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The Sound of Waves (潮騒)

sound of waves yukio mishima We arrived in Japan without books. Within a day or two we were searching for our local library. The closest one we tried was the Tsurumaki Branch in the Shinjuku Library system. While the branch was very cute, and it had a great Japanese children’s section, there were no books in English. The librarian recommended the Chuo Library which was much larger and even had “Children’s Library” in the name. The Chuo Branch was several times bigger, the Japanese Children’s Library was fantastic, but still there were no books in English (although I did pick up a few issues of “Hiragana Times” which is half in English). This seemed rather bizarre to me, that in a country where learning English is mandatory (although very, very few actually speak it) the libraries don’t carry ANY books in English. You’d think Japanese people would want to improve their English skills by reading books in English. Apparently not.

We were told at Chuo Library that all of the English books are kept at the Okubo Library. So off we trotted on our third library excursion. The Okubo Branch did have books in English. However, the selection is not what we were expecting. There are no more than a few dozen books in English. Many, if not most, are popular novels for which I don’t have any interest. There are a few cookbooks (my wife checked out Harumi’s Japanese Cooking), and then there are a few Japanese classics in English. Needless to say I will consume these without any trouble in the next year.

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima was the first one I checked out. I read it from cover to cover on two, round-trip train trips from Shinjuku to Ebina. This was the fourth Mishima novel I have read.

The ending of this book was a surprise to me. I have come to expect certain things from Mishima, and this one twisted differently than I expected. I won’t give it away here.

As much as, if not more than, his other novels, a reader can really learn a lot about Japanese culture and Japanese thought through Mishima’s words. I suppose one could just enjoy The Sound of Waves as a well told, very descriptive, love story, but there is so much more here than just that.

The details are not only beautifully written and symbolic, but they make it hard to believe the author isn’t actually there, carefully observing every movement. I offer one example from page 119.

“…there were now more houses that were empty during the daytime, doors unlocked, windows open. Bees entered these empty houses freely, flew about in them lonesomely, and were often startled upon running headlong into a mirror.”

In the end, I realized that I would have appreciated the book even more had I read it in the original Japanese. Perhaps it is a good thing that the libraries offer so few choices in English. I won’t be able to finish works of this length in two days if reading in Japanese, but at the same time I won’t be wondering what Meredith Weatherby, the translator, was translating when she writes things like “get-up-and-go.”

2 Responses to “The Sound of Waves (潮騒)”

  1. 1
    arabesque:

    i have to agree, sometimes the original is better than translated.
    i’ll try reading it sometime…^-^

  2. 2
    Gail:

    I had the same experience at my local library – not a single English book. The amount of money I spend on English books here has become a sore subject between me and my husband. Last time I went home I returned with a suitcase filled with at least a dozen books. Between those and the books I swap with my Japanese tutor, I should stay occupied for quite a while. One of my other friends here swears by this website — http://www.bookmooch.com. After you’re done reading a book, you can send it on to someone else who wants it. And if you see someone else with a book you want, you can request they give it to you. The only cost is the shipping it costs you to send someone your book. I’ve never tried it, but it sounds like a good way to get new books cheap, assuming you’re not too attached to your old ones.

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