Change as used in many societies is a phenomenon that is considered inevitable. In the Japanese culture, it has become known that they have different versions and meaning of change as portrayed in their literature. The concept of change (Evanescense and Form) in the Japanese culture is very evident throughout the book; "A Sailor That Fell From Sea With Grace” by Yuko Mishima. This book gives a story of adolescent who witness mother going through an erotic relationship with a seaman portrayed as heroic. Even though the boy admires the sailor at initial stages, he later despises him after he forsakes his powers and weds the boy’s mother. Interestingly, his figuratively rescues the seaman from the agony of powerlessness by killing him.
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In this paper, I seek to expose the essence of change in the world as illustrated in the book and connect it with the Japanese culture. As seen in their day to day cultural orientation, change is inevitable in the Japanese culture. In fact, the novel illustrates the idea of change through the boy, his mother and the sailor, entangled in various controversial episodes throughout the story. While the mother was in a move to satisfy her lust with the seaman, the boy suffers the image dissolution, dejected, and exposed to high level of inferiority by the mother’s action. But change of events comes once he managed to kill the seaman. This is a clear indication that Japanese believe that all things change and that nothing remains the same in the general life as portrayed in their culture. Furthermore, every other thing depends on each other.
The Theme of Muj%u014F (Impermanence)
Yuko Mishima begins the book with certain scenes that one would describe as bizarre. In the first scene, mother of a young boy locks her son inside a room. The boy is evidently terrified when the thought of him dying in the room as a result of possible fire breakout inside the room. The boy thinks to himself on what the mother would do if such an accident occurred (Mishima 3). In what has become a pattern, the mother locks the boy in the room at her own convenient time, while she gets her time to masturbate. His thoughts wonder and he imagines things that one would not expect an adolescent of 13 years old to have recognized. However, as the events unfold, he finds his ways out by eventually killing the seaman, who he believes contributes to his life’s agony and suffering.
In this book, it is evident that the author is clearly portraying in his fiction the essence of change in the global world- that nothing is permanent. There is a belief that nothing is stable and that human kind can only survive if they accept change. This is a clear pattern of Japanese culture. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this belief is illustrated in the changes that occur in the life of the boy; who has fewer powers at initial stages, but later manages to kill the seaman with help of a gang they share a common belief. In these aspects, it can also be viewed that death is just but an aspect of redemption and perfection, especially after suffering in life. The whole concept is entrenched in the belief that if there is a bad beginning in the morning, there is likelihood of the afternoon becoming better.
Mishima provides the boy with a furious image of disgust and at the same time disgusted with the way things are, including her mother’s erotic sexual behaviors. If the mother had changed from being a caring and loving mother to one who only satisfies her sexual pleasure, then everything could change. This change occurs due to the people’s own behaviors. For instance, Ryuji is a slave to the power of the sea and he has to do right things to keep the powers within himself. Initially, he desires to sacrifice everything to the sea and subsequently become glorious out of this heroic adventure. However, his life changes and he instead becomes domesticated, less nihilistic, and finds himself a betrayer of his own desire. The gods of the sea revenge on him through the young boy who eventually kills him.
In this perspective, it is possible to connect the nature and power of the environment in shaping the world. That natural environment defines the way it should be cared for is an important aspect of this book. It is also important to note that the belief of animism in the Japanese culture is rampant and plays an important role in the way environment is cared for. The revenge by the sea on the seaman is a clear indication of how Japanese believe that any actions that go against the natural phenomenon in the environment will definitely hurt the people who carry out such actions. The people therefore have close relationship with nature and that the world is basically non-symbolic. In other words, one should expect repercussion of environmental degradation, as nothing remains static.
Language and the Changing Reality in the Japanese Culture
The use of language in the novel has a lot of symbolism of the changing Japanese culture of language. In the story, seaman has changed his desire of the sea life to crave for what is available on the land like others. The author uses what would be defined as vulgar figurative language to define the fantasy that Niboru’s mother involve herself in. In fact, she is so westernized that she finds herself in an erotic love tangle with the sea man, while trading on western products to the elite Japanese society. The writer’s description of vagina as a bleeding wound could be an attempt to portray the infiltration of western culture into the Japanese culture in terms of meanings and purpose of words. Her vagina is portrayed as a disturbing mystery- just a wound (Mishima 8) and gives out the sense of emptiness in the western culture. The use of such language does not give a true picture of the traditionally entrenched cultural Japan but illustrates the image of the western distorted culture.
