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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 429

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.

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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.

Summary

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Last Updated on April 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 861

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 Yukiko 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 Yukiko 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 Yukiko for dinner. He returns home and tells a surprised Yukiko how much he dislikes Chikako’s meddling ways. The next day, a very sick, tearful Mrs. Ota visits and discloses her overwhelming guilt over her past actions. Kikuji accuses her of thinking that he and his father are the same person. She asks for his forgiveness, declares that she does not understand herself and wants to die, and begs him to take care of Fumiko and quickly marry Yukiko. At 2:00 a.m. the next day, Fumiko calls to inform Kikuji that her mother has taken her own life.

Eight days after Mrs. Ota’s memorial service, Kikuji visits Fumiko. He notices that a fine, white, glazed Shino tea ceremony water jar is being used to hold flowers. He speculates about whether it was guilt or love that killed Mrs. Ota and says that he made her die. Fumiko retorts that she died because of herself and that perhaps she was asking for forgiveness. Fumiko serves tea using red and black Raku “man and wife” ceremonial bowls. Kikuji is surprised but believes Fumiko is not being malicious. They speak about death and the importance of taking care of the dead. She gives the water jar to Kikuji.

Kikuji starts to feel that he is in love with Mrs. Ota. He calls Fumiko and invites her to visit. She refuses and says she is going to sell her house. Meanwhile, Chikako visits him, announcing that she knows Mrs. Ota committed suicide and that it was good that she did so, for she was interfering with his plan to marry Yukio. Kikuji is shocked by her remarks, and suddenly an image of Fumiko comes to him. Later that day, he becomes very angry at his maid when she erroneously claims that gourds and morning glories are both vines. Several days later, Fumiko presents him with an old, small, white, cylindrical Shino tea bowl that has the faint red mark of Mrs. Ota’s lipstick on it. Chikako appears, makes tea, and insults Fumiko, who remains impassive. Kikuji fails to defend Fumiko.

Chikako falsely tells Kikuji that Fumiko and Yukiko have both married, but he does not believe her. She informs him that she has a buyer for his father’s tea-vessel collection. Fumiko drops in, and they make a deal: If the tea bowl in his father’s tea chest is of better quality than her mother’s white female Shino bowl, then she will break the Shino bowl. It turns out that Mr. Mitani’s bowl is a beautiful, undecorated, greenish Korean Karatsu bowl with a touch of carmine and saffron. They carefully compare the bowls and conclude that Mr. Mitani’s is the best. They then use the bowls, and Fumiko symbolically breaks the Shino. Later, she gives herself up to Kikuji and then disappears. He feels that she has brought him back to life and tries, unsuccessfully, to find her.

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