its values if not its doctrine. I believe in those values and the symbols and festivals of the Order are very personally meaningful to me to this day.

The Order of the Sakura appeals to me because of the richness of its symbols. The Sakura is a symbol of rebirth, and of transience. Every spring the cherry trees blossom, before most other trees, and soon after the blossoms fall. This reminds us that everything we know is fleeting, but also that new things will come afterward. The blossom is also the mother of the fruit, which reminds me that there is often a gap between our efforts and the result, and not to despair if we don’t yet see the fruit. This also relates to my next point, about social conscience, because I see the PSA revolution as the blossom, and Cascadia as the fruit.

I also like the Order for its social conscience. It is not a religion that believes in staying separate from worldy affairs, because followers and leaders of the religion saw first-hand what happens when religions stay apolitical, and do not vocally support human freedom and self-determination. The Order has been instrumental in shaping the active religious participation in social affairs that we see and value in Cascadia. This is good because it prevents mechanistic secular attitudes from removing rights and human dignity in the name of technocratic expedience.

Overall, I believe the Order of the Sakura is a good religion, in that people will be good inhabitants of this world if they follow its values, but I believe every needs to find a teaching that they feel is right for them, so I would never try to tell people that one religion is better for them than another, ever the Order of the Sakura.

One comment

  1. Tan

    I can imagine writing ‘badly’ would have been difficult for you ;)
    I love that you included Watts, and I love the California Republic, the Peace Republic and the Rocky Mountain Free States.
    Where would the Peace Republic be?

    Ohh…you should draw maps

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