The Sound of Waves

The Sound of Waves Summary and Analysis of Chapter II


The next morning Shinji goes out on his master's boat like usual. While he stands on the bow of the boat he remembers the moments between leaving the lighthouse and going to bed the previous evening. His mother and twelve-year-old brother, Hiroshi, were awaiting his return, sitting by a dim lamp and the cook stove. His mother had supported the family singlehandedly with her work as a diving woman after Shinji's father died, until Shinji started his current fishing job.

When he entered the house his mother asked if the lighthouse keeper was pleased and he answered in the affirmative. During the plain meal his mother had prepared, Shinji hoped the girl would be mentioned but she was not. After the dinner Shinji and Hiroshi went to the public bath where Shinji again hoped to hear some news of the girl's arrival from the older men. The postmaster and the head of the Co-operative argued loudly and pompously about politics, but Shinji heard nothing of the girl he could not get out of his mind.

His brother finished bathing more quickly than usual, as it turned out he had made the head of the Co-operative's son cry that afternoon by hitting him with a wooden sword. That night Shinji could not fall asleep like he was accustomed to doing, but instead lay awake. He was concerned that this might be the sickness everyone spoke of but that he had never experienced, having always been healthy.

Back on the prow of the ship looking out over the ocean, Shinji beings to return to the sensation of the day-to-day toil and its concomitant of peace. The reefs in the channel keep the water churning, making it difficult for ocean liners but not for the small and skillfully-handled Taihei-maru. It continues out to the part of the Pacific where the octopus pots are sunk.

Octopus makes up eighty percent of Uta-jima's yearly catch, and they are now at the tail end of the octopus season. The master fishermen know the exact "rise and fall of the bottom of the shallow waters off the Pacific side of the island [which] were as familiar as their own kitchen gardens." The ropes are laid out over the floor of the ocean, and over a hundred pots are tied to them. The master knows all the technicalities of this art of octopus fishing, and Shinji and the other boy, Ryuji, only have to lend their strong bodies for heavy labor.

The master fisherman of this boat is Jukichi Oyama. He is tanned and wrinkled, with a calm demeanor and good spirits. As he guides the boat through waters dotted with other boats, he calls out greetings to the other fishermen who man them. He turns off the engine and the boys take turns pulling the ropes that descend into the sea.

The sun is hazy and cormorants fly along the top of the water. The wind is cold but Shinji is filled with energy. The sea does not cooperate with them for some time; the octopus pots keep coming up empty. The sun eventually breaks through the clouds and the boys grow warm from their exertions. They spend the rest of the day fishing for octopi, coming up with only five. They sail back into the Irako Channel and do "drag fishing" in the prohibited waters there for a bit. Shinji successfully catches four flatheads and three soles.

At lunchtime the three men sit on the boat, rocking in the gentle swell of the waves. Jukichi abruptly asks them what they thought about Uncle Teru Miyata bringing his girl back. It turns out that he had four girls and a boy, but since there were so many girls he married three off and sent the fourth away to become a diver. He kept the boy with him, but this son, Matsu, recently died and so he has just summoned his unmarried daughter, Hatsue, back to live with him since he is lonely. Jukichi speculates that there will be plenty of men who want to marry her since she is so beautiful, and he jokes with Ryuji and Shinji that they might want to do just that. They laugh and blush.

Shinji realizes this is the same girl he saw yesterday, but is saddened when he thinks of his own poverty compared to the wealth of Terukichi Miyata, the rich owner of two frigates chartered to Yamagawa Transport. Shinji, being very level-headed, has never thought much about women. The island has no bars and "not a single waitress." His dream is to own an engine-powered boat and go into the coastal shipping business with Hiroshi.

He does not have great dreams; rather, "his fisherman's conception of the sea was close to that of the farmer for his land." However, that day and its information about the girl brings the outside world in upon him "with a hugeness he had never before apprehended."


In the second chapter of A Sound of Waves, Mishima continues to finely draw a portrait of a beautiful, serene, and nearly timeless island setting. He dwells on the coldness of the air and freshness of the breeze, the vitality of the sea, the simplicity of the dwellings, and the bounty of the sea, which provides a daily living for most who reside on Uta-jima. The vicissitudes of the sea are almost more dramatic and compelling than those that characterize the lives of the island's inhabitants.

A Sound of Waves, thus, is a nearly-perfect modern day interpretation of a pastoral work of art. Mishima had visited Greece right before the composition of this novel; this is no surprise as the origins of the pastoral are found in the works of the Greek writers and poets such as Hesiod, Ovid, and Theocritus. Renaissance writers and poets also embraced this genre, or mode, as some scholars of the pastoral prefer to label it. The pastoral was also conspicuous in Renaissance and Baroque painting. In essence, it is a type of literature where the author takes complex human life and turns it into a simple one. It often has a rural and beautiful natural setting. The protagonist is usually a shepherd in its purest form, or another young man who works on the land (or in Mishima's case, the sea). There is a heavy presence of the childlike and naive as well as nostalgia. Unimportant things are given importance. Personification is utilized. Oftentimes, the characters and events are elevated to allegory. Many of these elements can be observed throughout the reading of A Sound of Waves.

One pastoral element to be observed is that even death is dealt with in a very subtle, simple fashion. It appears fleetingly and at this point only affects the sea creatures that give their lives for sustenance. Mishima writes of three of these little deaths in his first two chapters; Shinji notices that "a small starfish had dried to the deck in the prow" (19) of the Taihei-maru, and while he is performing his daily labor, that "the flatheads fell to the blood-smeared deck, their white bellies gleaming" (17). When he visits the lighthouse keeper's house he observes "the halibut had already been placed on a white enamelware platter, where it lay faintly gasping, blood oozing from its gills, streaking its smooth white skin" (10). Mishima's prose does not belabor these moments but simply presents them in a manner that is striking for its lucid imagery.

Also of note in this chapter is Shinji's relationship with the outside world. His is not a mind that strives toward the unknown. He does not have grandiose dreams or thoughts. He views the swath of sea he works on as a farmer views his plot of land. His life's goal is to go into the fishing business with his brother. He has not yet been off of this island, being too poor to afford the school excursion to the mainland when he was a schoolboy. He does not trouble himself with reading or attaining knowledge.

Thus, it is immensely surprising to him what the introduction of Hatsue does to his worldview. Mishima writes that when Shinji saw a freighter out upon the sea, "from far away the world came pressing upon him with a hugeness he had never before apprehended. The realization of this unknown world came to him like distant thunder, now pealing from afar, now dying away to nothingness" (19). His growing love for Hatsue stirs within him some deeper feeling. He is aware that she dwelled in another place beyond Uta-jima. The ships that he hitherto looked upon with no curiosity are now representatives of a distant, strange unknown. This novel is thus more than a mere love story, but also a sort of coming-of-age tale (to be discussed in further analyses).