Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 226

The main theme of Thousand Cranes is fate and the fact that, in this story at least, it seems to be inescapable. It was fate that brought protagonist Kikuji Mitani's father together with his varied mistresses because he enjoyed the idea of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and it was...

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The main theme of Thousand Cranes is fate and the fact that, in this story at least, it seems to be inescapable. It was fate that brought protagonist Kikuji Mitani's father together with his varied mistresses because he enjoyed the idea of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and it was fate that brings Kikuji to yet another tea ceremony, where he meets the many women who will impact his life.

He falls for his father's former mistress, Mrs. Ota, who then commits suicide because of the guilt and shame their affair causes her. Then he falls again, perhaps even harder, for her daughter, but fate seems to have only heartache in store for them both. Just as the affair between his father and her mother was destined to end in tragedy, their love is doomed from the start. They cannot escape the sullied past that defines them, even when at the end of the story they shatter the glass bowl from a tea ceremony that symbolized their parents' relationship with each other.

It would have been very easy for Kikuji to fall, instead, for the charming and attractive Yukiko that his father's other mistress spends the entire novel trying to set him up with, but this isn't what fate wants. He is compelled to follow in his father's footsteps, no matter how much this hurts him.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 468

The major thematic point of Thousand Cranes is a statement about the degree to which men and women are mastered by a fate beyond their control. Nothing in Mitani’s own character ought to keep the cool and innocent Yukiko at a distance, but the dark secrets shared by his father, Mrs. Ota, and Chikako predetermine the direction his life will take. Pursuit of ideal beauty, as so much of Yasunari Kawabata’s fiction suggests, almost always results in revelation of the passion and egotism beneath the surface attractiveness. The character relationships in Thousand Cranes, both the mirroring sets of love triangles and the implicit parallels between characters that these relationships establish, objectify Kawabata’s sense of the fate that controls human destiny.

So much in the lives of the characters in Thousand Cranes is subject to chance. Kawabata uses the tea ceremony to suggest this. Mitani’s father, for example, met Chikako Kurimoto because of a mutual interest in the tea ceremony and the utensils used to practice it. Mrs. Ota is the widow of a man the elder Mitani knew because of this shared interest; many of the most valuable objects in the Mitani collection of utensils were purchased from Mrs. Ota. Others come into the younger Mitani’s hands as gifts from Fumiko. Kawabata brings the characters of Thousand Cranes together at least once in each major section of the novel to practice the tea ceremony. Mitani meets Yukiko at a formal ceremony arranged by Chikako for just this purpose, and he meets Mrs. Ota and Fumiko again on the same occasion. Chikako stages tea ceremonies to encourage the relationship between Yukiko and Mitani, to memorialize the death of Mrs. Ota, and to recognize the date on which the elder Mitani had an annual party in the tea house. The climax of Fumiko and young Mitani’s relationship occurs in that tea house in the Mitani garden. There Fumiko breaks her mother’s Shino cup and submits for the only time to Mitani’s sexual advances.

In marked contrast to the impurity of human motives and actions is the perspective provided by the utensils for the tea ceremony itself. Looking at the Shino bowl belonging to Mrs. Ota and at his father’s Karatsu bowl, Mitani thinks, “The tea bowls, three or four hundred years old, were sound and healthy, and they called up no morbid thoughts. Life seemed to stretch taut over them, however, in a way that was almost sensual.” Kawabata stresses the perspective on human passions that these objects provide. They have passed through many hands and bear witness to the lives of owners now virtually forgotten. Awareness of this fact puts human feelings into a perspective suggesting the relative unimportance of the love and suffering of any single man or woman.

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