Monday, December 31, 2007

Independent Reading Group Blog Posts

See pithy remarks for my personal comments. See here for the complete comment stream and discussion.

Well, seeing how few posts there are, I suppose we’ll extend the deadline for the first blog session to tomorrow, December 3rd. I hope that’s ok with you, Mr. G.

I also had trouble reading the novel. However, Kristin’s idea of rereading parts slowly does help a bit.

Initially, I was caught off guard when the story started off with a train, since I had believed the book took place in the early 1800s, with its references to geisha and a more rural setting. But the setting probably takes place in the 1930s (when the book was written) and of course, geisha even exist today. As with most of you guys, I also noticed the sexual connotations, such as Shimamura’s bending finger and his insistence that he wants to be friends with Komako. At first, this led me to believe that the story was trying to convey the stereotypical portrayal of geishas as prostitutes. If I am interpreting this right, it seems that Komako actually slept with Shimamura (36-37). However, geishas are really just talented female entertainers and companions. Despite Komako’s feelings for Shimamura, she works hard, learning the samisen (a sort of Japanese banjo) and entertaining guests at parties (although getting drunk herself).

In response to Shaun, Kawabata’s suicide may have been accidental, according to Wikipedia. Still, Kawabata may have had a “depressing outlook on life”, as Shaun mentions, since he lost all close relatives at a young age.

Kristin, the occidental dances that Shimamura finds irresistible are basically dances from the Western hemisphere, like ballets and performances found in America or Europe. I believe he finds them funny, since he “abruptly switched to the occidental dance”(24) and “stopped seeing the Japanese dance”(24). It’s probably ironic to him that he is no longer interested in the Japanese theater performances he grew up with and instead, finds “a ballet he had never seen [as] an art in another world”(25). In essence, it seems Shimamura finds great comfort in experiencing something unknown to him, and thus, he has a small obsession with the occidental dance. Since the woman, Komako, is a geisha from the rural snow country, who are supposedly differently from those in the main cities like Tokyo or Kyoto, he finds her appealing, and yet laughs “deep in [his] heart”(38) for liking a previously unknown “type” of geisha. Well, that’s just my two cents on the matter.

Anyway, I want to point out to you guys something interesting that I noticed. The translator mentions in the introduction how Kawabata uses his own writing style similar to haiku (vii-viii), which are “tiny seventeen-syllable poems that seek to convey a sudden awareness of beauty by a mating of opposite or incongruous terms”(vii). Two examples of this haiku style can be found on pages 32 and 73, which both coincidentally begin with “The high, thin nose was…” Although we can’t say how the paragraphs were originally structured (since we’re reading translations), Kawabata definitely uses contrasting images to express his descriptions. For instance, he describes the woman’s nose (I would bet it belongs to Komako) as “a little lonely, a little sad, but the bud of her lips opened and closed smoothly, like a beautiful little circle of leeches”(32). The “bud of her lips” opening and closing reminds me of a flower opening and closing. But comparing it to a “beautiful circle of leeches”? That’s a rather odd, yet unique simile. What do you guys think?

As I reread the sections that I marked down with sticky notes, I’m beginning to understand the story and underlying themes somewhat better.

The translator suggests that darkness and wasted beauty are common grounds in Kawabata’s work (vii). If the stereotypical image of the geisha is taken into consideration, the geisha can be a prime example of wasted beauty: a beautiful female entertainer, most likely multi-talented, decides to sell herself to clients in order to earn more money or even to support herself (supporting a family can be ruled out since geisha are supposed to be single). Such a lifestyle, despite any amount of money made, is not worth living. Throughout Part One at least, I noted several times that the author would sneak in the words “wasted effort”, which probably coincides with the idea of wasted beauty. For example, Shimamura hears from a masseuse (a female massager) that Komako is rumored to have become a geisha in order to support her fiancé, a sickly man that Shimamura had in fact been riding on the train with. The dilettante begins pondering over the matter (61), since Komako’s fiancé is likely going to die. The following quote sums up his thoughts.

“…the expression ‘wasted effort’ again came into Shimamura’s mind. For Komako thus to guard her promise to the end, for her even to sell herself to pay doctors’ bills—what was it if not wasted effort?”(61).

