The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket

by Yasunari Kawabata

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Last Updated March 14, 2024.

Commercialism and Art

Early in the story, the narrator imagines children buying and making lanterns for their insect hunt. In his mind, most of the children reject store-bought paper lanterns because they are not unique and cannot be customized. Instead, they opt to make their own, becoming more and more inventive as they craft their lanterns, saying to one another: “Look at my lantern! Be the most unusually beautiful!”

The narrator's focus on the hand-crafted lanterns could be a subtle commentary on the joys of creation and art. In 1924, when “The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket” was written, the bulk of the world's superpowers, including Japan, were well—to the point that even cultural artifacts and art itself were mass-produced.

The paper lantern, which has a long history in Japan, dating back to the eighth century, could also be mass-produced. However, Kawabata seems to show through the children's behavior—or, at least, how he imagines their behavior—how there is joy in creating cultural artifacts. The narrator in the story even comments on how store-bought lanterns fall out of favor with the children because these lanterns are less unique than the ones that the children make themselves.

Innocent Love

While “The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket” is certainly a love story, the love pictured is innocent and pure. The story carries on a tradition of love that is not sexual but focuses on an isolated and shared experience between two individuals. In many ways, it is reminiscent of some of the metaphysical poetry of John Donne and, later, the work of the Romantics.

By the end of the story, the rest of the world seems to disappear and hyper-focuses on the existence of these two children, whose names are inscribed in light upon one another. While their names appear in places that may indicate an element of sexualization (Kiyoko’s breast and Fujio’s waist), the children do not notice, entranced by the cricket Fujio has given Kiyoko in an attempt to win her affection.

Further, Kiyoko’s white kimono might gesture to a sense of moral goodness, and her name translates to “pure” or “clean.” While there is an almost magical connection between the children, they are too innocent to notice.

The Value of Uniqueness

While the lanterns in the story may represent a move away from industrialized and commercial culture, they are also symbolic of individual expression. The children, as the narrator imagines them, constantly attempt to outdo one another, making their lanterns stand out with unique patterns and colors.

However, the bell cricket itself is also symbolic of uniqueness and individuality. It is only by going off by oneself “in a bush away from the other children” that Fujio can find the cricket.

Further, the narrator is clear that “there are not many bell crickets in the world,” indicating their uniqueness. He encourages Fujio to find a love as unique as the bell cricket. However, he seems to doubt that Fujio will be able to do this, as he believes, in the way that Fujio confused the bell cricket for a common grasshopper, he will probably do the same in love.

The narrator ends the story by echoing his sadness that Fujio will not remember the uniqueness of his interaction with Kiyoko. Here, the narrator seems to be telling the readers to be aware of those rare moments that are unique and special in the world.

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