The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, Yukio Mishima

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The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

Later, when the first pale promise of the dawn appeared, he proposed something childish: why didn’t they walk over to the park and watch the first sunrise of the New Year? Fusako was captivated by the lunacy of racing into the cold. She jumped out of bed and bundled into everything she could get on—tights, slacks, a cashmere sweater, and a gorgeous Danish ski sweater over that; and tiptoeing down the stairs, they unlocked the front door and stepped outside.

It’s strange being born on January 1. In many ways it simplifies life, being in perfect harmony with the counting of the years. I never have to scroll through the “day” and “month” settings on forms because they’re all automatically on my birthday. I get to indulge in the narcissistic fantasy that on December 31, everyone is dancing and kissing and setting off fireworks and counting down to me. I have the favour of Janus, my month’s namesake, the two-faced god of entrances and exits, beginnings and endings, the circularity of all things.

As another year of the earth’s history, another year of my life, and another Bookstravaganza draw to a close, I’m my usual New Year’s blend of melancholy for the past and hopeful for the things to come. Sometimes I am saddened by memories of things I have left behind, and sometimes I am delighted by new discoveries and unexpected coincidences. This morning at 9:00 I opened Yukio Mishima’s book to read about how Fusako, the wealthy owner of a fancy European imports store in Yokohama, and Ryuji, the honourable second mate, were meeting at 9:00AM on December 30th. Delighted, I consumed the second half of The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea with great haste, only to be left with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Fusako and Ryuji live out an idyllic yet realistical romance. They are two thirty-three year olds who are lonely, want a partner, and find in each other an acceptable candidate for that position. Their courtship varies between a passionate fling to a childish goofy pursuit to a pragmatic arrangement. The only flaw in this picture is Noboru, Fusako’s 13-year-old son. On the outside he seems like a smart, well-adjusted child. But when we see things from his perspective (his annoying, histrionic, romanticized perspective that causes him to declare that Ryuji’s sensible choice to stay with Fusako means he’s “falling from grace with the sea”) we get a very different narrative.

Noboru is Number Three in a gang of six boys. They declare themselves “six geniuses” and spout nihilistic clichés, thinking that being dark and edgy and hating society means they’re deep and able to see through the murk of adult lies and delusions. In short, they’re like every arrogant 13-year-old who’s been told they’re “special” or “gifted” one too many times and who thinks they understand the world better than all the dumb adults. The chief of this little gang rambles on and on about the romance of death and how society’s laws don’t apply to truly exceptional (sociopaths) like them. A truly disturbing scene involves the killing and dismemberment of a kitten (which brings my count of kitten death scenes in Japanese literature to three, counting Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills… is there something we need to talk about, Japan?). But the gang’s sociopathic behaviour is only going to get worse from there…

I read Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask earlier this year when I wanted to expand my JapanLit scope beyond Murakami. That book—of silent suffering, of repressed desire, of autobiographical tension—and Mishima’s explosive death (he committed seppuku and got a follower to ritually behead him in public after a failed coup in 1970) gave me great interest in this person and his writing. This book, although perhaps less interesting to me in its content, is still beautifully written (or at least beautifully translated by John Nathan) and well worth a read by any Japanophile.

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