Although Shimamura may just be criticizing Komako for being impractical and unrealistic, it’s possible that he feels jealous of her fiancé. Then again, Shimamura mentions how Yoko, the woman who came to meet the sickly man, may be the man’s new lover. So is Shimamura jealous that Komako has a lover or just critical of her actions, especially since she is her companion during his stay in the inn?

Wendy, I’m not sure where I got this, but I remember reading something about geishas varying from region to region, especially when comparing geisha from urban areas to rural areas. It makes sense that urban geisha may lead different lifestyles, since they’re probably used to all the clients they receive, while rural geisha, especially those in the snow country, only receive visitors during a certain season. And whenever a (frequent) heavy snow storm hits the hot spring village in which many of the rural geisha reside in, the guests would have to stay longer and potential ones would have to wait to arrive. Shimamura is probably used to the urban geisha back in Tokyo, and since he has a fondness for new, unknown things, he wanted to visit a rural hot spring and their geisha, prompting his visit to the snow country (this last part is a bit of a stretch though; maybe we’ll find out his true motives for visiting the snow country by the end of the book?). You also mentioned that I was comparing Komako’s mouth to leeches… I think you misread my post, since I was referring to WHY Kawabata was making this comparison. The fact that some geisha blacken their teeth is probably why Kawabata makes this comparision, since, well, leeches can be black in color.

Anyway, here is something I found that I believe may be a part of a theme of Snow Country. On the last page of Part One, page 87, Shimamura begins his train ride back to Tokyo. He encounters a man and a woman talking heartily together. He assumes they are a couple on a long train ride. But when the man abruptly leaves at his stop, Shimamura “suddenly wanted to weep. He had been caught quite off guard”(87). He realizes that he “had not considered the possibility that the two had simply met on the train”(87). Ironically, Shimamura doesn’t seem to notice that he too may be like the man. As he returns to Tokyo, he leaves Komako behind in the hot spring village, leaving her alone like so many other guests have done before. Komako says it herself that “it’s that way with everyone who comes here. This is a hot spring and people are here for a day or two and gone”(22). These clients probably have no idea how lonely the hot spring geishas become, since they always receive new clients with weather permitting. This concept of perpetual loneliness in a dark snowy rural area emphasizes the story’s “wasted beauty”.

Kristin, the mountain may symbolize a high goal or achievement to be attained. So a mountain geisha is one who is young and has yet to reach a high level. Shimamura may be gazing at the mountains as if they are some dream he’s chasing. And the girl’s head floating above the mountains may suggest that he’s looking for a woman companion.

Wendy, yes, I was comparing the relationship that the man and woman on the train had with the one Shimamura and Komako seem to have in Part One. As of the end of Part One, the relationships are relatively close and intimate, but are short-lived. As for Yoko, she went to the train station to retrieve Komako towards the end of Part One. Shimamura told her to go on ahead to where Yukio is, since Komako would follow soon after.

As a bonus, I want to add some research I’ve done so maybe we can all get a better idea of the story we’re reading.

Snow Country takes place in Japan, specifically in the prefectures north of Tokyo (Gunma and Niigata Prefectures according to Wikipedia and yes, prefectures are basically like big states in Japan). The novel is aptly named since these regions get A LOT of snow (click here for pictures). Some houses even have entrances on the second story! So it’s not surprising that the snow causes transportation delays, isolated towns and villages, and building damage.

Hope you guys found that useful! Yep, I like Japanese related stuff and culture apparently. I’ll post more relevant information if I find any.

Alright, here’s my quick mini lesson on how to hyperlink in comment boxes. Say you want to make a link like this. All you have to do is type the following into the comment box without the quotes:


Replace the URL and the “this” and it’s as simple as that. Remember that the Preview button is your friend. Hope that helps. And hopefully, I’ll have my posts up on the blog by the end of today.

Ok, my bad. I lied, so here are my posts…

This is a passage I found particularly interesting when I first came across it. Komako has left for another party, while Shimamura and Yoko stay behind in the inn and have a rather intimate conversation.

