The Sound of Waves

The Sound of Waves Summary and Analysis of Chapters XIII & XIV


The young female divers do not relish the return of diving season. As the young boys rue their return to school, the divers learn to hate the time when they are required to dive back into the depths of the sea. They ruminate on the feelings of panic and pain, and have sleepless nights filled with torturous nightmares. They admire the older women who approach their job with such lightheartedness and ease, not realizing that they are on the path to feeling the same way.

The divers are busiest in June and July. One particular day they are resting on the beach at Garden Beach, a lovely spot that "did indeed have the qualities of a landscaped park." The women rest at lunch and jokingly argue about who has the best breasts. All of their breasts, currently bare, are suntanned and honey-colored. Some are sagging and others are firm above their well-developed pectoral muscles. One young girl bemoaned the fact that one of her breasts is smaller than the other, and one of the old women consoles her and explains that they will even out under a man's touch.

Shinji's mother is proud of her own young and fresh breasts, but admits that nearly all the women are most impressed by Hatsue's beautiful breasts. When Shinji's mother has the leisure to look upon them, she realizes what the other women also notice –- these are the breasts of a virgin. They are still unripe; "their roundness, still tinged with the firmness of childhood, seemed on the verge of awakening from sleep, seemed ready to come awake at the slightest touch of a feather, at the caress of the slightest breeze."

While eating lunch a favorite peddler of theirs appears; they playfully cover themselves but actually have no shame in front of this elderly man who plies his wares to the diving women of the island. He always comes at lunch down near the beach because the women are bolder and more open while near the sea. The box of goods contains coin purses, fabric for kimonos, brooches, ribbons, and more. The women ooh and ahh over his collection.

Shinji's mother buys a plastic shopping bag and Hatsue purchases cotton-kimono material in a lovely pattern of morning-glories. The peddler is pleased with his business, and decides to offer them a "magnificent service." He reveals three exquisite purses –a blue one for young ladies, a brown one for middle-aged ladies, and a black one for elderly ladies. They are beautiful and expensive looking, and the women fawn over them. Most cannot afford the steep price tag, but the peddler tells them his plan. He decides to give one away for free to the woman who can dive for the most abalone within an hour. Shinji’s mother and Hatsue both sign up to compete.

Eight women in total head out to sea on the small diving boat. Hatsue is the only young girl to compete. The women on shore hoot out their support for their friends, gathering around the peddler and singing songs.

An hour later the eight women return, exhausted and silent, their hair mussed and their expressions blank. They are covered in goose pimples and look like a "group of pallid, drowned corpses." The women on the beach receive them loudly, and when the peddler counts the abalone he announces Hatsue won. Shinji's mother, the island's best diver, "had been bested by a girl who learned her skill from the divers of another island."

However, when Hatsue goes to pick up her purse, she chooses the brown one instead and presents it to Shinji's mother. Her cheeks red with delight, she asks the girl why, and Hatsue responds that it was because she always wanted to apologize for the way her father had treated "Auntie." Everyone begins praising the girl and Shinji's mother thanks her calmly. Her "simple, straightforward heart had immediately understood the modesty and respect behind the girl's gesture." She is pleased with her son's choice of a bride.

In chapter fourteen, the narrative turns to Shinji, who is saddened because Hatsue's letters have stopped, no doubt due to her father's discovery of her behavior. One day the Utajima-maru, the larger of Terukichi Miyata's two coasting freighters, comes to the island. The captain goes to the houses of his boss, then Yasuo, then Jukichi, and finally Shinji. The captain is gentle and proud, but balding, some believe as punishment for keeping women in multiple ports.

He discusses his business with Shinji and his mother, inquiring whether or not Shinji would like to become an apprentice –- a "rice-rinser" –- on his ship. He says he already has Jukichi’s blessing for Shinji to do so. Shinji is surprised that Terukichi would want him on his ship, but he accepts the great opportunity, and is surprised to learn the next day that Yasuo is also going to be an apprentice. He hears that Yasuo was against the idea until Uncle Teru said that the apprenticeship had to come before a betrothal to Hatsue. This news fills Shinji's heart with "anxiety, pain, and then at the same time, hope."

The day of the departure arrives. Hatsue is there to bid Yasuo goodbye, but her father is absent. She secretly gives Shinji's mother a little package and the mother gives it to her son. As Uta-jima recedes, Shinji finds he feels exhilarated and free; it was his desire to leave the island that made him accept this position. He is remarkably happy.

The package from Hatsue contains a charm from Yashiro Shrine, a snapshot of her, and a letter. The letter says that Hatsue's father said nothing to her about why both he and Yasuo are on the ship, but that she feels it is for a reason, and sees a ray of hope. Shinji is cheered by this, and spends a few moments studying the beautiful photo of Hatsue.

They reach Toba and the boys are given their quarters on the ship. Shinji and Yasuo have to bunk together, and Yasuo, feeling downhearted and desiring peace, suggests that they leave hard feelings behind them and become friends. Shinji agrees, smiling.

Shinji's first job is to take down the anchor light to denote that the ship is awake and ready to sail. The Utajima-maru is to carry lumber to Okinawa and return to Kobe in six weeks. It stops at Fukushima to take on the lumber and continues on its way. During the downtime the men listen to old songs on a phonograph. Sometimes they stay up late and talk; Yasuo often argues and wins his point, while Shinji always remained quiet. It becomes clear that Yasuo is lazy and apathetic; Shinji picks up his slack so the rest of the crew takes a little while to notice. One day Yasuo is quite insubordinate, boasting that the only reason he is on the ship is because he is going to become Uncle Teru's son.