Language is used to represent the present Japan and the past Japan. In this case, it is possible to outline the fact that Noboru is representing the traditionally cultured Japan while his mother, Fusako is a true representation of the modern westernized Japan. On the other hand, the seaman, Ryuji embodies that picture of another westernized Japanese. The changes could have come from the figurative sea, which resembles the fact that in the old days, sea was used as the main means of transport, connecting the world and facilitating trade. This could have also developed into a means of Japanese cultural erosion. The destruction of the seaman’s life is a clear indication of the author’s intent to portray western culture as destructive. Thus, in the eye of the young boy, it could be stated that the boy’s desire of a better Japan with its traditional culture intact will represent a true image for long term benefits.
In the Japanese high and rich culture, the art and aesthetic value of the language embodies the belief that parents should live for their children (Addis 51). This is particularly true for the mothers (Addis 51). In this culture, the use of language is defined by the respect it deserves in preservation of cultural values. However, this ideology of the Japanese culture is eroded by the westernized language, the changing reality of the increasingly global world. The present Japan therefore represents a totally different Japan that was in the past, and that majority would want to be resurfaced.
The language as used in the Japanese culture portrays women as docile, and always following the males in all aspects of life. They are expected to be obedient people always ready to follow instruction. However, Noboru’s mother has gone against the grains-she is a complete contrast of what the Japanese society expects of a woman. The Japanese women, represented by Noboru’s mother, could be interpreted to mean that they are attempting to replace the ‘Japanese women’ myth of the traditional culture. Even though this view may have not been in the author’s mind considering the language used, it is a clear indicator of rebellion among Japanese women.
The necessity of form
Noboru looks at his life with vengeance, as he watches his mother live a life that does not necessarily care for him. At his tender age he fantasizes how he would get out of this bondage of imprisonment the mother has exposed her into. With despair, he feels there’s no meaning of life, as he ends up hating fathers. He also feels despair of her mothers nakedness, making him feel inferior and out of place in this world. However, the whole process of despair is reflected on how he feels about himself throughout most of his life. Instead of directing his hostility to the mother, he somewhat blames himself for the suffering he’s going through, with no apparent reason. Throughout the book, the mother to the boy is idealized his mother as adorable, despite her sexual rage with the seam. This kind of perception leaves Noboru with little attention to himself. This kind of manipulation lacks form and order. As can be observed, the family life in this case has changed and the role of the mothers has changed too.
But as the book reveals, it became apparent that the source of problem emanated from the grandmother. His grandmother was psychotic and facilitated the degradation of his self-esteem. The grandmother contained his hostility through rage, while the mother was more of a control freak, who would do anything to create her space and make the boy ‘safe’ at home. The beauty that Noboru’s mother does not portrays the motherliness expected of her. She betrays the son by locking him indoors and seeking her own selfish pleasure. In this scenario, she makes her son a weakling against the demands of what the society wants, strong men. The forced separation breeds rage and vengeance in the young boy, and he feels more of a dejected person in the society who needs only a few in his life- those he shares similar agony with. This phenomenon represents a changed society, where the ideals of parenting have been eroded in the Japanese society. This is due to the failure by the society to instill form within the societal system.
The culture and concept of form is believed to be the bedrock of cultural organization. For the past few decades, form in and organization of the Japanese culture has been seen in many aspects of the Japanese culture. In a theoretical perspective, the diversity of culture and form should be constructed in the dimension that is able to create harmony. However, with the complexity of the western culture brought about by changes, the Japanese culture has been eroded of its form.
Speech is also known to depend on the formality of the process (Nara 7). Form therefore determines the behavioral traits of the people in a cultural setting of the society. Japanese are well known for their differences in styles as exhibited in the form of language, conduct, and behavior as well as attitude (Nara 9). Other areas that define formality and non-formality of the Japanese culture are their order of doing things, status and roles of each person. For example, Japanese language possesses formality by showing politeness or solidarity in their elaborate and honorable systems of communication and association. This type communication is portrayed in the desire of Noboru, whose fantasy of a more straight-forward and traditional Japan reflects the desired societal form. In fact, the mother on the other hand portrays a failed western culture influence, as far as being motherly is concerned.