“Her laugh, like her voice, was so high and clear that it was almost lonely. There was not a suggestion in it of the dull or the simple-minded; but it struck emptily at the shell of Shimamura’s heart, and fell away in silence.
‘What’s funny?’
‘But there has only been one man I could possibly nurse.’
Again Shimamura was startled.
‘I could never again.’
‘I see.’ His answer was quiet. He had been caught off guard. ‘They say you spend all your time at the cemetery.’
‘I do.’
‘And for the rest of your life you can never nurse anyone else, or visit anyone else’s grave?’
‘Never again.’
‘How can you leave the grave and go off to Tokyo, then?’
‘I’m sorry. Do take me with you.’
‘Komako says you’re frightfully jealous. Wasn’t the man her fiancé?’
‘Yukio? It’s a lie. It’s a lie.’
‘Why do you dislike Komako, then?’
‘Komako.’ She spoke as if calling to someone in the same room, and she gazed hotly at Shimamura. ‘Be good to Komako.’
‘But I can do nothing for her.’
There were tears in the corners of Yoko’s eyes. She sniffled as she slapped at a small moth on the matting. ‘Komako says I’ll go crazy.’ With that she slipped from the room.
Shimamura felt a chill come over him.”(137-138)

After Yukio’s death, Yoko seems much more lonely than usual. The fact that Kawabata describes her voice “[striking] emptily at the shell of Shimamura’s heart, and [falling] away in silence” might hint that Yoko did or still does have feelings for Shimamura. Despite never nursing another man and spending “all [her] time at the cemetery”, Yoko wants Shimamura to “take [her] with [him]” to Tokyo, implying her longing for him. Shimamura does not address this, and instead, asks whether Yukio was Komako’s fiancé. Yoko replies, “It’s a lie. It’s a lie”. It’s notable that Yoko repeats her short sentence; perhaps she’s not telling the whole truth. I think Yoko may have had a close relationship with Yukio, in which Komako inadvertently intruded upon. The relationship between the two young women probably changed because of it, and even after Yukio’s death, they seem to be both pursuing Shimamura, who in turn is interested in both of them. The most disturbing part of the passage, and something I thought was foreshadowing a future event, is how Yoko begins to cry and kills a moth on the matting (it’s summer time in the snow country and insects are literally everywhere). She then says, “Komako says I’ll go crazy”, and leaves the room, leaving Shimamura with a chill. Furthermore, after leaving Shimamura, Yoko goes to the women’s bath to bathe the innkeeper’s little daughter. As she does so, she sings a rather innocent sounding song, but it ends with the line “Hakamairi itchō, itchō, itchō ya”(139). This romanization of the Japanese characters translates to, according to the footnote, “In imitation of the birds. Literally: ‘To the cemetery, a hundred yards, a hundred yards, a hundred yards again’”. Since Yoko mentions how Komako say she’ll go crazy, it wouldn’t be so surprising to see her sending herself “to the cemetery” out of melancholy and loneliness; Yoko’s suicide would indeed have major repercussions on Komako and Shimamura.

Even after reading through the whole book, I don’t recall Kawabata giving a reason for why Shimamura visits the snow country (someone correct me if I’m wrong). He’s a rich fellow interested in western dance, and one day, he takes the train to the snow country, and conveniently meets a geisha or two that he’s interested in. I don’t believe he’s met Komako or Yoko before (again, please correct me if I’m wrong). The most scandalous about his visits is that Shimamura has left behind a wife and children back in Tokyo (who are mentioned on pages 89, 132, and 154). I’m shocked by his unfaithfulness to his own family and puzzled by his faithfulness to Komako. It must be his interest in experiencing unknown things.

In another intimate, but this time, more intense, moment, Shimamura and Komako decide to turn in, but Komako suggests they have a drink of saké (rice wine). Shimamura gets drunk on only a little bit of the alcohol. The two embrace and are at ease, until Shimamura says, “You’re a good girl”(146) to Komako. She seems alarmed, questions him, tells him not to tease her, and replies, “I’m not good at all. It’s not easy having you here. You’d best go home. Each time I come to see you I want to put on a new kimono, and now I have none left”(146-147). Shimamura barely responds as Komako admits that she originally hated him. He then breaks the silence that followed with “You’re a good woman”(147). After a few moments, Komako “raise[s] herself angrily to an elbow”(147), inquiring what he meant by it. Shimamura stares at her, and Komako, glaring at him, says “Admit it. That’s why you came to see me. You were laughing at me. You were laughing at me after all”(148). She then ironically states, “I hate you. How I hate you”(148).

