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In The Sound of Waves, Yukio Mishima conveys the loss of traditional values in Japan due to Westernization in after the Second World War. Through powerful symbols and juxtaposition, Mishima effectively expresses his anger towards the devastating effects of the war, such as a corrupted society, on Japan. With this novel Mishima sends a message that “the old way is the right way.” In times of oppression and hardship, Mishima was still able to portray these difficulties, like the loss of culture, which gives the work great significance.
The Second World War transformed Japan economically and socially; furthermore, it significantly influenced the way the writers began to write (Japanese history: Postwar (1945)). After the war Japanese writers began to write with darker connotations. Many writers included themes of disaffection and defeat in their works; writers had to face “moral and intellectual issues in their attempts to raise social and political consciousness” (Japanese Post-war literature). Nonetheless, Mishima’s writing did not resemble these author’s styles. “Yukio Mishima” is an alias for Kimitake Hiraoka, Mishima changed his name in order to hide from his father (Belsky), he oppressed Mishima’s ideas, even before the war did. All this rejection contributed greatly to Mishima’s style; he ingeniously used symbols to hide the true meaning of his stories just like he used an alias to hide his true identity. Even though, he transmitted the same dark message as other writers of his era, he hid it with symbols. Mishima use of symbols like the ocean and the weather represents the loss of culture that Westernization brought upon Japan. Mishima’s style is almost as a Japanese dance, very delicate but powerful. The Sound of Waves is an example of this “dance” where the story appears to be very delicate and simple, but it has an important meaning that reflects Japan was being corrupted by western influences that the war brought.
One quality of Mishima’s writing is his extensive use of symbols throughout his novel. What’s more, The Sound of Waves could be referred as a conceit that represents a Westernized Japan. The ocean is one of the most important elements of the novel. Since Uta-jima is surrounded by it, it washes away the impurities from the city. The people, who never left the island, are pure, simple and honest. “There were only four street lamps on the island […] intimidate and hold back the night” (Mishima 90). The village, in contrast with the city, is not modernized; this adds to the theme of Westernization, the island, which is perceived as more peaceful and honest than the city, represents traditional Japan, and the city, which is rapidly adopting the greedy customs of the West, represents the new Japan. People that leave the island, like Hiroshi, Yasuo and Chiyoko, are seen as evil. Through this Mishima shows how the westernized Japan corrupts people. When Hiroshi comes back from his trip to the city, he is more disrespectful towards his mother. “But not a word did Hiroshi have for all the historic spots they had” (Mishima 96), his oblivion towards the historic spots shows disregard for the old, which goes against the holistic theme of the novel that “the old way is the right way”. The weather is as important as the ocean; whenever the weather changes it’s not about the meteorological phenomenon, but there is also a change in a character’s reality. The storms play a very important role in challenging Shinji to become corrupt. They encourage him and Hatsue to break the moral codes; they do not, however, proving that some people have not been corrupted yet. They also impede Shinji from showing that he is a “go-getter”. “The wind came attacking out of the black reaches of the night, striking him full in the body, […] bit out of sorts” (Mishima 162). Nevertheless, Shinji shows that he is capable of saving the day. Also, this task is very significant to the novel, because it is when Shinji is struggling to survive that he goes from a young fishing boy, to a man. The weather and the ocean contrast each other. While the ocean impedes Westernization, the weather encourages it.
Mishima puts emphasis onto the body of thought that “the old way is the right way” by using contests. When Hatsue wins the diving contest and then gives the handbag to Shinji’s mother, she is apologizing for her Aunt’s behavior. This supports how there needs to be respect to the older ways. The rivalry between Yasuo and Shinji represents the conflict in Japan between which is better the old or the young. Shinji’s success in showing that he is a “go-getter” supports Mishima’s message that favors old customs over new ones.
Through his main characters, Mishima represents important features of Post and Pre World War 2 Japan; this is significant because the contrast between these characters shows how traditional Japan is more honest than westernized Japan. Shinji is not very intelligent, however he is very hardworking, righteous and honest; his personality represents old Japan. Since the lighthouse keeper helped him pass high school, in return he takes him fish for dinner. This shows respect and righteousness, Old Japan qualities, from Shinji’s part. Mishima mourned traditional Japan he demonstrates his frustration towards this change in his book; he asserts his message through the main character Shinji. Even though his impulses urge him to make love to Hatsue he respects her choice of not breaking the moral codes when they are at the lighthouse. This respect for women and moral codes shows Old Japan qualities. Yasuo, contrary to Shinji, is greedy, violent, rude, manipulative and stubborn. These qualities are due to his various trips to the city. These trips corrupted him and his qualities represent Westernized Japan. Mishima emphasizes his message through the extensive use of juxtapositions between characters and places. Yasuo’s lazy, greedy personality contrasts Shinji’s hardworking, honest one. Through their competition to get Hatsue, Mishima demonstrates the advantages of the uncorrupted traditional Japan. Chiyoko and Hatsue’s comparison resembles that of Yasuo and Shinji, however, theirs is a more physical one. While Hatsue is pretty and Shinji is in love with her, Chiyoko is ugly and Shinji only sees her as a friend. Furthermore, Chiyoko’s jealousy led her to deviously plot against Hatsue and Shinji, something that Hatsue would never do; also, she does not respect her parents, showing characteristics of the westernized Japan that she experienced at the university outside of Uta-jima. As seen with Hiroshi, Chiyoko and Yasuo, the city degrades honest people while the island keeps honest. One reason that might explain this is that the island is surrounded by water while the city is not, supporting how the ocean washes away the impurities from the West.
The Sound of Waves is a beautiful novel that at first seems to be a very simplistic love story. However, closer inspection of the author’s personal life reveals that Mishima’s intentions were not to please others with a cliché but to represent the causes of the Second World War. His astute ways hiding features of traditional and new Japan, give significance to his story since he differs from other authors of his era. Through symbols representing the hardships of Post-World War 2 Japan, Mishima was able to brighten people’s day while transmitting an important message as well.
Belsky, Beryl. “Japan.” Yukio Mishima: A Conflicted Martyr. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.
“Japanese History: Postwar.” Japanese History: Postwar. Web. n.p, n.d. 03 March 2015.
“Japanese Post-war Literature.” Go Japan Go. n.p, n.d. Web. 03 March 2015.
Mishima, Yukio, and Meredith Weatherby. The Sound Of Waves. New York: Vintage, 1956. Print.
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