The next morning, Shinji boards the fishing boat on which he works and reminisces about the night before as the sailors head for fertile fishing grounds on the open ocean. Last night, when Shinji returned home, his twelve-year-old brother Hiroshi and his widowed mother, who has worked as a pearl diver since her husband was killed in the final year of World War II, were waiting up for him with dinner. After the meal, Shinji and Hiroshi went to the bathhouse. There, Shinji hoped to overhear some talk of the strange girl he’d seen earlier on the beach, but only two other men were there and neither of them mentioned her. After returning home, Shinji went to bed—but he sat awake for hours, unable to sleep.
This passage introduces readers to a glimpse of what Shinji’s home life is like. He is at the beginning of a coming-of-age journey—a journey that will test his loyalty to his family and his sense of selflessness. Shinji is, at this point, intrigued by the strange girl he saw and desperate to seek out more information about her. Mishima suggests that Shinji might be tempted to put his own desires above his family’s needs—but as the novel progresses, he’ll show how Shinji ultimately prizes his duty to his mother and brother above his own wants.
This morning, as the Taihei-maru reaches the deep waters where its octopus-catching pots have been sunk, Shinji feels that same sense of unrest. As he attends to the work of raising the heavy octopus pots, the master fisherman and owner of the rig, Jukichi Oyama, looks on. Shinji struggles against the frigid waves to pull up over 20 octopus pots—all of them are empty. His fellow fisherman, Ryuji, works to empty the pots of water before sending them back to the depths. At last, Ryuji pulls up a pot containing a large octopus.
Shinji’s work is difficult, and it requires him to wrestle against the forces of nature. Shinji and his fellow fishermen, however, clearly respect the unpredictable ocean. The ship’s name, Taihei-maru, translates literally to “calm circle,” indicating the crew’s fear of and respect for nature as well as their desire to be protected while vulnerable to the ocean’s might.
Over the course of the morning, the fishermen pull in five octopuses, four flatheads, and three soles. At lunchtime, Jukichi slices up one of the fish for the three of them to eat and asks what the other men think about Terukichi Miyata—whom he calls “old Uncle Teru”—bringing his youngest daughter, Hatsue, back to the island. Years ago, Teru had adopted her out to a family of pearl divers on a neighboring island. Now, the lonely widower Teru is planning on adopting a husband into the family for Hatsue to carry on the Miyata name—Teru’s only son recently died. Jukichi suggests Shinji or Ryuji should marry Hatsue. Both young men blush and laugh.
The strange new girl Shinji spied the day before, it turns out, is the daughter of the wealthiest man on the island. Shinji feels intimidated as he realizes that profound barriers in terms of wealth and class divide him from the young woman who has so entranced him. This passage also demonstrates how the wheels of gossip and rumor begin to turn in small communities.
As Shinji thinks more about the prospect of courting Hatsue, however, he begins to feel down on himself for “his own poor condition in life”—Terukichi Miyata is the wealthy owner of two large freighters, but Shinji is just a lowly fisherman who earns his humble living on the sea. As the fishing boat returns to shore at the end of the day, Shinji spies a large freighter sailing by. He suddenly feels the weight of the unknown world around him and he becomes filled with a strange, undefinable emotion.
Shinji’s complicated, indescribable emotions in this scene reflect the existential struggle that his feelings for Hatsue have set in motion. Shinji lives a life that has seemed full, happy, and enough: now, however, he finds himself worrying about his class status, his ability to provide, and his relationship to his work (and thus to nature itself). Shinji will have to face all of these complicated things and the attendant emotions they inspire as he embarks on his coming-of-age journey.