Kikuji Mitani is on his way to a tea ceremony that will be performed at the inner cottage of Engakuji Temple in Kamakura, Japan. When Kikuji received an invitation to this ceremony from Kurimoto Chikako, his deceased father’s former mistress, he initially thought it was being conducted in memory of his deceased father, but a postscript mentioned that she wanted him to meet Yuriko Inamura, her student. As he again reads the note, Kikuji remembers that, when he was taken by his father to visit Chikako, he accidentally viewed the large birthmark that covers half of her left breast. Kikuji has been haunted by this image since then.
After Kikuji enters the temple’s grounds, he spots two young women, one of whom is carrying a bundle wrapped with a kerchief with a beautiful thousand-crane pattern. When Kikuji arrives at the cottage, he notices that the girl with the kerchief is there as well. Chikako tells Kikuji that the girl’s father was a friend of his father. She then takes him aside and apologetically informs him that Mrs. Ota, his father’s last mistress, is also attending the ceremony, along with her daughter Fumiko. Kikuji is puzzled because he knows that Chikako hates Mrs. Ota. In order to show Yuriko off to Kikuji, Chikako has her perform the tea ceremony using a bowl that originally belonged to Mrs. Ota’s husband and that was later given to Kikuji’s father.
After the ceremony is completed, Kikuji leaves. He runs into Mrs. Ota, who tells him that the ring that Fumiko is wearing was given to her by his father as a reward for helping him in an air raid during the war. Kikuji begins to feel that Mrs. Ota is treating him as if he were his father. They have dinner and spend the night together. He talks to her about Chikako’s birthmark, and she is disgusted. Two weeks later, Fumiko visits Kikuji and apologizes for her mother’s behavior. He tells her that her mother is a good person.
Chikako calls Kikuji at his office, telling him that she has cleaned his tea cottage and will cook for him. She also says that she will invite Yuriko for dinner. He returns home and...
(The entire section is 861 words.)
The ancient Japanese tea ceremony, which provides the backdrop of Thousand Cranes, is as important as the two motifs intertwined throughout the novel: the loss of values in postwar Japan and the elusive search for love.
The tea ceremony itself is symbolic of Japan’s drift away from tradition and historical values. Kikuji Mitani, the protagonist, seems indifferent to his father’s collection of antique tea bowls and the tea ceremony itself. His office mates share his lack of interest in the ceremony. Chikako Kurimoto, a former mistress of Kikuji’s late father and a teacher of the tea ceremony, wistfully tells Kikuji that fewer and fewer young girls seem to be interested in learning the ways of the tea ceremony. Chikako also notes that the tea ceremony has also been tainted by foreign observers, such as some Americans who visited recently.
The two young women who are of interest to Kikuji in the novel have close ties to the tea ceremony. Chikako is trying to arrange a marriage between Kikuji and Yukiko Inamura. Yukiko, as a student of Chikako’s, is tied to the past. Fumiko Ota, a former student of the tea ceremony who is often seen in European dress, is linked to the present. Consequently, as Chikako tries to pressure Kikuji to accept an arranged marriage to Yukiko, and as he tries to define his feelings for Fumiko, he is not merely choosing between two women—he is choosing between the Japan of the past and modern Japan.
Kikuji lives alone in his father’s house, both his parents having died. It is a house of the past, in architecture and furnishings—even the maid is a remnant from his father’s days. Kikuji continually talks of selling the house and allows it to fall into disrepair. The house represents the traditions of the past, and Kikuji is unsure of the validity of these traditions in postwar Japan. He works in a modern building and leaves his house in Western-style suits, only changing into a kimono when he returns home.
When Chikako arranges a tea ceremony to bring Kikuji and...
(The entire section is 839 words.)