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Two Japanese novels review in one..The Sound of Waves and Thousand Cranes

It’s been two weeks since I wrote a proper review about a book. It is getting more and more difficult for me to read books now, is it the weather? (all sunny and blue). Is it work? Yes, most of the time I’m exhausted after working overtime. But I manage to kick-off August with two light Japanese novels. Hope you don’t mind my short reviews which ended up to be one long review! First up, it is my favourite author Mishima, again, this time with The Sound of Waves……. (can’t you hear it?)

What it is:

The Sound of Waves’ 潮騒 Shiosai, tells the story of Shinji Kubo, a eighteen year old fisherman who lives on Uta~Jima island which means ‘Song Island’ with his widowed mother and his younger brother. Shinji is very quiet and hardworking, he works hard on the ship, ‘Taihei~maru’ with his master, Jukichi and Ryuji, a fellow fisherman.

Shinji falls in love with Hatsue Miyata, the only daughter of Old Uncle Teru, the wealthiest man in Uta~Jima, Hatsue has returned from Oizaki in Shima after training to be a pearl diver, ‘a diving woman’ and she works alongside Shinji’s mother who is a diving woman. The return of Hatsue is the talk of the villagers, everyone wants to know who will Hatsue married, the obvious choice seems to be Yasuo Kawamoto, the son of one of the leading families in the village, spoilt and lazy, but Hatsue falls in love with Shinju, soon they become the talk of the village and Shinji must prove his worth.

To add some complexity to the love triangle, The lighthouse keeper daughter, Chiyoko , who is educated in Tokyo University and only goes back to the island during summer holiday, also has a crush in Shinju, face with such opposing forces, will Shinji be with Hatsue at the end?

Why I read it: I wanted to read something light and quick and this seems to be the right choice as it has been sitting on my shelf for 2 years.

What I thought:

The island called Uta Jima actually exists in Omura Bay in Nagasaki, however, this Uta Jima island has been called Tera Shima until 1995. Masashi Sada, a famous Japanese singer bought the island and changed the name of the island. Incidentally, Uta means song or poem.

It is a strange and unusual reading experience for me to read this book. Why? The reason must be one which sounds a little grim and macabre… I keep expecting misfortune to befell on the lovestruck couple. I thought when Yasuo tracked down Hatsue while she is hauling water out of the well, he is going to force himself on her; or when Shinji is at sea battling the waves (to be honest, the scenes from The Perfect Storm movie keep coming up on my head!) I thought he is going to be perished together with the sea. I thought Hatsue’s father is going to use some violent force and eliminate any chance of Shinji ever getting close to his daughter etc. etc…

But no! Yasuo and Hatsue hide and seek became one of comical one, with Yasuo got hit on the head with stones. Everything turns out to be all rosey and sunny like a holiday under the sun.

This isn’t Mishima??!! I thought. This is so unlike Mishima to spun such a straightforward, fun-loving, lovely story about two lovers who live in this quaint and beautiful fishing village where the people and the sea are one in soul and in every fabric of their lives. Yes, there is occasional opposition, anger, despair and hatred but it is nothing like Mishima’s usual dark, controversial and often imminent death-like novels in his other books, in which I have read.

Mishima, as I expect, is versatile. Here he spun an endearing love story and captured the imagination  of movie producers. For this book Mishima was awarded the Shincho Prize from Shinchosha Publishing in 1954. It was adapted to film on five separate occasions.

If you like short and sweet sampling of Mishima’s otherwise darker books. A welcoming change for me (even if it disappoints me that there were nothing substantial like sad tragedies that happened in the island! :D). If there is a good introductory book to Mishima, this will be it.


Other review: Steph and Tony investigate

Paperback. Publisher: Vintage Classic 2000, originally published in 1956; Length: 183 pages; Setting: Uta-jima island, Japan. Source: Own copy. Finished reading on the 6th August 2012.

Next up, I read Thousand Cranes within 2 hours. Really, the book is so thin, you can finish it quicker than me!

What it is:

Thousand Cranes is published in 1958. As the blurb doesn’t do justice to clear the confusion, I’ll supply my own. Here goes: A young man, Kikuji has been invited to a tea ceremony by a mistress of his dead father, Chikako. He is shocked to find there the mistress’ rival, Mrs Ota, another of Kikuji’s Father’s mistress, whom he stayed with till the last days of his life. Mrs Ota brought her daughter, Fumiko along, a mirror image of her mother. If this is not embarrassing enough, Chikako has meant for Kikuji to meet his potential future bride, Yukiko Inamura, from the reputable Inamura family.

