The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

Updated: May 19, 2021

In ‘The Sound of Waves’, the sea rages and calms, ebbs and rises again according to its own whims. The laws of nature commanding our respect as not only a backdrop but an intrinsic part of the story itself. Love, duty and honour are at the heart of it all and they too are presented as natural laws within Japanese island society complete with various whims and quirks of fate.

As such, it is a delight. A small-scale joy with the ability to stir and calm in equal measure as it finds its way through gloriously dense descriptions – by turns brutal and elegant, sweet and above all sensual.

Sensations really do permeate the story. Washing over you within the unrushed simplicity of the plot, that is as short and gentle as the misty spray of the sea that coats and caresses the skin. Breathe it in and you can almost taste the sea air and when the taste of salt on lips or the feel of the rain on skin is described, you may find yourself a home to fully escape to for as long as the story lasts.

The complications within the plot are mostly minor, the products of gossip, rivalry, protectiveness and duty. In short, this is a plot is based around the characters rather than the characters being based around the plot. As such, within the world of post-war Japan, they are recognizably honest in the face of first love on a quiet, insular island; small town life is evoked vividly in ways that transcend culture to become familiar to anyone who has ever lived or grown up in a small town.

The reason for this is simple. The characters who populate the island feel real while remaining an organic extension of the place they are from. Shinji, Hatsue and the others are vividly alive on the page and that brings the plot and the island Uta-Jima itself into focus too. There is a simplicity to this and a loveliness that is deceptively difficult to achieve while also making the open-hearted generosity of the people of Uta-Jima island well worth a visit when our own seas get a little too rough.

You will find that sadness is there in the background, but it never drowns out the hope that good will prevail in the end. Open your heart to it and it gives back more than seems possible from so small a story; reminding us that sometimes when a storm grows quiet, we are not still in the eye of it. Sometimes it has passed and you still remain. Perhaps a little battered but still able to see in the tranquility that remains that there is still beauty and perhaps even a better view of the storms that still lie ahead.

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