Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Thousand Cranes was written by Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata and takes place not long after the end of World War II. Much of the story takes place at various traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, and many of its events revolve around the women who influence the life of the protagonist after his father's death.
The novel begins with said protagonist, Kikuji Mitani, going to the first of many tea ceremonies that take place in the story. The party is being hosted by Kurimoto Chikako, a former mistress of his deceased father. At first Kikuji thinks that the tea ceremony will be like a memorial for his father, but in the end, it turns out to be an attempt by Chikako to set him up with her student, a girl named Yukiko Inamura. He finds her charming and attractive but ultimately not a good match for him. Chikako nevertheless spends much of the novel trying to force them to get married, but this does not seem to be in the cards.
At the tea ceremony, Kikuji meets Mrs. Ota, another of his father's mistresses. The two of them have a strong connection, and when they go to dinner to talk with each other some more, they end up sleeping together. This affair keeps going on, in spite of their mutual shame at their shared connection to his father, and Chikako keeps trying to get Kikuji to marry Yukiko.
After one last passionate night together, though, the shame overwhelms Mrs. Ota, and she commits suicide. His guilt and grief over this act brings Kikuji closer to Mrs. Ota's daughter, Fumiko.
Although Kikuji and Fumiko clearly have a connection, Chikako continues to meddle in Kikuji's life, trying to arrange his marriage to Yukiko. Finally, he shuts this down, but then Fumiko moves away.
Some time later, Chikako comes to visit Kikuji and tells him that both Yukiko and Fukimo have married other men. This hurts him, as he still has strong feelings for Fukimo. He later finds out, though, that she is not married. She comes to see him, and they symbolically destroy the past (their parents' affair) that is keeping them apart; they do this by breaking a bowl that their parents used to use together. Kikuji then fully falls in love with her, and it is implied that they sleep together.
The next morning, though, Kikuji tries to find Fumiko to try to define their relationship, but he can't find her anywhere. Readers (and Kikuji) are led to believe that she followed in her mother's footsteps and killed herself as well.