It was this awkward encounter that Mrs Ota came to him and told Kikuji how much he reminds her of his father and the beautiful memories that Kikuji’s father has given to her. It is not a secret to spoil this as the blurb says all went towards the road of destruction and sufferance when Kikuji is drawn to a relationship with Mrs Ota and Chikako doesn’t like it at all and is scheming to break them apart.

However, despite his attraction to Miss Inamura, Kikuji is equally fascinated with Mrs Ota and her daughter and, rather surprisingly, becomes involved in a relationship with Mrs Ota.

Why I read it: I saw it on the library shelf and thought it was such a thin book. I’ll be able to finish it within 2 hours.

What I thought:

Kikuji is entangled into the affairs and personal conflicts of the three women in his life, of the two was his late father’s mistresses (if you count the less mentioned Miss Inamura which Kikuji was supposed to be matched, that will be 4 women altogether!). Ironically his mother was not mentioned very much in the scheme of things.

Chikuko is a welcome villain figure in the novel. She barges into Kikuji’s home, cleans up his house, puts out the washed laundry, interferes with Kikuji’s personal affairs, gossips, slanders and then chip in with a wise remark such as this:

“When a person is too much of a man or too much of a woman, the common sense generally isn’t there.”

You got to love her… 😉

Kawabata, again here ( I have read Snow Country), is the master of describing the subtlety of emotions and what is unsaid in the Japanese culture and I have learnt a bit more about the historical tea masters and the reverence of tea culture and tea sets.

The significance of a thousand cranes in Japanese culture:

A “Senbazuru” or 1000 cranes—often made of paper, like in Japanese origami—are a symbol of good luck in several Asian countries.  A “Senbazuru” may be used at the time of a birth of a child or at a wedding, as a gesture of good luck or good providence for the child, couple or new family. According to Wikopedia, “It is also used as a matchmaking charm for a Japanese girl when she turns 13 years old. She would make 1000 paper cranes and give it to an admired boy.”

A karatsu bowl. A Kyushu ware of Korean origin. When Fumiko served the bowl to Kikuji. Kikuji thought it was a strong bowl good for everyday use. Fumiko decide to bring out the Shino bowl as well.

This an example of a Shino ware from the Oribe kiln. I love that these tea cups are painted and maintains its earthly quality.

Raku, a Kyoto ware, was first produced in the 16th century by Ryōnyū. Ryōnyū (1756-1834) was the 9th master of Raku kiln. They are usually burned in a hot furnace with high fire. I love these rugged brown, earthly colours of the wares

Sen Rikyū (1521-91) an early tea master, whose grandson Sen Sōtan (1578-1658) was the first owner of a gourd mentioned in the story.

The dead from the “other world” come to haunt and rule the living. As Kikuji wrestles with the claims of pitiable Mrs Ota and the tough survivor Chikako, the rituals and vessels of the tea ceremony symbolically enact the guilt, grief and longing of these stranded souls.

The ending wasn’t tight but that’s fine with me. I am not keen on reading about melodramatic women, so therefore a 3.5.


Other book reviews and resource:

Tony’s Reading listSemi fictionalBook AtlasIn Spring it is the Dawn : Thousand Cranes book discussionEslkevin – explore the significance of the symbols in the book

Paperback. Publisher: Penguin Classic 2011, originally published in 1958; Length: 101 pages; Setting:  Japan. Source: Reading Library copy. Finished reading on the 9th August 2012.

I’m reading these two for the J-lit 6 challenge.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


25 thoughts on “Two Japanese novels review in one..The Sound of Waves and Thousand Cranes

  1. Why do I get the feeling that you’re trying to catch up with your reading, after July? 😉 Just joking. These must be welcome diversions while plodding through A Suitable Boy. I haven’t yet read any book by Mishima, but yes, my general impression of his books were of a darker nature… I’d love to read The Sound of Waves, a book that is unexpectedly funny. Did you get the feeling that you were missing out on crucial tea ceremony info while reading Thousand Cranes?

    Posted by Chinoiseries | August 18, 2012, 11:20 am
    • Chinoiseries,
      lol 😀 Of course not. I’m so far behind I’m not sure I would even catch-up with whatever I want to read this year. I didn’t think I miss out on any tea ceremony info because I know about the Chinese tea ceremony culture, assuming Japanese is a slight variation of it, but not too far off. The subtle meaning about tea wares and kitchen wares are articulated clearly in the book, it talks about a pair of bowls that are used for husband and wife, the historical pieces that a family would hold precious and kept as treasure for the early masters who possess them etc etc… Quite interesting.. I love those tea sets and the diversion from the normal blue and white tea cups that Chinese restaurant normally use or the red clay in a more cultured Chinese tea ceremonial setting.

