The theme of a story is the message or emotional resonance that the author is attempting to impart. In "The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket" by Yasunari Kawabata, the theme is youthful love, or more specifically the difference in perspectives between how the children in the story and the narrator view relationships of love.
The story is told in first person viewpoint by a man, presumably the author, who is observing some children with lanterns searching for insects. At first he is enthralled by all the children and their colorful lanterns, but then he focuses on the interaction of a boy who finds a bell cricket that at first he thinks to be a grasshopper and the girl to whom he gives it. Through using the viewpoint of the mature narrator, the author is able to bring out his theme in the narrator's observations at the end.
The setting of a slope full of bright lanterns at nighttime creates a magical ambiance for the intimate scene at the end between the boy and the girl. This alludes to the theme by emphasizing that love is an extraordinary event.
There are several symbols in the story that emphasize the theme. The colorful lanterns that the children create from night to night symbolize their individual personalities. Because they are young, they are continually innovating and improving upon how they present themselves to the world. To the narrator, the bell cricket and the grasshopper symbolize the difference between the extraordinary and the common in love and relationships. He feels that the bell cricket is rarer and has more value. He points out that in relationships of love, bell crickets are like lovers who are rare finds, and that sometimes people think that their lovers are common when in fact they are unique and special. Alternatively, sometimes lovers who seem to be common like grasshoppers turn into special bell crickets when viewed through the eyes of love. Finally, the brief intimacy between the boy and the girl is symbolized by their names in lantern light that appear on each other's bodies.
Recurring words that help develop the theme include grasshopper, bell cricket, and Fujio and Kiyoko, the names of the children that appear in lantern light.