Places: The Sound of Waves

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Shiosai, 1954 (English translation, 1956)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Idyll

Time of work: The 1950’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedUta-jima

Uta-jima Sound of Waves, The (ew-tah-jee-muh). Japanese island, whose name translates as “Song Island,” that provides the novel’s central setting. With a coastline of less than three miles, the tiny island is located near the Gulf of Ise, which opens into the Pacific Ocean. The island is rocky, wooded, and not good for agriculture. Its residents’ lives are shaped by the patterns of the sea: fishing, shipping, weather, and waves. Most of the islanders are involved in fishing for octopus and squid or diving for abalone, pearls, or seaweed.

Yukio Mishima describes the island as a place of astounding beauty with coastline vistas, ancient pine forests, rocky promontories, and a gorgeous shrine dedicated to the god of the sea. Its residents live in a kind of pastoral serenity. The island itself functions as a character in the novel because of the idyllic peacefulness, isolation, and simplicity of the lives of the people who live there. In many ways, Kerukichi Miyata, the father of Hatsue, represents the values of the island. He is the personification of Uta-jima’s toil, ambition, and strength with his uncannily accurate weather predictions, his superior experience in all matters of fishing and navigation, and his great pride in knowing all the history and traditions of island culture.


*Okinawa (oh-kih-naw-wah). Island south of Japan that is part of the Ryukyu chain of islands, where Shinji goes as a crewman on a cargo ship carrying lumber from Japan. During the height of a typhoon, the ship cannot navigate easily through the coral reefs because it has no radio. Shinji must tie a lifeline to his waist and swim out to find a buoy in the thrashing waves of the storm. Shinji nearly drowns, but he saves the ship from being wrecked on the reefs. Because of his heroism, Shinji can now visit the Miyata house openly.

Yashiro Shrine

Yashiro Shrine (yah-shee-roh). Shrine dedicated to Watatsumi-no-Mikoto, god of the sea, that sits atop a hill above the island’s village. Mothers frequently leave offerings at the shrine in the hope that the god of the sea will protect their children. The shrine includes an icon of sixty-six bronze mirrors, an ancient copy of a Chinese mirror of the Six Dynasties period. Shinji and Hatsue walk to the shrine to give thanks and pray after Shinji’s safe return from Okinawa.


*Kyōto (kyoh-toh) and Osaka (oh-sah-kah). Important industrial cities on the mainland of Japan that are the sites of an annual school excursion for Shinji’s brother Hiroshi, who is twelve years old. His school group travels there on a ferry and spends six days and five nights away from Uta-jima. Most of the children have never previously seen the world outside their island. The difficult cultural transition from the peaceful ways of the island to the streetcars, tall buildings, movies, subways, neon lights, and fast pace of city culture makes a deep impression upon Hiroshi. In many ways, the differences between Kyōto, Osaka, and Uta-jima define the values of the novel because of the idyllic, peaceful quality of the love between Hatsue and Shinji.

BibliographyNapier, Susan J. Escape from the Wasteland: Romanticism and Realism in the Fiction of Mishima Yukio and Oe Kenzaburo. Cambridge, Mass.: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1991. Declaring The Sound of Waves devoid of realism, Napier explores the romantic, idyllic quality of the novel. Emphasizes the story’s purity and simplicity.Nathan, John. Mishima: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1974. In Mishima’s biography, the background and context of The Sound of Waves are established. Inspiration for the novel is identified as the myth of Daphnis and Chloë.Petersen, Gwenn Boardman. The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1979. Sees the classical male body as a dominant figure in all of Mishima’s works, including The Sound of Waves. Notes associations of fire and desire in the novel.Scott-Stokes, Henry. The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974. A brief section on The Sound of Waves discusses Mishima’s visit to Greece as an influence on the novel. Explains the widespread popular acclaim given the novel in Japan, unmatched by its critical attention.Viglielmo, Valdo H. “The Sea as Metaphor: An Aspect of the Modern Japanese Novel.” In The Sea, from Elemental Stirrings to Symbolic Inspiration, Language, and Life-Significance in Literary Interpretation and Theory. Part 1 in Poetics of the Elements in the Human Condition: Boston: D. Reidel, 1985. Argues that unlike Mishima’s other novels, The Sound of Waves is exceptionally positive and even idyllic. Identifies Shinji and Hatsue as creatures of the sea.
Categories: Places