Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Shingo, a businessman. At roughly sixty-three years old, he is a year younger than his wife and preoccupied with some of the principal concerns of aging. His unreliable memory at one point makes him forget momentarily how to knot his tie, whereas his longing for his beautiful, long-dead sister-in-law is disturbingly fresh. It is right before her death that he first hears the sound of the mountain. Concerned that the problems of his son and daughter point to his failure as a father, he feels inept trying to straighten out their lives as adults. Unable to sleep soundly, he dreams frequently and is forced to remember his old friends as they pass away. A man sensitive to the beauty of nature, especially of flowers, he takes refuge in a subtly erotic but platonic friendship with his daughter-in-law, who seems to care more about him than do his own children.


Yasuko, Shingo’s wife of some forty years. She is a plain woman who grew up in the shadow of her beautiful sister. When her sister died, Yasuko, in love with both her sister and her brother-in-law, went to live in her sister’s home, willingly becoming a maid. Rescued from this domestic slavery by her marriage to Shingo, Yasuko has settled into a comfortable matronly role. She annoys her husband with her snoring and her habit of collecting newspapers for several days before reading them, sometimes aloud, to her family. Her relationship with her daughter is strong, but her long marriage has made her...

(The entire section is 621 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The protagonist, Shingo, is a man in his early sixties who is preoccupied with growing old. Incessantly, he reflects upon his encroaching ailments, shooting pains, and the deaths of old acquaintances. He is an aesthete and takes great pleasure in beauty. Whether it be the alluring charms of a woman, the finely sculpted features of a No mask, the bright colors of cherry blossoms, or the hue, aroma, and flavor of gyokuro tea, beauty, in all its manifestations, consoles and sustains Shingo. His aesthetic sense might be deemed peculiarly Oriental, for he shows little sign of discriminating between the aesthetic pleasures of art and those of nature. To Shingo, a devoted student of Japanese art and literature, a rock formation, butterfly, flower, or even pampas grass will, more often than not, suggest one or another of his favorite artistic works. There is, however, a dark underside of beauty of which Shingo is equally aware: its transient and evanescent nature, beyond which lurk dissolution, death, and decay.

Shingo strives to live a morally decent life as he sees it, but the effort he expends in doing so only seems to contribute to his feelings of guilt and inadequacy. His genuine and fatherly love for his daughter-in-law seems, to him, sullied and degraded by his finding in her a sexually appealing woman. Although he tries to assist Fusako through her periods of crisis, he is haunted by the plausible notion that at the heart of his daughter’s problem is a...

(The entire section is 487 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Backstead, Richard C. Kawabata and the Divided Self, 1972.

Miyoshi, Masao. Accomplices of Silence: The Modern Japanese Novel, 1974.

Petersen, Gwenn Boardman. The Moon in the Water: Understanding Tanizaki, Kawabata, and Mishima, 1979.

Tsuruta, K. “Two Journeys in The Sound of the Mountain,” in Approaches to the Modern Japanese Novel, 1976.

Ueda, Makoto. Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, 1976.