The ship discharges its cargo and picks up scrap metal for the return voyage to Japan. The crew is not allowed off the ship, and they sit gazing at the place where the Americans made their landing in the war. The Korean War has come to an end for now, but the Americans still maintain a military presence.

The ship is given clearance to enter the port of Unten for the metal, but is told that a dangerous typhoon is approaching Okinawa. The captain wants to try and get ahead of the typhoon and make it to Japan. Rain begins to fall and the waves become higher. The wind picks up and howls across the ship. The atmospheric pressure reaches an "abnormal low." The captain chooses to return to the port, but the reef leading into it is dangerous to navigate. It is a slow process. They encounter a bonito ship taking shelter in the reefs and rope the two ships together. The wind grows incredibly strong. The Utajima-maru has no radio, but the bonito ship keeps them informed of the typhoon's progress. At night a few men are put on watch to make sure the ropes holding the two ships stay fast.

At eleven, Shinji, Yasuo, and another young seaman take over the watch, battling high winds that prevent them from even standing up on the deck. The roaring of the sea and wind, however, "gave the infinite night that enveloped them a quality of frenzied serenity." They are to watch the lines that tie their ship to the buoy, but unfortunately, one of them begins to slip and suddenly breaks, recoiling swiftly back onto the ship and almost killing them. One line out of only four has thus given way.

The captain asks the three young men which one of them will swim out and tie the line back to the buoy. After a moment of silence Shinji volunteers, silently berating himself for taking so long to do it. The typhoon is powerful and loud, but "it was as right for Shinji to be invited to a seat at this banquet of madness as to a quiet and natural afternoon nap." Barefoot and wearing only a white shirt, Shinji ties the marline around his waist. The captain tells him to swim for it and tie the lifeline to the buoy.

Shinji dives into the rough sea; the buoy is only twenty five yards away but it seems like miles, even to as strong a swimmer as he is. He can barely make any progress, and his body is tossed upon the waves. Finally he reaches the buoy but finds it difficult to hold on. At one point he feels as if he is never going to be able to breathe again with all the water coming into his mouth. He is at last able to achieve his mission, as difficult as it was. The men on the ship cheer for him. Even though he is exhausted, he is filled with cheerfulness and energy.

When he arrives back on the ship the men help dry him off and get him to his bunk. He falls into a deep sleep immediately. When he wakes, he sees a beautiful and placid sea. The typhoon is over.


Chapter thirteen gives readers a glimpse into the community of women on Uta-jima. The women who dive for abalone are of all ages, backgrounds, and personalities. The older women have grown to accept the realities of their difficult lives, while the younger girls still fear the cold, painful, and dreary depths of the ocean. However, both groups of women share their experiences with each other -– they laugh, joke, gossip, defend, and encourage each other. The difficulties of their jobs, the pain of childbirth, the ache of widowhood, the sting of poverty (for some), and the torture of first loves are all ameliorated by the fellowship and support given by the community of island women.

Hatsue further demonstrates her strong moral character in this chapter. First, as Shinji's mother and other women notice, Hatsue is clearly still a virgin. Second, when Hatsue and Shinji's mother both volunteer to dive in the contest for abalone to win the beautiful purses from the peddler and Hatsue wins, she gives up her purse to Shinji's mother and offers a heartfelt apology for the way her father treated old "Auntie." This is not done out of a desire to win Shinji's mother's approval or proudly display her magnanimity, but from a simple, sweet, and honest desire to make amends for the cruel behavior of her father and to show respect for the elder woman.

In chapter fourteen Shinji's life changes forever with the apprenticeship he accepts on one of Terukichi's freighters. While it may be an opportunity for him to prove his mettle to Terukichi and win his daughter's hand (as certain pieces of information seem to suggest), what Shinji truly gains from this journey is an encounter with the unknown, with the world outside of Uta-jima. Mishima writes that "here he was, a young man born and bred on that island, loving it more than anything else in the world, and yet he was now eager to leave it. It was his desire to leave the island that had made him accept the captain's offer of a berth on the Utajima-maru" (150). As the ship moves away from the island he knows so well, Shinji shouts within his heart, "I'm free!" (150). Shinji has come a long way from his small dreams of being a fisherman with his brother; he is now prepared for encounters with the wider world. Thus The Sound of Waves is not only a love story but a coming-of-age story as well, and in some ways, the coming-of-age aspect to the novel is the dominate one. Though Shinji has been obsessed with finding a way to be with Hatsue, when he has reason to believe he has been given a path to her, he doesn’t even think about it, but focuses on the work on the boat for its own sake and for its part in making him a man.

This embrace of a new way of life allows Shinji to demonstrate two of his best characteristics—physical strength and courage. When the Utajima-maru is enmeshed in a powerful storm, Shinji volunteers for the dangerous task of diving into the ocean and re-anchoring the heaving ship to a buoy. His inherent cheerfulness and energy as well as his prowess in the water result in success, and he earns the captain and crew's sincere respect and approbation.

This act of valor, of course, leads to Terukichi's reassessment of the qualities he wants in a husband for his daughter and the eventual securing of a happy ending for the lovers. Yasuo's apprenticeship is a disaster for the cocky young man; his blatant laziness, apathy, and insubordination are in stark contrast with the unrelenting diligence and steadfastness exhibited by the poor fisherman, Shinji. He receives his comeuppance when he is bested in the attempt to marry Hatsue. Mishima is thus very clear in his rewarding of simple, honest, and moral characters and his thwarting the aims of the immoral, cruel, and selfish characters.