It seems the saké has accidently brought out Shimamura’s true intentions. By calling her a “good girl” and then a “good woman”, it sounds like he has been using Komako. However, he feels “a stabbing in his chest as he [sees] what the mistake had been”(148). Komako sounds like she is very dedicated to Shimamura, trying to look her best whenever they meet. Perhaps Shimamura is earnest in his feelings, but he can’t quite express them correctly. Although Komako reconsiders and they basically make up, their relationship feels strained for the rest of the novel.

Here’s another interesting passage.

“He still sent his kimonos back for ‘snow-bleaching.’ It was a great deal of trouble to return old kimonos—that had touched the skin of he could not know whom—for rebleaching each year to the country that had produced them; but when he considered the labors of those mountain maidens, he wanted the bleaching to be done properly in the country where the maidens had lived. The thought of the white linen, spread out on the deep snow, the cloth and the snow glowing scarlet in the rising sun, was enough to make him feel that the dirt of the summer had been washed away, even that he himself had been bleached clean. It must be added, however, that a Tokyo shop took care of the details for him, and he had no way of knowing that the bleaching had really been done in the old manner.”

Although it surely has a literal sense for Shimamura, I also took this passage as a metaphor for purging sin. Even though it’s a “great deal of trouble” for him to return his kimonos for this special “snow-bleaching”, Shimamura does so each year. He mentions how the feeling of the kimono and its glow in the sun is “enough to make him feel that the dirt of the summer had been washed away, even that he himself had been bleached clean”. It seems Shimamura wouldn’t be satisfied with a simple wash of his kimonos, suggesting he may want to wash off all his sins, of which include his pursuit of Komako and Yoko and temporary abandonment of his family. Despite believing that his kimonos are bleached “properly in the country where the maidens had lived”, he has “no way of knowing that the bleaching had really been done in the old manner” because he brings them to a shop in Tokyo to “take care of the details”. Therefore, Shimamura’s attempt to purge his kimono and himself of impurities may be faulty. And certainly, he will pay for his sin of staying so long with Komako in the end.

To conclude my posts for Snow Country, I have aptly chosen the last several pages.

In a climatic ending, a fire breaks out in a warehouse close to Shimamura and Komako as they meet up. People scramble to put out the fire and rescue those inside, who have been watching a movie. Shimamura and Komako gaze at the fire together, but he “feels[s] that a separation was forcing itself upon them”(172). As if by coincidence, at that moment, “the crowd gasped as one person. A woman’s body had fallen through the flames”(172). Shimamura and Komako realize that it is Yoko that had just fallen from the low balcony of the warehouse. In the end, Komako takes Yoko in her arms with tears in her eyes, saying, “This girl is insane. She’s insane”(175).

To me, it definitely looks like Yoko attempted to kill herself. It’s unclear as to whether she started the fire (it’s stated that the film caught fire on page 164). Still, her attempted suicide is somewhat expected, since, as I mentioned in my previous posts, she lost Yukio, isolating her even more from the world, especially when Komako steals all the attention of Shimamura away from Yoko. The tension between Komako and Yoko only increased with the death of Yukio and the inclusion of Shimamura into their lives. Although Kawabata never explicitly states whether Yoko dies or not, Shimamura “did not see death in the still form [of Yoko’s body]. He felt rather that Yoko had undergone some shift, some metamorphosis”(174). Even though this could mean she is physically disfigured from her fall, it may also hint that Yoko’s character will change, and perhaps she’ll move on from Yukio and Shimamura. Regardless of what happens to her, it seems the relationship between Shimamura and Komako will never be the same from that point onward. As he tries to catch up to Komako with Yoko in her arms, Shimamura is pushed back, both literally and metaphorically:

“He tried to move toward that half-mad voice, but he was pushed aside by the men who had come up to take Yoko form her. As he caught his footing, his head fell back, and the Milky Way flowed down inside him with a roar”(175).

Indeed, I think Yoko’s possible death serves as Shimamura’s punishment. He may be awaiting more retribution when he returns back to his family in Tokyo. Shimamura can probably be classified as a tragic hero (or rather, a tragic character). His tragic flaw of wanting to find passion in unknown experiences leads him to the snow country and Komako. But by having such a strong and intimate relationship with her (despite being married), he causes his own downfall and his relationship crashes with Yoko’s fall.

