Yukio Mishima’s The Sound of Waves is, at its core, a love story. When Shinji and Hatsue find themselves magnetically drawn to each other, they quickly begin traversing the waters of love and sex for the first time. As Shinji and Hatsue talk, flirt, and test the boundaries of propriety, they nonetheless maintain their inner purity of heart, spirit, and intention—their attraction is just as spiritual as it is physical. As Mishima charts Shinji and Hatsue’s love story, he suggests that when it comes to romance, true devotion (rather than mere physical attraction or social climbing) will safeguard against jealousy, cruelty, and lies.
As Shinji and Hatsue grow closer, their choice to remain devoted, honest, and optimistic sustains their love in the face of gossip, jealousy, and sabotage. This is made clear in the scene in which Shinji falls asleep before a fire while waiting for Hatsue to meet him. When he awakens, Hatsue is standing in front of the fire half-naked, drying her clothes and body, as is the custom of pearl-divers after returning from the cold sea. Hatsue’s unabashed nakedness in front of Shinji—at least while he is sleeping—demonstrates the purity of spirit that defines the young lovers’ relationship. And even though Hatsue is briefly ashamed to be naked in front of Shinji when he wakes up, she quickly suggests that he get naked too—not out of any particular sexual desire, but simply so they’ll be in an equal position. As Shinji and Hatsue bare themselves to each other, they experience feelings of “unceasing […] intoxication,” but also of “pure and holy happiness.” Rather than have sex, which Hatsue believes would be “bad” for them to do, Shinji offers Hatsue a beautiful pink shell that reminded him of her when he found it on the beach the previous day. This incident demonstrates the innocence and pure intentions that define Hatsue and Shinji’s courtship. Though they desire each other physically, they also connect spiritually—and this, Mishima suggests, is what makes a relationship genuine and strong.
This pure and intense devotion helps Hatsue and Shinji to weather the gossip and jealousy that plagues their courtship. When Chiyoko, the daughter of the lighthouse-keeper, sees Hatsue and Shinji together, she spreads horrible rumors about them throughout town. These rumors threaten to derail Hatsue and Shinji’s blossoming relationship, especially when Hatsue’s father Terukichi forbids the young lovers from seeing each other. Hatsue must contend with public embarrassment, and Shinji must reject his fellow sailors’ crude comments about his relationship. But in spite of all the gossip surrounding Hatsue and Shinji, the two of them remain devoted to each other; they figure out how to secretly correspond, and they never waver in their mutual respect and commitment. In the midst of the firestorm, Hatsue hopes that she and Shinji will be able to “go on truly, with strong hearts,” showing that while the town sometimes stoops to vicious and petty gossip, Shinji and Hatsue preserve their love by rising above this behavior.
Mishima also shows how Shinji’s wholehearted devotion to Hatsue gives him strength that allows him to conquer not just emotional hardship, but physical danger as well. After Shinji takes a job on a lumber freighter owned by Hatsue’s father, Hatsue gives Shinji a picture of her to take along on the long journey to Okinawa. Upon arriving on the faraway island, Shinji—drawing strength from the picture of Hatsue in his pocket—braves a typhoon to retie a snapped buoy line and secure the ship after no other crew member volunteers. When Terukichi, or “Uncle Teru” as he’s known throughout the village, receives word of Shinji’s brave actions, he decides to bless Shinji and Hatsue’s union and adopt Shinji into his family so that Shinji and Hatsue can carry on the family name. Shinji’s brave actions on the freighter are inspired by the purity and strength of his love for Hatsue, and this is both an example of his devotion to her inspiring strength, and the purity of his love overcoming gossip—after all, it’s this act of courage that convinces Uncle Teru that Shinji’s heart is pure, despite the gossip about him. Teru’s decision to bless Shinji and Hatsue’s union solidifies Mishima’s argument that the purest love and most intense devotion can withstand anything.
Love, Sex, and Devotion ThemeTracker
Love, Sex, and Devotion Quotes in The Sound of Waves
“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?”
As they walked along, the girl asked him his name and now, for the first time, he introduced himself. But he went on hurriedly to ask that she not mention his name to anyone or say anything about having met him here: Shinji well knew how sharp the villagers’ tongues could be. Hatsue promised not to tell. Thus their well-founded fear of the village’s love of gossip changed what was but an innocent meeting into a thing of secrecy between the two of them.
“What made you so mad?” Shinji asked, looking her full in the face.
“All that talk about you and Chiyoko-san.”
“Then there’s nothing to it?”
“There’s nothing to it.”
“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. . . .”
When he could no longer bear the thought of waiting, Shinji flung on a rubber raincoat and went down to meet the sea. It seemed to him that only the sea would be kind enough to answer his wordless conversation.
Raging waves rose high above the breakwater, set up a tremendous roar, and then rushed on down.
“What would make you quit being ashamed?”
To this the girl gave a truly naive answer, though a startling one: “If you took your clothes off too, then I wouldn't be ashamed.”
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.
The mother took a very tolerant view of young people’s amorous affairs. And even during the diving season, when everyone stood about the drying-fire gossiping, she held her tongue. But when it came to its being her own son's affair that was the subject of malicious gossip, then there was a motherly duty that she would have to perform.
“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.
“I know exactly what you two are thinking. You’re planning to give Yasuo a beating. But you listen to me—that won't do a bit of good. A fool’s a fool, so just leave him alone. Guess it’s hard for Shinji, but patience is the main thing. That’s what it takes to catch a fish.”
“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.
“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.
Out in front of them stretched the unfathomable darkness, where the beam from the lighthouse was making its vast, regular sweeps. […] Shinji […] was lost in thought. He was thinking that in spite of all they’d been through, here they were in the end, free within the moral code to which they had been born, never once having been estranged from the providence of the gods . . . that, in short, it was this little island, enfolded in darkness, that had protected their happiness and brought their love to this fulfillment.. . .
Hatsue touched the picture lightly with her own hand and then returned it. Her eyes were full of pride. She was thinking it was her picture that had protected Shinji. But at this moment Shinji lifted his eyebrows. He knew it had been his own strength that had tided him through that perilous night.