The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima

In the beginning of Chapter 4, Yukio Mishima writes of the sailor who fell from grace with the sea:

He hadn’t been able to explain his ideas of glory and death, or the longing and the melancholy pent up in his chest, or the other dark passions choking in the ocean’s swell. Whenever he tried to talk about these things, he failed. If there were times when he felt he was worthless, there were others when something like the magnificence of the sunset over Manila Bay sent its radiant fire through him and he knew that he had been chosen to tower above other men. But he hadn’t been able to tell the woman about his conviction. He remembered her asking: ‘Why haven’t you ever married?’ And he remembered his simpering answer: ‘It’s not easy to find a woman who is willing to be a sailor’s wife.’

Mishima’s novel is called rather plainly in Japanese as Afternoon Tow (午後の曳航 gogo no eikō), and before publication its working title is said to be Hero of the Sea. The title of the English translation by John Nathan is how it is known in the West.

Often interpreted as commentary on the decadence of post-war Japan polluted by Western ideas, the book is divided into two parts: Summer and Winter, which may also be rewritten as Sea and Land, or even Prewar/Wartime Japan and Postwar Japan.

This is the first book by Mishima that I read, and I finished it while waiting inside a clinic in Tsukuba acting as interpreter for a guy who may o may not have diabetes (abnormally high blood glucose).

Besides the spectacular sunset on Manila Bay described above, there is another passage that mentions the Philippines.

Noboru’s questions were precipitate, his interest leaped from one subject to another.

What was the Philippines’ chief product again?

‘Lauan wood,’ I guess.

Which suggests that while Japan was rapidly rebuilding its economy churning out one electronic wonder after another during the postwar economic boom, the Philippines was busily felling trees and exporting wood throughout the world.

Getting back to Mishima, I once asked my father if he liked The Decay of the Angel which I found in our bookshelf when I was growing up in the Philippines. If I recall accurately, his tepid reply suggested that he didn’t, and mentioned that it might have to do with translation from the original Japanese.

After reading this book, though, I may have to read Mishima’s other works (a prolific writer, Mishima wrote 34 novels, about 50 plays, 25 books of short stories, and at least 35 books of essays) and especially the Sea of Fertility tetralogy, which includes The Decay of the Angel.