Well, it was fun talking with myself. For those of you still checking the blog, be sure to have a copy of The Sound of Waves. We should finish roughly half of it by this weekend and make our posts. Since there’s sixteen total chapters, let’s say half is the first eight chapters.

Sorry, guys, but I’m going to have to start the third session of blog comments. My following posts will focus on the first eight chapters (roughly half) of The Sound of Waves. After reading the first half, I can say with confidence that I like it a lot more than Snow Country. The straightforwardness and vibrant imagery makes the text very easy to read and understand. In addition, the simple and somewhat clichéd plot of young love keeps me interested.

This passage in chapter two caught my eye. Shinji, the male protagonist, had recently seen a girl he had never seen before; the village in which he lives in is small enough so that pretty much everyone would know each other. He learns from his boat master that the girl, Hatsue, is the daughter of a wealthy ship owner, and she has returned to the island of Uta-jima because her father wishes her to find a husband whom he could adopt into the family.

“Talk of this girl and the image of the girl he had seen on the beach yesterday immediately took fast hold of each other in Shinji’s mind. At the same instant he recalled, with a sinking heart, his own poor condition in life. The recollection made the girl whom he had stared at so closely only the day before seem very, very far away from him now. Because now he knew that her father was Terukichi Miyata, the wealthy owner of two coasting freighters chartered to Yamagawa Transport—the hundred-and-eighty-five-ton Utajima-maru and the ninety-five-ton Harukaze-maru—and a noted crosspatch, whose white hair would wave like lion whiskers in anger”(18).

As I read the passage, I immediately thought how Shinji can be related to Pip in Great Expectations (YES, I really liked that book). A boy’s admiration of a girl so physically close, yet with social barriers creating an artificial distance, is a theme I’ve always observed with high regard. In this case, Shinji is an eighteen-year-old working as a fisherman to support his mother and younger brother. Although he begins to fall for Hatsue, he can’t quite justify being with her yet, because her father is wealthy enough to own two massive ships. Miyata is also described as a “noted crosspatch, whose white hair would wave like lion whiskers in anger”. A crosspatch is defined as a bad-tempered person, so he definitely wouldn’t give up Hatsue to a lowly fisherman so easily. This sets up an interesting storyline, and it will be exciting to see how Shinji and Hatsue will end up together (or not).
I find it fascinating that the author of The Sound of Waves, Yukio Mishima, had visited Yasunari Kawabata, the author of Snow Country, and had asked him for advice (according to Wikipedia). Mishima ended his life with seppuku (ritual suicide) and a theory even says that Mishima’s suicide prompted Kawabata’s suicide.

I also like how the translator chose to keep the honorifics in the story. In Western society, honorifics are basically the “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, and “Ms.”, but in Japanese society, they are a bit different and are generally used out of respect, politeness, or affection. So far, I’ve witnessed the use of the Japanese honorific suffix, “-san”, which is a common honorific attached to names and used for respect (i.e. Shinji-san, Hatsue-san).

Hey guys, great to see you all posting again!

Kristin, thanks for bringing my attention to the moths and the color green. I didn’t see those passages as that significant when I first read them. And your post about the relationship between Shimamura and Komako is well articulated in my opinion; it’s interesting how people push others away in an attempt to bring them closer.

Shaun, great job noticing all those tiny details! I think I’m focusing too much on the relationship between Shinji and Hatsue; there’s definitely more to the novel than that! And I’ll check out that Great Expectations film adaptation… although I’ve always preferred the original mid-nineteenth century English setting.

Wendy, the light imagery in that paragraph probably serves as symbols for the new day and the introduction of the main plot. Although it seems the whole day passes by in that one paragraph, Mishima does explain how Shinji and his crew harvest fish later in chapter two. But first, he probably wanted the reader to see how the story would unfold with the first unexpected encounter between Shinji and Hatsue.

Finally, on to my posts! I’ll be putting up passages that appealed to me, so that you guys don’t necessarily have to look back in your books. =)

“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”(21-22).

