The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket

by Yasunari Kawabata

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Summary

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Last Updated March 13, 2024.

Introduction 

Yasunari Kawabata's writing reflects natural imagery in all its wonderous forms. His occasionally whimsical and always vivid style starkly contrasted with that of other twentieth-century Japanese writers, many of whom directed their literary efforts to the plight of the working class.

Unlike his peers, Kawabata sought to develop a literature tradition in the vein of art for art's sake—as such, his work often focuses on feelings, sensations, and impressions. He also spotlights a special kind of love, writing about the emotion as a dispassionate, subtle intimacy between two people. 

Written in 1924, “The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket” employs all these elements, using the natural imagery of a nighttime insect hunt among children to reflect on missed opportunities, naivety, and childhood love.

Plot Summary 

The story begins as the narrator walks along the perimeter of a park. He hears the singing of an insect and, attracted by its song, slows his pace to listen more carefully. 

As he continues to walk, he passes the corner of a playground and spies multi-colored lanterns bobbing in the distance. Curious, he turns to approach them, surmising they must belong to children hunting for insects. While some of the lanterns appear store-bought, many of them are homemade. The scene leads him to consider childhood's powerful and imaginative activities, all of which felt, at the time, like a fairytale. 

He speculates how this group of children formed and imagines that it started with only one child who heard an insect one night and bought a lantern to use to investigate the noise the next night. Perhaps another child joined him the subsequent night; however, this child had to make a lantern, not having enough money to purchase one. The next night, five children joined, then seven. 

The narrator imagines that the children who made their lanterns continuously tried to outdo one another, designing their lanterns in new, inventive ways until a store-bought lantern was the least popular option, as it was too simple and commercial.

As he approaches the children, he sees they have cut their names into the lanterns. Every time they hear an insect, they crouch in anticipation. One of the boys, separate from the group, calls out and asks if the others want a grasshopper. Several children run up to the boy who found it. He asks again and a third time. Each time, more enthusiastic children run up to him. When a young girl approaches, he offers it to her. She notes it is not actually a grasshopper—instead, it is a bell cricket. When she tells the boy who gave it to her, the rest of the children echo: “It’s a bell cricket!” Even still, she takes the cricket from the boy and places it in her insect cage. As she does, the boy examines her face, illuminated by the lantern. 

The narrator realizes the boy sought her attention and planned to give her the bell cricket, regardless of the other children who wanted it. He also notices that, in the lantern light, their names shine on one another. The name “Fujio” glows red from the boy's lantern onto the girl’s breast, and her name, “Kiyoko,” shines on his waist, illuminated in green. Neither seems to realize that their names appear on each other, an oversight that the narrator finds devastating. 

The narrator turns inward, wondering at the significance of their names shining on one another and musing about the events he observed. He sees the moment as a metaphor for the children's future, imagining that Fujio will fall in love with a woman, thinking her to be a bell cricket rather than a mundane grasshopper. Bell crickets are like good women: Rare and hard to find. 

No matter how Fujio's future unfolds, the narrator laments that the young boy will neither remember nor even realize the truth of this moment—he will never remember tonight, the night his name shone upon Kiyoko's breast as they admired a bell cricket illuminated by lantern light. 

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