      I added another piece on Chikuko on Thousand Cranes, do have a look. My favourite line is this: “When a person is too much of a man or too much of a woman, the common sense generally isn’t there.” 😉

      Posted by JoV | August 18, 2012, 11:48 am
      • xD that quote is so true though, overt masculinity or femininity makes us forget that we’re fundamentally human. I’m not as familiar with tea ceremonies as you, alas, but Japanese tea in general is more to my taste than Chinese tea. It’s the milder flavour I think.

        Posted by Chinoiseries | August 18, 2012, 11:55 am
        • Chinoiseries,
          Think of the Chinese tea culture as a fixed method of cleaning the tea leaves, washing it a few times, use a wooden tweezer to pick the leaves up and then soak it in hot water again. All done in a customised tray that funnels the water into a receptacle at the bottom, which you can empty when it is full. Then like a wine connoisseur, you smell it, you sip it, you slurp it and then you savour it. 🙂 They say a good clay and the tea leaves makes a difference in brewing a good tea, I didn’t get as far as that!

          Posted by JoV | August 18, 2012, 12:00 pm
  2. ‘The Sound of Waves’ is one I haven’t yet read, but it does sound very un-Mishima-like 😉

    Unfortunately, I haven’t got to as much J-Lit as I would have expected recently, mainly because I’ve had a lot of other translated fiction ARCs (which is nothing to complain about really!). I really need to get down to reading some more soon…

    Posted by Tony | August 18, 2012, 11:45 am
    • Tony,
      Yeah I have my dilemma about ARCs I feel obligated to read them before they are published and that’s added pressure! I hope you do and I like reading about your Japanese novels review. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | August 18, 2012, 11:52 am
  3. I read the Sound of Waves ages ago but have positive memories of it even though the storyline has faded!

    Posted by Helen Murdoch | August 18, 2012, 6:24 pm
  4. not read either I have read the sailor … by Mishima ,and have thousand cranes on my shelves in a double collection with snow country it sounds very good so may be one for me for Japanese lit challenge ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | August 18, 2012, 7:23 pm
  5. Nice reviews. I’ve read The Sound of the Waves and remember enjoying it. Now I will add A Thousand Cranes to my TBR list, along with Snow Country..

    Posted by Gavin | August 19, 2012, 12:48 am
  6. Great post. The Sound Of Waves does sound very unMishima like!

    Posted by Mel u | August 19, 2012, 12:56 am
  7. I am almost completely unfamiliar with Japanese literature and it’s a big gap as I generally love reading literature from other counties. Of the two novels here, I like the look of The Sound of Waves the best.

    Posted by Sam (Tiny Library) | August 19, 2012, 5:14 pm
    • Sam,
      I hope you have a chance to read Japanese Literature. I thought it gave me a fresh perspective and very different from anything I ever read. Not much going on in The Sound of Waves in my opinion, but it is an adorable love story. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | August 19, 2012, 7:14 pm
  8. Thousand Cranes sounds really good.

    It’s hard to work reading in sometimes. It shouldn’t be for us since we are such avid readers but life does get in the way sometimes.

    Posted by Ti | August 21, 2012, 2:31 pm
    • Ti,
      It is difficult to work reading in. I didn’t think there will be a day I find hard to read or hard to reply a friend’s email but it has got into the point where this happens now and even if I try to read, I couldn’t concentrate. 😦 Hope you have better luck than me!

      Posted by JoV | August 22, 2012, 9:13 pm
  9. This post really makes me wish I had some more Japanese fiction on my ereader while we are here in Japan! Even though I completely agree that The Sound of Waves was very unlike Mishima’s other works (and I too spent much of it expecting something dire to happen!), I think it would have been nice to read while I sat by the shore in Matsushima… not the same place in Japan, but close enough, I think!

    Thousand Cranes sounds really good. I had not heard of it before, but perhaps I will be able to find an English-language version before I leave Japan!

    Posted by Steph | August 22, 2012, 12:07 pm
  10. I am looking for something light too. So the first book sounds perfect. Thank you.

    At least you are still reading and writing about it! It has been such a long time since I read a novel 😦 And I still have two business books to review for a publisher. Sigh.

    Posted by Wilfrid | August 24, 2012, 3:24 pm


  1. Pingback: August – Sept 2012 : Wrap-up « JoV's Book Pyramid - October 12, 2012

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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