Thousand Cranes

Last updated
Thousand Cranes
First edition
Author Yasunari Kawabata
Original titleSenbazuru (千羽鶴)
Translator Edward G. Seidensticker
Publisher Chikuma Shobō (book)
Publication date
1949–1951, 1952
Published in English
Media typePrint

Thousand Cranes (千羽鶴, Senbazuru) is a novel by Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata which first appeared in serialised form between 1949 and 1951 and was published as a book in 1952. [1] [2]



The novel consists of five chapters, titled "Thousand Cranes", "The Grove in the Evening Sun", "Figured Shino", "Her Mother's Lipstick" and "Double Star".

28-year-old office worker Kikuji attends the tea ceremony lesson of Miss Chikako Kurimoto, with whom his deceased father once had a short-lived affair. He still vividly remembers a large naevus on her chest, which he once saw as a child. Kikuji is impressed by the beauty of one of Miss Kurimoto's pupils, Yukiko Inamura, who carries a furoshiki which bears a pattern of the thousand cranes of the novel's title. The tea ceremony lesson is also attended by Mrs. Ota, a 45-year-old widow and long-time mistress of his father, and her daughter Fumiko. Miss Kurimoto speaks disparagingly of Mrs. Ota, while at the same trying to awaken Kikuji's interest in Miss Inamura.

Kikuji and Mrs. Ota spend a passionate night together, and Kikuji wonders if Mrs. Ota sees his father in him. When she visits him again after a long pause, he learns that her daughter Fumiko tried to keep her from meeting him. Despite her deep sense of shame, she sleeps with Kikuji again. Late that night, Fumiko rings him to tell him that her mother committed suicide. He agrees to help Fumiko with covering up her mother's suicide to maintain her reputation.

Miss Kurimoto repeatedly shows up in Kikuji's house, speaking badly of Mrs. Ota while at the same time reminding him of Miss Inamura, but Kikuji replies that he is not interested in the young woman. Fumiko bequests him a shino ware jar of her mother, and later a shino tea bowl, which allegedly bears an unremovable trace of her mother's lipstick. Kikuji develops an interest in Fumiko, asking himself if he sees her mother in her.

When Kikuji returns from a trip to Lake Nojiri, Miss Kurimoto visits him to tell him that both Miss Inamura and Fumiko have married another man in his absence. He learns that her story was a lie when Fumiko rings him to tell him that she will start a job and move into a flat farther away from him. Fumiko visits him later that evening and insists that her mother's tea bowl is of little value and should be destroyed, eventually shattering it on a stone plate. Kikuji and Fumiko spend the night together. The next day, he tries to ring her at her work, but Fumiko hasn't shown up. He goes to see her at her new flat, where he is told that she announced to go on a holiday with a friend. Kikuji speculates if Fumiko committed suicide like her mother.



In his 2015 review for The Japan Times , Stephen Mansfield pointed out the novel's "beautiful language, obsessive sexuality and contempt for the era", and the repeated juxtaposition of the "ugly and venal" with images of beauty, calling it "a work suffused with loneliness and disorientation at the failure of art, literature and even the tea ceremony to create a more ideal world". [3] Boyd Tonkin in The Independent found "chaotic passions" at work behind "a lyrical and understated surface", with the rituals and vessels of the tea ceremony symbolically enacting "the guilt, grief and longing" of the protagonists. [4]

In his analysis of Thousand Cranes, David Pollack drew parallels between Kawabata and French writer Marguerite Duras, finding "a similar sense of fated destinies, of dreamlike and inchoate realities, of lyrical resignation to some steadily encroaching fate in terms of which […] life seems to take on its most important meaning". Commenting on the character of Miss Kurimoto, he sees the tea ceremony in her hands having become "perverted and grotesque" and "a ritual of power and revenge". For Pollack, the thoroughly negative portrayal of Miss Kurimoto is a sign of Kawabata's, and most male Japanese writers', antagonism to the idea of "a woman with 'masculine' interests and the willingness and ability to act on them". [5]

Kawabata himself rejected the idea to see his novel as "an evocation of the formal and spiritual beauty of the tea ceremony", explaining, it was "a negative work, and expression of doubt about and warning against the vulgarity into which the tea ceremony has fallen". [6]


Thousand Cranes is one of three novels cited by the Nobel Committee in awarding Yasunari Kawabata the Nobel Prize for Literature, the other two being Snow Country and The Old Capital . The novel was selected for translation and inclusion in the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works.


Thousand Cranes was adapted into a feature film in 1953 by Kōzaburō Yoshimura [7] and in 1969 by Yasuzo Masumura. [8]

Related Research Articles

Kensaku Shimaki Japanese writer

Kensaku Shimaki was the pen-name of Asakura Kikuo, a Japanese author active during the Shōwa period in Japan. He had an interest in leftist ideology and was arrested in 1928 due to his ties to the Japanese Communist Party. Throughout his literary career, Shimaki wrote multiple novels and stories with a common theme being proleteriat life. Some of his works were published by magazines and journals. He associated with Nobel laureate Kawabata Yasunari.

Yasunari Kawabata Japanese author

Yasunari Kawabata was a Japanese novelist and short story writer whose spare, lyrical, subtly-shaded prose works won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, the first Japanese author to receive the award. His works have enjoyed broad international appeal and are still widely read.

