Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Kikuji Mitani is on his way to a tea ceremony that will be performed at the inner cottage of Engakuji Temple in Kamakura, Japan. When Kikuji received an invitation to this ceremony from Kurimoto Chikako, his deceased father’s former mistress, he initially thought it was being conducted in memory of his deceased father, but a postscript mentioned that she wanted him to meet Yuriko Inamura, her student. As he again reads the note, Kikuji remembers that, when he was taken by his father to visit Chikako, he accidentally viewed the large birthmark that covers half of her left breast. Kikuji has been haunted by this image since then.
After Kikuji enters the temple’s grounds, he spots two young women, one of whom is carrying a bundle wrapped with a kerchief with a beautiful thousand-crane pattern. When Kikuji arrives at the cottage, he notices that the girl with the kerchief is there as well. Chikako tells Kikuji that the girl’s father was a friend of his father. She then takes him aside and apologetically informs him that Mrs. Ota, his father’s last mistress, is also attending the ceremony, along with her daughter Fumiko. Kikuji is puzzled because he knows that Chikako hates Mrs. Ota. In order to show Yuriko off to Kikuji, Chikako has her perform the tea ceremony using a bowl that originally belonged to Mrs. Ota’s husband and that was later given to Kikuji’s father.
After the ceremony is completed, Kikuji leaves. He runs into Mrs. Ota, who tells him that the ring that Fumiko is wearing was given to her by his father as a reward for helping him in an air raid during the war. Kikuji begins to feel that Mrs. Ota is treating him as if he were his father. They have dinner and spend the night together. He talks to her about Chikako’s birthmark, and she is disgusted. Two weeks later, Fumiko visits Kikuji and apologizes for her mother’s behavior. He tells her that her mother is a good person.
Chikako calls Kikuji at his office, telling him that she has cleaned his tea cottage and will cook for him. She also says that she will invite Yuriko for dinner. He returns home and...
(The entire section is 861 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The ancient Japanese tea ceremony, which provides the backdrop of Thousand Cranes, is as important as the two motifs intertwined throughout the novel: the loss of values in postwar Japan and the elusive search for love.
The tea ceremony itself is symbolic of Japan’s drift away from tradition and historical values. Kikuji Mitani, the protagonist, seems indifferent to his father’s collection of antique tea bowls and the tea ceremony itself. His office mates share his lack of interest in the ceremony. Chikako Kurimoto, a former mistress of Kikuji’s late father and a teacher of the tea ceremony, wistfully tells Kikuji that fewer and fewer young girls seem to be interested in learning the ways of the tea ceremony. Chikako also notes that the tea ceremony has also been tainted by foreign observers, such as some Americans who visited recently.
The two young women who are of interest to Kikuji in the novel have close ties to the tea ceremony. Chikako is trying to arrange a marriage between Kikuji and Yukiko Inamura. Yukiko, as a student of Chikako’s, is tied to the past. Fumiko Ota, a former student of the tea ceremony who is often seen in European dress, is linked to the present. Consequently, as Chikako tries to pressure Kikuji to accept an arranged marriage to Yukiko, and as he tries to define his feelings for Fumiko, he is not merely choosing between two women—he is choosing between the Japan of the past and modern Japan.
Kikuji lives alone in his father’s house, both his parents having died. It is a house of the past, in architecture and furnishings—even the maid is a remnant from his father’s days. Kikuji continually talks of selling the house and allows it to fall into disrepair. The house represents the traditions of the past, and Kikuji is unsure of the validity of these traditions in postwar Japan. He works in a modern building and leaves his house in Western-style suits, only changing into a kimono when he returns home.
When Chikako arranges a tea ceremony to bring Kikuji and...
(The entire section is 839 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
Yasunari Kawabata begins Thousand Cranes with a formal tea ceremony on the grounds of the Engakuji Temple in Kamakura. Kikuji Mitani, a bachelor in his late twenties, attends the ceremony at the invitation of Chikako Kurimoto, an instructor in the art of tea who, when Mitani was eight or ten years old, was his father’s mistress. Mitani is not a student of the tea ceremony, but he cannot refuse Chikako’s invitation. She is hosting the gathering to introduce him to Yukiko Inamura, one of her students and a prospective bride. Chikako’s relationship with Mitani’s father had not lasted more than a few years. When it had ended, she appeared on the days the family entertained guests to help in the kitchen. In time, she became Mitani’s mother’s confidante, complaining noisily of the behavior of Mrs. Ota, the widow who was the elder Mitani’s mistress during the last years of his life. With the deaths of both Mitani’s parents, Chikako has become a surrogate mother.
Mitani finds Yukiko as graceful and charming as Chikako had promised: “She carried a bundle wrapped in a kerchief, the thousand-crane pattern in white on a pink crape background.” The colors of the cloth and the auspicious cranes, signifying a long and happy life, suggest that Yukiko is indeed the right bride for Mitani. The situation is complicated, however, by the uninvited presence of Mrs. Ota and her daughter Fumiko. Tea is served Mitani, and then Mrs. Ota, in a black Oribe bowl originally belonging to Mrs. Ota’s husband, then to Mitani’s father, and now to Chikako. The bowl itself is a valuable utensil, dating from the sixteenth century when the rituals of the tea ceremony were codified. The effect of sharing this relic is to prompt Mitani and Mrs. Ota into bed together on their way home from the gathering. While Mrs. Ota is at least twenty years older than he, Mitani “felt as if he had for the first time known woman, and as if for the first time he had known himself as a man.” Two weeks later, however, Fumiko visits Mitani at his home and says that she has taken steps to prevent her mother from seeing Mitani. It is inappropriate, Fumiko adds, in the light of the fact that he is clearly going to marry Yukiko Inamura.
On the anniversary of the day of Mitani’s late father’s annual tea ceremony, held in a cottage in the garden of their home, Chikako arrives unannounced to arrange a memorial ceremony. She calls Mitani at his down-town Tokyo office and tells him to come home. She has invited Yukiko. The evening is a pleasant one, and Mitani can imagine himself marrying Yukiko. The next day, however, Mrs. Ota arrives at the house, tears in her eyes, having been telephoned by Chikako with the news that a marriage has been arranged between Yukiko and Mitani. He denies this but accuses Mrs. Ota...
(The entire section is 1145 words.)