Posted at 12.16.2018
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima is considered being one of Japans many exceptional and irreplaceable contributions to the world of literature. This book was translated by John Nathan, and published by First Vintage International in New York in 1994 at 181 pages long. The original edition was published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1965.
Judging a book by it covers is often how I choose a book to read. Although this book was assigned for the class I still gave the cover a once over before reading it. My first impression was that the cover backed up the title of the book by offering a huge rolling wave as a center point and the individual portrayed the sailor. After learning that the fantastic Wave is a favorite symbol of Japanese culture and reading the book I gave the cover another look. Everything about the cover reflects Japanese culture from the wave to just how that the title and the author's name are written. In the cover is somebody who I really believe to be Noboru. In his eye you start to see the wave reflected which may be seen as just how Japanese culture is reflected in him for he and his friends are old Japan.
Set against the setting of the shores of the Yokohama Harbor, Yukio Mishima's The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea takes place Post World War II Japan. At the start of the book we could introduced to the three main characters: the widow Fusako Kuroda, a merchant of fine European goods, her defiant son Noboru, and Ryuji Tsukazaki, a second mate on the freighter Rakuyo.
Fusako Kuroda owns a fancy clothing shop in Yokohama that imports from Europe and England. She lives a lonely existence as a widow with her young son Noboru, who is a 13-year-old boy who lost his father 5 years back. Noboru spends much of his free time with a group of boys his own age who seek to understand the fundamental order of the universe through their philosophy of objectivity.
When we first meet young Noboru, he is being locked in his room by his mother to prevent him from slipping out at night time to talk with his gang. While locked in is room Noboru discovers a peephole in the wall behind one of the drawers of his dresser. Throughout the peephole the guy can spy on his mother during her nightly routines plus some of her most intimate occasions by herself even though she actually is with the sailor. But in the finish his secret is available out.
Noboru is part of any gang lead by 'The Chief', who's also thirteen. The members of the gang make reference to each other as NUMBER 1, Number Two etc, with Noboru as NUMBER 3. Noboru is one of six boys who obey the guidelines of these superior leader "the chief", a bright but spoiled adolescent, left much too often to his own devices by his wealthy parents. The principle is the embodiment of the old adage "A little knowledge is an unhealthy thing". Every day after school "the chief" gathers to him his intimate circle of followers for tutelage in the ways of the globe, setting himself up as both judge and jury of human nature. His hatred for mundane commonplace and mindless contentment drives him to extremes at times; to the idea, even, of killing and dissecting an unhealthy kitten, in order to see life in its truest sense, with no pettiness of skin.
Noboru shares the characteristics of any typical adolescent when free from the control of "the principle". In Noboru's character the author reflects occasional moodiness, sexual curiosity, the necessity for independence, and a boyish fascination with all things mechanical, especially ships.
When a freighter (Rakuyo) pulls into Yokohama Harbor, which is the ship Ryuji Tsukazaki is second mate on, Fusako is invited to the ship to adopt her pick of the things for her shop. She takes her son along with her. It is Noboru's excitement that causes a tour of the ship and the chance meeting between his mother and the sailor. Tsukazaki tours them around and somehow the widow and the sailor finished up spending the night time together in her very beautiful house in a high scale neighborhood. After that it turns in to a love affair. While Ryuji struggles with his desire to leave the sea and yield to Fusako's charms, Noboru's gang engages in some activities designed to destroy their humanity.
Noboru is charmed of the seafaring vagabond, whom he believes to embody a certain casual wholesomeness. He and his friends idealize the man at first, but it is not long before they conclude that he's in fact soft and romantic. When Tsukazaki commits the unthinkable felony of falling for his mother, a cost must be paid. As Ryuji and Fusako become closer, Noboru unloads his problems and his "charges" against Ryuji on to the gang. They regard their disappointment in the sailor as an act of betrayal on his part, and react violently; which lead the gang to discover a brutal way to revive Ryuji heroism again. Predictably, it's the chief who decides a punishment befitting a sailor that has fallen from grace with the ocean.