<i>The Old Capital</i>

The Old Capital is a novel by Yasunari Kawabata originally published in 1962. It was cited by the Nobel Committee in their decision to award Kawabata the 1968 Prize for Literature. A number of movie adaptations have been made of it, including Twin Sisters of Kyoto, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1964.

Fumiko Hayashi (author) Japanese novelist and poet

Fumiko Hayashi was a Japanese novelist and poet.

Snow Country is a novel by the Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata. The novel is considered a classic work of Japanese literature and was among the three novels the Nobel Committee cited in 1968, when Kawabata was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Dancing Girl of Izu or The Izu Dancer is a short story by Japanese writer and Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata first published in 1926.

Edward Seidensticker

Edward George Seidensticker was an American noted post-World War II scholar, historian, and preeminent translator of classical and contemporary Japanese literature. His English translation of the epic The Tale of Genji, published in 1976, was especially well received critically and is counted among the preferred modern translations.

Tomoji Ishizuka Japanese writer

Tomoji Ishizuka was the pen-name of Ishizuka Tomoji, a Japanese haiku poet and novelist active during the Shōwa period of Japan.

<i>The Sound of the Mountain</i>

The Sound of the Mountain is a novel by Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata, serialized between 1949 and 1954, and first published as a standalone book in 1954 by Chikuma Shobō, Tokyo.

History of origami

The history of origami followed after the invention of paper and was a result of paper's use in society. Independent paper folding traditions exist in East Asia, and it is unclear whether they evolved separately or had a common source.

One thousand origami cranes Origami

One thousand origami cranes is a group of one thousand origami paper cranes held together by strings. An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by the gods. Some stories believe one is granted happiness and eternal good luck, instead of just one wish, such as long life or recovery from illness or injury. This makes them popular gifts for special friends and family. The crane in Japan is one of the mystical or holy creatures and is said to live for a thousand years: That is why 1000 cranes are made, one for each year. In some stories it is believed that the 1000 cranes must be completed within one year and they must all be made by the person who is to make the wish at the end.

<i>Twin Sisters of Kyoto</i> 1963 Japanese film

Twin Sisters of Kyoto is a 1963 Japanese drama film directed by Noboru Nakamura and the first adaptation of the novel The Old Capital (1962) by Nobel prize-winning Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Nobuko Otowa Japanese actress

Nobuko Otowa was a Japanese actress who appeared in over 100 films between 1950 and 1994.

<i>Orizuru</i> Origami of a crane (bird)

The orizuru, or paper crane, is a design that is considered to be the most classic of all Japanese origami. In Japanese culture, it is believed that its wings carry souls up to paradise, and it is a representation of the Japanese red-crowned crane, referred to as the "Honourable Lord Crane" in Japanese culture. It is often used as a ceremonial wrapper or restaurant table decoration. A thousand orizuru strung together is called senbazuru (千羽鶴), meaning "thousand cranes", and it is said that if someone folds a thousand cranes, they are granted one wish.

Katsushika Ōi

Katsushika Ōi, also known as Ei (栄), was a Japanese Ukiyo-e artist of the early 19th century Edo period. Her mother was the second wife of Hokusai. Ōi was an accomplished painter who also worked as a production assistant to her father.

Ye Weiqu was a Chinese Vietnamese translator and scholar. Ye was a visiting professor at Waseda University, Gakushuin University and Ritsumeikan University.

<i>With Beauty and Sorrow</i> 1965 Japanese film

With Beauty and Sorrow is a 1965 Japanese drama film directed by Masahiro Shinoda and based on the novel Beauty and Sadness (1964) by the Nobel-winning Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata.

<i>Tanpopo</i> (novel)

Tanpopo is a Japanese novel by Yasunari Kawabata, written in 1964, but published complete only posthumously in 1972. Kawabata had commenced serializing his final novel in the literary magazine Shincho, but after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in October 1968 he ceased all publishing activity. It has been published in French as Les pissenlits in 2012. The plot turns on the blindness of the girl Inako (稲子), when making love to the boy Hisano (久野) and the conversations leading to the decision of the girl's mother to protect him from the girl, lest she harm him when she is blind.

<i>Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts</i> 1935 film directed by Mikio Naruse

Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts is a 1935 Japanese drama film directed by Mikio Naruse. It is based on the short story Sisters of Asakusa by Yasunari Kawabata and was the director's first sound film.

1969 Nobel Prize in Literature

The 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Irish author Samuel Beckett "for his writing, which - in new forms for the novel and drama - in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation."


  1. "Thousand Cranes". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  2. Kawabata, Yasunari (1970). Ausgewählte Werke (Selected Works) (in German). Zürich: Coron.
  3. Mansfield, Stephen (28 March 2015). "Morbid beauty and charged sexuality of Yasunari Kawabata's 'Thousand Cranes'". The Japan Times. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  4. Tonkin, Boyd (18 March 2011). "Thousand Cranes, By Yasunari Kawabata". The Independent. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  5. Pollack, David (1992). Reading Against Culture. Ideology and Narrative in the Japanese Novel. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. pp. 104–105.
  6. "Yasunari Kawabata: Nobel Lecture". The Nobel Prize. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  7. "千羽鶴(1953)". Kinenote (in Japanese). Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  8. "千羽鶴(1969)". Kinenote (in Japanese). Retrieved 25 July 2021.