At a meeting regularly scheduled for young, unmarried men on the island, Shinji hears talk about Hatsue, at which instant, he is taken aback. We again see his initial sensitivity to the subject, whose name “[keeps] harassing his thoughts”. Shinji is described as “not at all given to brooding about things”, but in this case, “his cheeks flushed and his heart pounded” at the mere mention of Hatsue’s name. Normally, he’d experience these symptoms “only during heavy labor”, and thus, he feels ashamed for feeling something he has never dealt with before. So why is it “a blow to his pride” for having a crush? Well, the society described in The Sound of Waves is an isolated fishing village on an island where everyone knows each other. Falling in love at eighteen must be indeed awkward for Shinji, so much that he feels angry at himself, “[making] his cheeks even more flaming hot”. Such foreign feelings, vastly different from what he has ever experienced before makes his “flesh [feel] like that of some complete stranger”. However, the change that Shinji will inevitably undergo will be for the better, at least for himself, that is… It’ll be interesting to see how the village reacts.

Alright, time for some context so we can all understand the text better. Here’s a site with a map of the area where the novel takes place. If you click the numbers at the top, you can see pictures and short descriptions of important events in the story (don’t click the later ones or you’ll ruin the book for yourself!). Also, click the “Click for Uta-Jima close-up” on the map for important locations of Uta-jima, the island where Shinji and Hatsue live on.

Next up are two passages from the beginning of chapter five. In the previous chapter, Shinji and Hatsue had their first formal meeting.

“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.

City youths learn the ways of love early from novels, movies, and the like, but on Uta-jima there were practically no models to follow. Thus, no matter how he wondered about it, Shinji had not the slightest idea what he should have done during those precious minutes between the observation tower and the lighthouse when he had been alone with her. He was left with nothing but a keen sense of regret, a feeling that there was something he had utterly failed to do”(33-34).

I found it comically ironic that Shinji believes he would not be appealing to Hatsue, despite his awesome health, unparalleled strength, and extensive experience. The second paragraph reinforces my earlier thoughts about Uta-jima’s isolation. Mishima describes how the island villagers have “practically no models to follow” regarding love, unlike their city youth counterparts. Thus, Shinji has no clue about what he should have done during his meeting with Hatsue on the observation tower. However, calming her done and leading her back to the lighthouse are probably as much as he could have done, in my opinion. This, of course, all relates to the way Pip felt. Pip believed his “coarse, common boy” demeanor interfered with his relationship with the cold Estella, prompting his aspiration to become a gentleman (let me know if this part is wrong… I haven’t read GE since freshmen year).

In chapter eight, Shinji and Hatsue accidently meet in the observation tower (both naked by the way) after a storm forces each of them inside. Their feelings escalate with this tender encounter. The following passage somewhat sums up the scene.

“From time to time the dying fire crackled a little. They heard this sound and the whistling of the storm as it swept past the high windows, all mixed with the beating of their hearts. To Shinji it seemed as though this unceasing feeling of intoxication, and the confused booming of the sea outside, and the noise of the storm among the treetops were all beating with nature’s violent rhythm. And as part of his emotion there was the feeling, forever and ever, of pure and holy happiness”(77).

This paragraph sounds like clichéd and ironic foreshadow. In their moment together in serenity and gentleness, Shinji and Hatsue hear the “whistling of the storm” and the “booming of the sea”, “all beating with nature’s violent rhythm”. Although quiet and warm inside the observation tower, a storm rushes over the island, suggesting that trouble could be brewing on the horizon; Shinji and Hatsue’s relationship may not end in happiness. Despite believing his emotion of the “pure and holy happiness” to be “forever and ever”, Shinji condones the storm as just that, a natural event. Even if it really is just a storm and not necessarily an omen, his “unceasing feeling of intoxication” with Hatsue could also spell doom. Remember Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? A quote regarding the famous play I have heard involves “taking all things in moderation”, including such a romantic relationship.

This concludes my third session of literature circle book posts for the first half of The Sound of Waves.

