The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket by Yasunari Kawabata

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What can you infer about the narrator's feelings toward nature in "The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket"?

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The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket” is a short story by Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968. This gentle tale, in the form of a short recollection, is told from a first-person narrator's point of view. In answer to your question on what we can infer about the narrator's feelings toward nature, let's start with a look at the bell cricket in the title, as it is a less familiar creature to most of us than the grasshopper.

In order to have a deeper understanding of the story, I highly recommend you listen to a recording of the Japanese bell cricket on YouTube. This insect has long been cherished in Japan for the beautiful trills of music it creates with its forewings. In fact, there is a Buddhist temple called Suzumushi-dera (Bell Cricket Temple) in Kyoto, Japan, where monks raise the insects so that visitors can follow an ancient tradition of meditating to the sound of the creature's bell-like song.

Within the opening sentences of the story, we are able to infer the narrator's love of nature because of how he is drawn to the sound of an "insect voice" while walking near a playground. We read:

Walking more slowly and listening to that voice and furthermore reluctant to part with it, I turned right so as not to leave the playground behind.

The "insect voice" leads the narrator to a scene of enchantment, as if he has walked into a "fairy tale." Some twenty children holding colorful homemade "bobbing lanterns," such as one would see in a "remote village," are gathered for a night-time insect chase in the bushes along a slope in the playground. He tells us that the event began one night with one child who went looking for insects with a store-bought lantern but was followed the next day by a child who could not buy one but instead made a lantern at home. By and by, more children came.

Although a few are store-bought, most lanterns are "ones the children had made themselves with love and care" and are decorated with paper-cut designs and their own names. The narrator explains the detailed and careful work of the children, "who made new lanterns out of their hearts and minds."

In the course of the search, a little boy finds what he announces to be a grasshopper and gives it to a little girl. She tells him it is not a grasshopper but a rare bell cricket. When this exchange happens, unbeknownst to them, the two children's lamps reflect their names upon each other. The boy's name, Fujio, appears in green light on the girl's chest, and the girl's name, Kiyoko, appears in red light on the boy's waist. No one notices this but the narrator. To him the moment becomes a touching and tender metaphor and life lesson.

The narrator then addresses the boy, imagining a time when the child is older and goes through the joys and pains of a first love. The bell cricket becomes a metaphor for a true, rare, and precious love, and the grasshopper becomes a metaphor for a more common, passing love that is not meant to last.

Sometimes there will be confusion between the two, and after repeated hurt, the boy may become jaded and disillusioned. He may lose hope of ever finding a true and precious love that is mutual:

Should that day come, when it seems to you the world is only full of grasshoppers, I think it a pity that you have no way to remember tonight's play of light, when your name was written in green by your beautiful lantern on a girl's breast.

In this final sentence, the narrator reveals a deeper truth in that moment that the boy did not happen to see. His name cast in light upon a girl's heart by the lantern he himself created is a symbol of his inherent worth and lovability. And there is someone out in the world—a rare bell cricket—who will recognize and cherish him for who he is.

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