Book Discussion Guide: Sound of Waves

Book Discussion Guide: Sound of Waves







Here’s the book discussion guide I used for our boxed lunch book club back in February The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima.

1. Love at first sight.

Here’s a quote from Chapter 2 (p.13) right after Shinji has seen Hatsue for the first time.

Shinji always went to sleep easily, but last night he had the strange experience of lying long awake.  Unable to remember a day of sickness in his life, the boy had lain wondering, afraid this might be what people meant by sick.

Is this being in love?  Why or why not?

Can you share a similar sleepless night experience?

Here’s another description of Shinji “in love?”

Ch. 3, p.21-22

Shinji was not at all given to brooding about things, but this one name, like a tantalizing puzzle, kept harassing his thoughts.  At the mere sound of the name his cheeks flushed and his heart pounded.  It was a strange feeling to sit there motionless and feel within himself these physical changes that, until now, he had experienced only during heavy labor.

He put the palm of his hand against his cheek to feel it.  The hot flesh felt like that of some complete stranger.  It was a blow to his pride to realize the existence of things within himself that he had never so much as suspected, and rising anger made his cheeks even more flaming hot.

Again, true love?

2. Discussion of Mishima’s descriptive writing:

Here is a description of Shinji’s boss in chapter 2 (p.14)

Jukichi Oyama, master fisherman, owner of the Taihei-maru, had a face like leather well-tanned by the sea winds.  The grimy wrinkles on his hands were mixed indistinguishably with old fishing scars, all burned by the sun down into their deepest creases.  He was a man who seldom laughed, but was always in calm good spirits, and even the loud voice he used when giving commands on the boat was never used in anger.

I love this description of Jukichi.  To me, he is the strong, sure male in Shinji’s life.  What kind of influence do you think he has on Shinji?

Are there other descriptions that stood out to you in Mishima’s writing?

Here’s another one I loved.

Ch. 2, p. 17

Lunchtime came.  Jukichi dressed the flatheads on the engine-room hatch and cut them into slices.  They divided the raw slices onto the lids of their aluminum lunchboxes and poured soy sauce over them from a small bottle.  Then they took up the boxes, filled with a mixture of boiled rice and barley and, stuffed into one corner, a few slices of pickled radish.  The boat they entrusted to the gentle swell.

I can smell the sea.

3. From Ch. 2, p. 19

Surrounded though he was by the vast ocean, Shinji did not especially burn with impossible dreams of great adventure across the seas.  His fisherman’s conception of the sea was close to that of the farmer for his land.  The sea was the place where he earned his living, a rippling field where, instead of waving heads of rice or wheat, the white and formless harvest of waves was forever swaying above the unrelieved blueness of a sensitive and yielding soil.

Even so, when that day’s fishing was almost done, the sight of a white freighter sailing against the evening clouds on the horizon filled the boy’s heart with strange emotions.  From far away the world came pressing in upon him with a hugeness he had never before apprehended.  The realization of this unknown world came to him like distant thunder, now pealing from afar, now dying away to nothingness.

What was your view of the wider world at the age of 18?

4. Chapter four is when Shinji and Hatsue have a chance meeting at the observation tower.  It is a totally innocent and precious meeting, and when Shinji tells Hatsue his name but asks her not to tell anyone that he helped her find her way for fear of gossip…

Ch. 4, p. 32

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 was the effect of Shinji and Hatsue’s having “a secret” between them?

5. From Ch. 5, p. 33

Until now the boy had been leading a peaceful, contented existence, poor though he was, but from this time on he became tormented with unrest and lost in thought, falling prey to the feeling that there was nothing about him that could possibly appeal to Hatsue.  He was so healthy that he had never had any sickness other than the measles.  He could swim the circumference of Uta-jima as many as five times without stopping.  And he was sure he would have to yield to no one in any test of physical strength.  But he could not believe that any of these qualities could possibly touch Hatsue’s heart.

Can you relate to this experience of having a peaceful, contented existence turn into a time of torment?  Share about that.