Ok… Moving on to the second half of The Sound of Waves (chapters nine to sixteen). I finished the book the Sunday before Christmas, and frankly, the plot is nice (although a bit simple and perhaps formulaic), but I had trouble finding anything good to talk about. It’s been a hectic week, and hopefully, the following will suffice. I’ll make all my posts for this last session in one fell swoop. =)

I’ve noticed that there seems to be a lot of what can be loosely interpreted as irony in the novel. Yasuo, an arrogant and selfish young man, is interested in Hatsue, and he is on par with her in terms of social status. In this chapter, he clearly becomes Shinji’s rival and is also the other antagonist besides Terukichi, Hatsue’s father. In the following passages, Yasuo discovers irony the hard and painful way.

“Yasuo was the proud and always bragging owner of a watch with a luminous dial. Tonight he had left this on his wrist and had slipped into bed still wearing his jacket and trousers. From time to time he put the watch to his ear, looking often at its luminously glowing face. In Yasuo’s opinion the mere ownership of such a wonderful watch made him by rights a favorite with the women.

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 curiousity”(87-90).

I think we can all say that Yasuo’s cockiness is his greatest fault. As if being from a leading, influential family in the village isn’t enough, he believes he can take Hatsue for a wife since even the poor fisherman Shinji can attract her. Yasuo apparently owns an expensive watch, which, in his opinion, “[makes] him by rights a favorite with the women”. In contrast, he isn’t too popular among the women, for being “quite fat”(22) and selfish. Nonetheless, he decides to stalk Hatsue at night as she gathers water from the island’s only fresh water spring. His efforts are thwarted when, ironically, the watch he keeps bragging about attracts the attention of hornets. The swarm of insects gives away his location and prevents him from cornering the vulnerable Hatsue. Honestly, one can interpret this a few different ways. It could be karma of some sort (Yasuo’s intent on harming Hatsue backfiring), divine intervention (Mother Nature and her attacking hornets?), or simply just fate. What do you guys think of it?

In chapter twelve, Terukichi forbids Hatsue from ever meeting with Shinji again after hearing gossip about the pair. Disheartened, Shinji “relieve[s] his pent-up emotions by wandering to those parts of the island where people seldom [come]”(120), one of them being the ancient burial mound of Prince Deki.

“The legend of Prince Deki was vague. Nothing was known even about the origins of his strange name.

Be that as it may, the story goes that long, long ago, in a golden ship, the prince drifted from a far land to this island, took a girl of the island to wife, and when he died was buried in an imperial tumulus. No accounts have been handed down concerning the prince’s life, nor are there recounted any of those tragic tales that are apt to grow up and adhere to such a legendary figure. Assuming the legend to be based on fact, this silence suggests that Prince Deki’s life on Uta-jima must have been so happy and uneventful that it left no room for the birth of tragic yarns.
Perhaps Prince Deki was a heavenly being who descended to a nameless land. Perhaps he lived out his earthly years without being recognized and, do what he would, will as he could, was never separated from happiness, nor from the blessings of Heaven. Perhaps this is the reason why his remains were interred in a mound overlooking the beautiful Five League Beach and Hachijo Isle, leaving behind not a single story….”(121-122).

Try as I might, I could find absolutely no further information on this Prince Deki (despite gathering all the resourceful resources of the internet!). So he literally has left no accounts of his life. Of course, the name could have been badly romanized and no one has or knows how to correct it… Perhaps there are records of him on some Japanese website. Regardless, the legend of a great man who left no legacies can be said to happen all the time in the real world. For example, an amazing teacher (no names!) could leave impressions upon his students whom will never forget him, and yet, the teacher would be widely unknown in the area unless he’s won some sort of an award or has done other deeds worthy of merit. It’s notable that Hatsue writes to Shinji, telling him that she had a dream where “a god told her that Shinji was a reincarnation of Prince Deki”(122) and “they had been happily married and had had a jewel-like child”(122). Shinji realizes that Hatsue could not have known about his excursion to Prince Deki’s tomb the night before. This is probably the cheesiest (I hope I’m using that right…) example of foreshadow, and indeed, it seems fate is playing a role in Shinji and Hatsue’s relationship after all.

“The mistress of the lighthouse wiped the sweat from her face several times. At long last she began to speak:
‘Well, what I want to talk to you about is your Hatsue-san and the Kubo family’s Shinji-san, and…’

Now for the first time Terukichi turned his face toward her, and then he spoke, without so much as a sign of a smile:
‘If that’s all you have to talk about, it’s all already settled. Shinji’s the one I’m adopting for Hatsue’s husband’”(174).