Other than the above form in structure and behaviors, Japanese culture does consider gender in their speech (Nara 19). In fact, they are oriented to beelieve that gender is more integrative when it is separated in the form of speech. In the Japanese society, the formality of issues addressed in speech by male is different from female (Nara 19). In fact, it is stated that from the early age of the young ones, boys are oriented to talk like boys, likewise to the girls. These forms are reinforced throughout the developments of the young one’s life. This kind of form in the culture reinforces the growth of the young ones with good societal conducts and defines the gender roles of each individual. It is however noted that in this book, Noboru is secluded from his peers, putting into question the presence of form in the present Japanese society. Instead of being left to discover the world with his peers and learn from the seaman, the boy is left wondering about the mission of the seaman with his mother, Fusako. He even despises him because he has decided to break the form in which the society should be built.
The Political Climate and the Theme of Change
While the exclusion experiences may be classified as a social exclusion, notably from the mother, there’s another possibility of a different theme that is defined in his life and that of his peers. The change occurs as Japan still grapples with the lost World War II (Addis 67). Noboru’s father died, therefore leaving her mother to run their family business. The death of Noboru’s father could be used to signify the defeat of Japan in the war. The mother is left, but with a lot of businesses to run on be half of the family. At the same time, it is possible to presume that the sailor as the new man in Fusako’s life did represent the new leader of Japan. In this aspect, the political connotation is in the fact that Noboru is at first elated by the new leader, whom he takes as his hero and expects to emulate. Unfortunately, the man to be Noboru’s hero falls from sea with grace by being domesticated by Fusako, Noboru’s mother. The boy is disappointed by his former hero, who has forgotten the prime goal of his heroism and decides to pursue earthly gains.
This imagery portrays the author’s disappointment with the Japanese post-war heroes who had forgotten the course of their leadership and took a different direction. The final part of episode where Noboru and his gang killing the sailor is the epitome of the masses in the post war Japan ganging against their failed heroes and bringing the inevitable change that the nation needed. The killing of his former hero, with the help of his gang is a grand belief that one can be helped by death. Moreover, death in itself is a blessing to the dead, hence brings out the belief of change, that nothing is permanent on earth. In fact, it is quite clear how Japan is illustrated as lacking leadership after the World War II defeat. They are not able to control their own cultural life that has been infiltrated by the western culture. This loss of social fabrics is a clear manifestation of political failure.
Religion, Myths and Change
The practice of religion in the Japanese sense has a different connotation in the theme of the book. While one may be right to treat the young boy, Noboru and his gang as the protagonists, the religious aspects of the author and his meanings may suggest that the actual protagonist is the seaman. This is because he has been duped by his own imaginations and fallen from the powerful life of the sea to less rewarding land. This kind of writing is a clear indication of the belief Japanese have in relations to existence of God. According to Japanese traditional religious beliefs, there are many gods, and not one God as professed by the western nations. This kind of belief is entrenched in the fact that gods exists in the form of nature. This nature is what leads to Buddhism as a religious belief among the traditional Japanese society.
Within a short span of contact with the western world as portrayed by the seaman, Japan became prone to the western influence, developing at a faster rate as a result of the sea resources. However, Noboru’s strong will to retain the status of Japan as represented in the book could mean a significant form of resistance from other members of the Japanese society. In fact, the sea represents the source of Japanese wealth, which would later be used to develop Japan as an island.
The need to balance the socio-cultural status of Japan and the new developmental need is symbolically represented by the failure of the sailor to balance sea life and desires of the earth. In this perspective, the seaman is guilty of betraying the sea and building an image of westernization among the people of Japan, he has seriously failed to preserve the culture of Japan, with the help of Fusako, Noboru’s mother. The involvement of the boys in the form of a gang is a clear manifestation of how the Japanese society, though powerful in unity, are not aware of their powers until they eliminate the sailor hero in order to bring change to Japan.
The theme of change is prominent throughout the book “A Sailor That Fell From Sea With Grace”. The role of the main character, Noboru is prominently an indication of how the Japanese society has struggled to maintain their traditional beliefs and culture in the form of nature. This is further entrenched by the need of the same society to balance the needed development that comes with western culture and the retaining of the cultural belief.
There is also the general belief that everything in this world change, irrespective of what type of change. In other words, change is inevitable and that nature knows how to regulate itself. If one part of nature is destroyed, there will always a negative repercussion that comes with it. The concept of change is therefore entrenched in the Japanese political systems, social system, economic system and religious aspects as shown in their belief in many gods.
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