Thoughts on Mishima Yukio's "The Sound of Waves"
I am no an expert when it comes to Mishima Yukio. So far I have only read his short story “Patriotism” and his novella “Star”, both of which have rather strong shock value.
That’s why I was surprised when I started reading “The Sound of Waves” and everything seemed… normal. It is a classic tale of growing up and overcoming the obstacles one often faces in one’s late teens, in the setting of a small Japanese island village in the 1950s. It is reflective of Japanese society, pride, honor, determination, and coming of age (through Mishima’s lease, of course). The main character Shinji, undergoes a period of growth, exemplifies his strengths with little struggle, and wins the girl, Hatsue, he recently fell in love with by gaining the respect of her father.
While it contains some of the classical bushido-esque, new-Confucian themes Mishima seemed mesmerised with, I was convinced this was a simple love story until the last line.
“He knew it had been his own strength that had tided him through that perilous night.”
That’s when I realized what Mishima had done. Still, I thought that was much better than ending the story with an empty romantic gesture.
Shinji and Hatsue’s relationship is based on their independent struggles to be together. When they are forced apart, they do not lash out in a Romeo and Juliet style rebellion, but instead think carefully of how to accomplish this seemingly impossible task. Hatsue’s father has already chosen her husband-to-be, Yasuo, who is very arrogant and lazy. When Shinji is given a chance to prove himself against this unworthy opponent, he does so without any trickery. He simply does what must be done and believes in himself.
I imagine that Mishima’s image of these island folk is what he believed to best represent the ideal Japanese spirit.
I was impressed by the way life in this village seemed difficult, especially by our modern standards, yet admirable all the same. Perhaps this kind of village life served as a vehicle of escapism for those in cities like Tokyo, who suffered much more during the war. Even after defeat, small villages like this survived and epitomize Japan's resilience.