Yukio Mishima’s The Sound of Waves focuses primarily on Shinji Kubo’s coming-of-age journey. Over the course of the novel, Shinji learns important lessons about love, honor, class, family, and the value of hard work. As Shinji grows from a boy into a man by learning to gracefully accept whatever comes to him, Mishima suggests that in order to fully come of age, one must become flexible and selfless.
Shinji is, by nature, a giving person—but he must learn to be even more selfless as he matures. He initially demonstrates his selflessness (and thus his burgeoning manhood) by giving away all of the fish he catches and the money he earns; his catches go to the island’s fishing cooperative, while his wages go to his widowed mother so that she can support Shinji and his brother Hiroshi. Shinji wears sweaters full of holes and rarely takes a day off. He lives a humble life—yet he never even considers keeping his pay for himself in order to better his own circumstances. Shinji’s natural selflessness demonstrates that he’s well on his way to coming of age. The arrival of Hatsue seems as if it will threaten Shinji’s ability to focus on other’s needs—yet Mishima goes on to show how, even when tempted by the possibility of furthering his personal satisfaction and his social status, Shinji continues to prioritize others above himself.
The next major moment in Shinji’s coming-of-age journey is also marked by prioritizing others over himself. Shinji quickly falls in love with Hatsue, and amid vicious rumors that threaten Hatsue’s integrity, Shinji selflessly decides to give Hatsue space so that her reputation might be spared—even if his own honor continues to get dragged through the mud. While remaining distant from Hatsue, Shinji briefly considers solutions to his loneliness. He wonders if he could convince Hatsue to elope—or whether the two of them might commit double suicide to end their shared pain. Ultimately, however, Shinji recognizes that these fleeting impulses are the thoughts of “selfish persons who [think] only of themselves.” He knows that he should not cause further damage to Hatsue’s reputation—nor can he leave his mother alone to support herself and Hiroshi through the dangerous job of pearl-diving. Though Shinji is tempted by the desire for selfish satisfaction, he ultimately proves his maturity by setting aside his own desires and recommitting to helping the people who need him.
Shinji’s climactic encounter with a powerful typhoon in the port of Okinawa is the final step in his coming-of-age journey. Shinji selflessly decides to risk his own life in order to tether the freighter he’s crewing to a nearby buoy—prioritizing the safety of his fellow sailors over his own life. This brave and selfless act symbolizes Shinji’s final transition into manhood. Though Shinji has faith in his abilities as a swimmer, he knows that it is risky to venture into the heart of the storm. Nevertheless, he cheerfully volunteers himself, willing to face whatever “banquet of madness” awaits him in the ocean rather than cower on the deck any longer. He even leaves behind his raincoat that contains the picture of Hatsue he has long clung to for strength. As Shinji sheds all trappings of himself on behalf of others, Mishima implies that Shinji’s coming-of-age journey is at last complete. Whereas some coming-of-age novels characterize self-possession as the mark of maturity, Mishima argues that a person’s ability to prioritize others over themselves is what indicates that they’ve come of age.
Coming of Age ThemeTracker
Coming of Age Quotes in The Sound of Waves
His dark eyes were exceedingly clear, but their clarity was not that of intellectuality—it was a gift that the sea bestows upon those who make their livelihood upon it; as a matter of fact, he had made notably bad grades in school. He was still wearing the same clothes he fished in each day—a pair of trousers inherited from his dead father and a cheap jumper.
“God, let the seas be calm, the fish plentiful, and our village […] prosperous. […] Let me have much knowledge in the ways of the sea, in the ways of fish, in the ways of boats, in the ways of the weather . . . […] Please protect my gentle mother and my brother, who is still a child. […] Then there's a different sort of request I'd like to make. . . . Some day let even such a person as me be granted a good-natured, beautiful bride . . . say someone like Terukichi Miyata's returned daughter. . . .” […]
Shinji looked up at the star-filled sky and breathed deeply. Then he thought:
“But mightn't the gods punish me for such a selfish prayer?”
“I’ll do my best to help make life on our island the most peaceful there is anywhere . . . the happiest there is anywhere. . . . Because if we don’t do that, everybody will start forgetting the island and quit wanting to come back. No matter how much times change, very bad things—very bad ways—will always disappear before they get to our island. . . . The sea—it only brings the good and right things that the island needs . . . and keeps the good and right things we already have here. . . .”
All the time the luminous watch of which Yasuo was so proud, strapped above the hand with which he was holding onto the branch of the beech tree, was giving off its phosphorescent glow, faintly but distinctly ticking away the seconds. This aroused a swarm of hornets in the nest fastened to this same branch and greatly excited their curiosity.
“It’s all because I'm poor,” Shinji said.
He was usually not one to let such querulous words pass his lips. And he felt tears of shame springing in his eyes, not because he was poor, but because he had been weak enough to give voice to such a complaint.
“That’s really what he said. And that’s enough for me. I mustn’t expect more than that. That’s really what he said to me. I must be satisfied with that and not expect him to love me too. He—he has someone else to love. . . . What a wicked thing it was I did to him! What terrible unhappiness my jealousy has caused him! And yet he repaid my wickedness by saying I’m pretty. I must make it up to him . . . somehow I must do whatever I can to return his kindness. . . .”
Shinji’s mother hesitated a moment as she was about to enter the house. Just the fact that she had come calling at the Miyata house, where she was not on intimate terms, would be enough to set the villagers’ tongues to wagging.
Double suicide then? Even on this island there had been lovers who took that solution. But the boy’s good sense repudiated the thought, and he told himself that those others had been selfish persons who thought only of themselves. Never once had he thought about such a thing as dying; and, above all, there was his family to support.
Hatsue got to her feet in silence and went around the rock to receive her prize. And the prize she returned with was the brown, middle-aged handbag, which she pressed into the hands of Shinji’s mother.
The mother's cheeks flushed red with delight.
“Because I’ve always wanted to apologize ever since my father spoke so rudely to Auntie that day.” […]
The mother's simple, straightforward heart had immediately understood the modesty and respect behind the girl’s gesture. Hatsue smiled, and Shinji's mother told herself how wise her son had been in his choice of a bride.
“Which one of you fellows is going to take this lifeline over there and tie it to that buoy?”
The roaring of the wind covered the youths’ silence.
“Don't any of you have any guts?” the captain shouted again.
Yasuo’s lips quivered. He pulled his neck down into his shoulders.
Then Shinji shouted out in a cheerful voice, and as he did so the white flash of his teeth shone through the blackness to prove that he was smiling.
“I’ll do it,” he shouted clearly.
The boy swam with all his might. And, inch by inch, step by step, the huge mass of the enemy fell back, opening the way for him. It was as though a drill were boring its way through the hardest of solid rock.
The first time his hand touched the buoy he lost his hold and was pulled away. But then by good luck a wave swept him forward again and, just as it seemed on the point of dashing his chest against the iron rim, lifted him up with a single sweep and deposited him on the buoy.
“When Shinji did that great thing at Okinawa—well, I changed my mind too and decided he was the one for my girl. The only thing that really counts . . .”
Here Terukichi raised his voice emphatically.
“The only thing that really counts in a man is his get-up-and-go. If he’s got get-up-and-go he’s a real man, and those are the kind of men we need here on Uta-jima.”
Nature too again smiled on them. When they reached the top they turned around and looked out over the Gulf of Ise. The night sky was filled with stars and, as for clouds, there was only a low bank stretching across the horizon in the direction of the Chita Peninsula, through which soundless lightning ran from time to time. Nor was the sound of the waves strong, but coming regularly and peacefully, as though the sea were breathing in healthy slumber.