The Sound of Waves

The Sound of Waves
Yukio Mishima
Vintage Press

For a long time I considered Mishima to be far and above all others, my favorite Japanese writer. This has only changed in that nowadays I would put him among a few others, and if I'm honest, I allow the excitement of being in the middle of reading a "new" discovery to claim a new favorite. With this in mind I enter any Mishima book with very high expectations.

To me, The Sound of Waves felt distinctly like two different books. One very simple and sweet, but another, with hints of the future. This is the advantage of reading dead writers, seeing how things end brings new meaning to what has come before. However, it also means that too much might be read into nothing. So, let me review both books I read and allow any new reader to decide which is more true.

First, let's take a look at the sweet, beautiful and pure love story. Here, Shinji, the poor, strong and honest young fisherman falls in love with Hatsue, the well off, but still hard working and absolutely pure young daughter of the richest family in the island. Utajima is a small island off the coast of Toba in Mie, which lies a few hours east of Osaka and Nara, an area famous for Ise Shrine (Probably the top shrine in the whole country, Obama had some nice photos taken in the surroundings in his last year in office). In the 1950's even Ise was too far away to interfere with the serene surroundings of this beautiful island which can't help but inspire young love. Yet, of course a story needs conflict and why not the unhappy father and the rumors of silly villagers. None of this is enough to stop true love, and with the passing of a  test of virtue for both our youngsters; with the beautiful virgin fighting off a rape to save herself, and the boy sleighing the dragon of the waves in no less than a typhoon, love conquers all. Now all that is left is for the two to wed and live out their lives in the beautiful island. This is the simple reading of the book, with the only real depth being Mishima showing his idea of a perfect world.

Second, a slightly more cynical reading, though not completely separate reading of this novel might place a bit more importance on how Mishima views the outside world. In this reading, not only is Mishima praising Utajima, but condemning all else. The would be rapist found his sexual experience with prostitutes on the mainland. The gossip who spreads the hurtful rumors is Tokyo educated. Shinjo's brother, who comes across as sweet and innocent, only shows bad points of waste and idleness when on his trip to the big cities of Osaka and Kyoto. And our hero, Shinji, finds his danger on a trip, not just outside the island, but all the way down to Okinawa, a place that many Japanese, and certainly this book, referred to as a place separate from real Japan. While both of my readings mesh to this point, it is from here that they may differ, for reading all of Mishima's work together, this appears to be his beginnings of seeing the outside as evil and dangerous, and in that way, this work may hint of things to come in Mishima's life journey.

However, maybe in the 50's Mishima still merely wanted to praise this old fashioned Japan, and had not yet begun to feel that this needed to be violently protected from outsiders. Maybe this book can, or should be read as a sweet love story. Maybe sometimes, that is what we all need.

More Mishima!!

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea


  1. This sounds like a very interesting read. I will hunt down a copy as I am interested in how Mishima constructed this story, especially the dynamics of his characters. I'm working on a similar tale of love-conquering-all, set on an island in the Seto Naikai....anyhow thanks for the thoughtful review. It was an enjoyable read.

    1. Please make sure to let me know when your book/story is available, and if you have any other Japan based writing.


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