The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket

by Yasunari Kawabata

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489

Walking along the wall of a university, the narrator hears an insect’s voice from behind the fence of a school playground. The fence gives way to an embankment, at the base of which the narrator sees a cluster of bobbing, multicolored lanterns.

The narrator now imagines that one of the neighborhood children, having heard an insect sing on the slope one night, returns the next night to search for the insect. The next night, another child joins the first one, and so on. When the narrator comes on the insect hunting party, he counts twenty children among its members.

The narrator imagines a scenario in which one child, unable to afford a store-bought red lantern, creates his own from a small carton. Others follow his example. The narrator pictures the children coloring and drawing on paper they then stretch over the various-shaped windows they have cut out of the cartons, each making a singular pattern. Eventually, the child who bought his lantern grows dissatisfied with it and discards it. The narrator supposes that each day the children—whom the narrator likens to artists—create new lanterns. Brought back to the present, the narrator notices on the lanterns the names of the children who made them, cut in letters of the syllabary.

A boy who has been peering into a bush away from the other children suddenly asks if anyone wants a grasshopper. A number of children gather around; he calls again, and more children flock to him. He calls once more; this time one of those who appear is a girl who, coming up behind him, responds that yes, she wants the insect. The boy thrusts out his fist holding the creature to the girl, and she encloses his fist with both hands. He opens his fist and the transfer is made.

The girl, her eyes shining, announces that the insect she now has is not a grasshopper but a cricket. She opens the little insect cage hanging at her side and releases the cricket into it. The boy, meanwhile, behaves sheepishly. The narrator claims to suddenly understand the boy’s actions. Surprised, he also notices something that neither the boy nor the girl nor the other children see. On the girl’s breast has fallen a faint greenish light with the boy’s name discernible in it; the boy’s lantern is inscribing his name on the girl’s white cotton kimono. At the same time, although the girl’s lantern does not project its pattern so clearly, the narrator can still make out, in a patch of red on the boy’s waist, the name of the girl.

The narrator contemplates that even if Fujio and Kiyoko remember the incident, they will never know about the chance interplay of colors and names. He addresses the boy he imagines grown to a man to consider the confusion between crickets and grasshoppers he will encounter throughout his life.

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