At first glance it appears to be just another cliched plot line. Lonely rich widow with monster brat of your son meets a sailor, falls in love and trouble follows. Once I thought about the cultural tradition which the novel is from, I came to see this as very shallow thoughts and opinions of the book. The three main characters in the book, the widow, the son, and the sailor aren't to be seen as whole characters like in a normal fictional story.
Fusako represents post World War II Japan, with its increasing obsession for Western goods and its own growing economic might. Through her we see a Japan that has forgotten its roots and now worships tokens of wealth and beauty with no understanding of what they mean. We see her wear a kimono only to show it off in the bedroom for the sailor. She actually is a mockery of the values an older world held sacred in relation to proper behavior of women. She represents the debauchery of post war Japan. She actually is portrayed as an intelligent educated business woman without the form of self awareness. It really is no coincidence that there "There wasn't an individual Japanese room in Fusako's house; her mode of living was thoroughly Western" (pg. 113).
The sailor is a bit more complicated and cast in a bit of a better light
Whereas most men choose to become sailors because they like the sea, Ryuji have been guided by an antipathy to the land. . . He found himself in the strange predicament all sailors share: essentially he belongs neither to the land or the ocean. There must be a special destiny in store for me; a glittering, special order kind no ordinary man would be permitted (pg. 17).
Ryuji is Japan drifting, uncertain how to be or how to proceed. He represents a Japan at sea with itself uprooted, belonging neither to its past or that of the west. He represents the transition between traditional and contemporary Japan. The sailor tries to live by old stoic values. He falls prey to a love of comfort and easy gratification "tired to death of the squalor and the boredom in a sailor's life There was no glory found, not anywhere in the world" (pg 111). He allows himself to be dressed up in English tweed suits and delivered to English lessons. The widow starts teach him about the merchandising business. He knows he is losing sight of his old values but he willing takes what life has to offer him. It is Ryuji, then, who is giving up everything, losing his freedom, his "Japanese identity", and lastly his life. Yet at the end he realizes that "I possibly could have been a man sailing away forever. He had been sick and tired of all of it, glutted, yet now, slowly, he was awakening again to the immensity of what he previously abandoned" (179).
Noboru and his friends is seen as the continuing future of Japan in a culture where the old values are destroyed. But I truly think Mishima portrayed Noboru and his gang as the old means of Japan, and the Samurai Code, which one will need to have total control of the mind and body. The gang's philosophy of objectivity helps them shoot for that total control, something demonstrated in the group's brutality and bluntness. Noboru has no father figure and the perfect Japanese figure that he so desperately clings to, appears to have room in this westernized, peaceful Japan. They know that Ryuji must eventually surrender to Fusako's charm, and they know that discussion and compromise aren't the answer. If Ryuji is killed plus they remain, Japan has been won back. This is most evidently seen when Ryuji and Fusako are married, and Ryuji shows compassion following a transgression for Noboru. The boy wonders to himself: "Can this man be saying things such as that? This splendid hero who once shone so brightly" (pg. 158)? Old Japan, it seems, is dying, its glory fading into squalid domestication and petty monetary success.
Nihilism plays a dominant role in Mishima's The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. The novel targets the boys' characters to be produced an example. Noboru and his group try to go beyond the established societal boundaries; they don't feel that rules apply to them because they're above law and order. The boys murder the kitten and later the sailor because they believe only by "acts like this could they fill the world's greatest hollows" (57). The boys act without regard for morals, and their contempt for mundane platitudes drives these to hurt others. The Chief and his followers use killings to check their objective worldview so when an effort to bring order to the chaos that has become their world. "They hover around our heads waiting for a chance, and when they see something rotten, they buzz in and root in it. And there's nothing they won't do to contaminate our freedom and our ability" (138). Only by killing the kitten and sailor could the group "achieve real power over existence" (57). The act of killing gave the boys a kind of "snow-white certificate of merit" (61) that meant they could now do anything, "no matter how awful" (61).
the cat thing was unnerving-which made the ending all the more horrific because my brain could complete all the details it needed to