Shintoism and Daoism in The Sound of Waves

April 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

Shintoism is an ancient Japanese religion that initially focused on praying for good harvest with the start of Japan coinciding with the start of rice growing. Shinto followers believe in spirits that live in living things such as animals and plants, as well as natural places like mountains that follow the “way of the gods.” Because Japan’s early society was built on farming, Shintoism values an ordered and knowable patterns to produce great harvest, and it also reflects in Japanese family structure. Cleanliness is also an important value as it relates to helping things grow, so uncleanliness is associated with the lack of ability to thrive. Its values in nature, family, and purity have integrated into Japanese culture and is prevalent in Yukio Mishima’s novel The Sound of Waves.

Shinto followers believe in spirits, called kami, that exist in all aspects of nature. This emphasis on nature and is shown through the characters’ dependence on it throughout the novel. Shinji goes to the ocean to find peace in his daily toils. “The vast ocean stretched away from the prow […] and gradually the sight of it filled his body with energy […] and without realizing it he felt at peace again” (Mishima 13). The ocean symbolizes the ebb and flow of life, and the sound and repetitiveness calms Shinji. Shinji’s mother also looks to nature whenever she has something to think about. The butterfly that Shinji’s mother encounters in chapter 12 aided her in gathering enough courage to confront Terukichi about Shinji and Hatsue’s budding relationship. “The butterfly’s futile labor cast a shadow over her heart. […] At this moment for some reason a reckless courage was born within her heart” (Mishima 125). The characters in this book all reflect how much Shintoism’s emphasis on nature is integrated into Japanese culture.

Family structure and stability is also a Shinto value that is reflected in the family dynamics in The Sound of Waves. With Shinto’s father’s death, it threw off the balance of Shinto’s traditional family. His mom was forced to be the sole provider for the family, working hard as a diver. “Her toes had been toughened by the repeated cuts and bruises they had received from the diving women’s customary way of always kicking off against the floor of the sea when ready to resurface” (Mishima 126). Mishima is trying to emphasize to the reader to respect hard work she puts in for her family. The author also shows the compassion she has for her son by gathering the courage to talk to Terukichi. “The mother was firm in her courage. She would met Terukichi, champion her son’s innocence, lay bare her heart, and get the two married” (Mishima 128). The value of family is extremely prevalent in Japanese culture, and Mishima emphasizes it throughout the novel.

Purity is fundamental to Shintoism values. Shinto followers believe in outer beauty, or bodily beauty, and inner beauty, or purity of heart. Mishima portrays Yasuo, the unsuitable suitor for Hatsue, as impure in his attempt to rape her. “What a grand feeling it was to be able to do this to a girl and yet be sure that she could never tell anyone about it!” (Mishima 92). His impurity foreshadows that he does not deserve Hatsue and that the forces of nature will not allow him to be with her in the end. On the other hand, Hatsue and Shinji refrained from being impure when they first started their relationship. “It’s bad! It’s bad for a girl to do that before she’s married” (Mishima 77). This kept their relationship pure throughout the novel, shedding good light on their relationship so that nature would bring them together in the end.

Mishima reflects much of the integration of Shinto values into society through his characters and plots to accurately portray Japanese culture. Daoism,a religion that focuses on living in harmony with the Tao, or “the way,” is also heavily portrayed in The Sound of Waves. The first Daoist philosopher, Laozi, advocated that people should find peace and happiness within themselves, not in wealth. According to him, the only laws are the laws of nature, and the only way to truly know how to behave is to observe it. Through observation, followers contemplate how to lead a balanced life, a life with good and bad, beauty and ugliness, pleasure and pain. Throughout The Sound of Waves, Mishima emphasizes the beauty of nature through imagery and the reliance of the characters on nature.

Nature is carefully observed in Japanese culture. The title for the book, The Sound of Waves, is already alluding to the peacefulness that Daoists find in observing nature, setting the tone for the rest of the story. Mishima opens the story with beautiful descriptions of Japan’s Uta-Jima, or Song Island, making it come alive for the reader. “Once there were two “torii” pines growing here, their branches twisted and trained into the shape of a torii, providing a curious frame for the view” (Mishima 4). Mishima also uses different nature forces to convey the mood of the story. When Yasuo was trying to force Matsue to sleep with him, hornets stung him to prevent him from doing the evil act. “The hornet turned its stinger toward the skin at Yasuo’s wrist and drove it in with all its might (Mishima 90). The author also used weather to convey how characters were feeling. “For Shinji, the rainy season brought only one bitter day after another” (Mishima 147). The rain reflects the toil of Shinji’s everyday life as he works to provide for his family.

The characters throughout the book look to nature for counsel in times of need or stress. At the beginning of the book, the author describes “two spots with surpassingly beautiful views,” the Yashiro Shrine and the torii (Mishima 3). He paints these views with words to the reader so that it can be referenced when the characters seek comfort at those very locations. “Shinji gazed out over the Gulf of Ise […] The boy felt a consummate accord between himself and this opulence of nature surrounding him” (Mishima 45). Shinji looks to nature for reassurance, and he often goes to the shine to pray and looks upon the views and feels the nature “permeate the core of his being” (Mishima 45). The author emphasizes Shinji’s reliance on nature to feel peace by writing, “Nature itself satisfied his need that Shinji felt no particular lack of music in his everyday life” (Mishima 45). His mom also observes nature in a similar way. She went to watch the rolling waves as she worried about her son’s unhappiness about his situation with Matsue. “She went directly to the breakwater and stood there watching the waves as they dashed themselves to pieces” (Mishima 123). While she was contemplating what to do for her son, she “caught sight of a lone butterfly that came flying capriciously from the outspread nets toward the breakwater” (Mishima 124). Observing the butterfly’s foolish actions gave her the courage to stand up to Terukichi, Matsue’s father, and demand him to allow Matsue and Shinji to see each other.

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