After reading this, I think my jaw dropped in astonishment. First, some context: the mistress of the lighthouse (the lighthouse-keeper’s wife) receives a letter from her daughter, Chiyoko, who had originally spread the rumor about Shinji and Hatsue. She apparently feels guilty about spreading the rumor and refuses to return home unless her mother convinces Terukichi to marry Hatsue to Shinji. The lighthouse mistress has had her work cut out for her, since Terukichi, unhappy in seeing her daughter’s miserable state, decided to give a test to both Shinji and Yasuo by having them both join the fishing crew of one of his freighters. The captain of the freighter is delighted with Shinji’s performance and is disgusted by Yasuo’s laziness and cowardice. So, in what I call an anticlimactic scene, Terukichi agrees to have Hatsue wed to Shinji. Even in a perfect world, one might expect some sacrifices and what not for such an arrangement to take place. But it seems fate has allowed the two lovers to be together in the end without any violence, bloodshed, or even a plot twist. Still, I bet most would agree with me that Shinji was a bit hard on himself for believing he wasn’t good enough for Hatsue towards the beginning of the book. Shinji has certainly proved himself though, because, in the following passage, Terukichi justifies his decision.

“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. Family and money are all secondary. Don’t you think so, Mistress Lighthouse-Keeper? And that’s what he’s got—Shinji—get-up-and-go”(175).

I sincerely wish I had more passages to explicate, or at least, talk about… but everything just seems way too straightforward towards the end of the novel. Therefore, I think I’ll share some interesting things I found out and my concluding thoughts. I would like to hear more of what you guys think about both books, but I don’t think I’ll be holding my breath to find out. =)

So at the end, Shinji and Hatsue are happily engaged. Who knows, maybe the gods answered Shinji’s prayer from the beginning of the story (page 25)… Fate has brought the two together and it seems the gods are happy with their decision when “nature too again smiled on them”(177) as the couple scale the steps to the shrine.

Anyway, remember that website I referenced earlier? According to the home page, the content on the pages was all done by an Advanced Placement English class (I’m assuming it was a project for them to enjoy after the AP tests). They did a lot of good research.

For instance, in languages that use characters (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.), each character has its own meaning, but when joined together, they can form new meanings similar to how letters make words. In my experience with various Japanese media, romanized Japanese names almost always have some sort of meaning, and thanks to those AP students, we now know what some of the names in The Sound of Waves stand for. Shinji means “to have faith and confidence”, a fitting definition for the protagonist as he literally weathers the turbulent storms out on the ocean and when he tries to win Hatsue’s hand in marriage. Hatsue means “original thought or idea”, which describes Hatsue’s individualistic and different outlook on society, since she would rather marry Shinji for his qualities than his social status and wealth. Now, if only we could find out what “Shimamura” and “Komako” mean…!

Alright, my closing thoughts… I guess I was expecting too much from The Sound of Waves when I first began it and thus, the second half kind of disappointed me. This novel is definitely not the next Romeo and Juliet or Great Expectations. There are no overt action scenes, dramatic plot twists, or anything of that sort. I guess the praise the novel has garnered is for its simplicity and adherence to the culture of isolated Japanese villagers on an island, where emotions are commonly suppressed more or less, and gossip is frequently rampant. I believe the setting is post World War II, and this makes sense, because the time period represented a departure from proper traditions (like Shinji, a poor fisherman, marrying Hatsue, the daughter of a wealthy villager). Personally, I liked The Sound of Waves more than Snow Country and would highly recommend it as a novel to be simply enjoyed. All in all, The Sound of Waves is a better read if one likes a simple love story with a cliché “happily ever after” ending, while Snow Country might be preferred for its more stylistic writing style and plot, with a sad ending open to the reader’s interpretation.

Well, I guess that concludes my mandatory blog posts… I’ll gladly keep posting if you guys want to talk more about these two novels… In any case, I hope everyone had a nice vacation. ^_^ <--(That's a happy face by the way...)

1 comment:

Kevin Ta 5 said...

I really enjoyed the independent reading groups and our discussions, although we could have done better with interacting with each other. The books we read, Snow Country and The Sound of Waves, were really fascinating to me. Therefore, I had a lot to talk about and present.