6. Chiyoko

In Ch.8, p. 79, when Chiyoko is home from Tokyo, we get a glimpse of how she is different from the islanders.

Chiyoko began to long for Tokyo.  She longed for the Tokyo where, even on such a stormy day, the automobiles went back and forth as usual, the elevators went up and down, and the streetcars bustled along.  There in the city almost all nature had been put into uniform, and the little power of nature that remained was an enemy.  Here on the island, however, the islanders enthusiastically entered into an alliance with nature and gave it their full support.

Explain to which view of nature you relate to more, the islanders’ or Chiyoko’s .

Ch. 11, p. 117

She feels badly about hurting Shinji and wants to make peace before she leaves, even though he doesn’t even know that she has done something to hurt him.  So instead of apologizing she ends up asking him if he thinks her face is ugly.

Shinji’s answer was immediate.  Being in a hurry, he escaped a situation in which too slow an answer would have cut into the girl’s heart.

“What makes you say that?  You’re pretty,” he said, one hand on the stern and one foot already beginning the leap that would carry him into the boat.  “You’re pretty.”

As everyone knew, Shinji was incapable of flattery.  Now, pressed for time, he had simply given a felicitous answer to her urgent question.

The boat began to move.  He waved back to her cheerfully from the boat as it pulled away.

And it was a happy girl who was left standing at the water’s edge.

Why do you think the author included this scene?  What do you think is Chiyoko’s purpose in the story?

7. In Ch. 9, The idiot Yasuo has become obsessed with “possessing” Hatuse and basically the gods protect Hatsue through a hornet.

Then, in chapter 10, Yasuo, having failed in his goal of raping Hatsue, proceeds to spread rumors about her and Shinji instead that eventually reach Hatsue’s father.

What do you think is the purpose of Yasuo’s character.  Is he real to you?  Have you met someone like him?

In general, are the characters in The Sound of Waves real to you?  Why or why not?

8. After everyone knows everything, Shinji is on the boat with his boss and friend reading the letter from Hatsue.  His boss chides him about it all, but Shinji…

Ch. 11, p.112

Shinji…he was not sensitive and easily wounded the way a city-bred boy is during the time of his first love, and to Shinji the old man’s raillery was actually soothing and comforting rather than upsetting.  The gentle waves that rocked their boat also calmed his heart, and now that he had told the whole story he was at peace; this place of toil had become for him a place of matchless rest.

This is why men go fishing, eh?

What do the men in your life do today that mirrors being out on a fishing boat?

Do you have a place of toil that can be a place of matchless rest when you are weary?  What is it?

9. Shinji’s mother:

Ch. 12

Shinji’s mother feels the weight of her son’s unhappiness (can we all relate to this?) and so she goes to visit Hatsue’s father, but he won’t see her.

p. 129

The mother could not bring herself to tell her son about this fiasco of hers.  Looking for a scapegoat, she turned her spite against Hatsue and said such bad things about her that, instead of having helped her son, she had a quarrel with him.

And further on p. 129

Thus in came about that because she had tried to do a good deed and had failed, the mother became lonelier than ever.

Can you tell about a time that your very best intentions for helping your child turned into a quarrel instead?

Why do these encounters tend to go so wrong?

Does anything good come of the mother’s failed “good deed?”

10. Ch 14

Shinji and Yasuo are both assigned to Hatsue’s father’s boat.

What do you think about this plan?  (Terukichi’s motives are revealed to us later in Ch. 15 when he tells the Mistress Lighthouse Keeper his real reasons for putting Shinji and Yasuo on his boat together.)

Do you wish that our own marriages and those of our children were still decided by great feats of strength and courage?

What do you think about Terukichi’s declaration in Ch 15, p. 175    that

“if he’s got get-up-and-go, he’s a real man.”

How would you describe a real man?


  1. Studied this book for an english class, and something about the tone of japanese contemporary fiction is mesmerizing. I love the timelessness of this novella, and how Mishima is able to create an entire existence in a short text. Whoever says you only live once has obviously never read books like this.

  2. So true! So true! I do so love this book! 🙂

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