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 Tokyo 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. Kikuji, annoyed by her intrusiveness, 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 brings him the news 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 inform 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. Kikuji places his father's tea bowl next to Mrs. Ota's, and they both are aware that these were the bowls his father and her mother drank from while they had their affair. Fumiko eventually shatters her mother's bowl on a stone plate. Later, Kikuji and Fumiko spend the night together.

The next day, Kikuji tries to ring Fumiko at her work, but she 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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yasunari Kawabata</span> Japanese novelist (1899–1972)

Yasunari Kawabata was a Japanese novelist and short story writer whose spare, lyrical, subtly shaded prose works won him the Nobel Prize in 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> Novel by Yasunari Kawabata

The Old Capital is a novel by Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata first published in 1962. It was one of three novels cited by the Nobel Committee in their decision to award Kawabata the 1968 Nobel Prize in Literature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fumiko Hayashi (author)</span> Japanese novelist and poet

Fumiko Hayashi was a Japanese writer of novels, short stories and poetry, who has repeatedly been included in the feminist literature canon. Among her best-known works are Diary of a Vagabond, Late Chrysanthemum and Floating Clouds.

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Seidensticker</span> American Japanologist (1921–2007)

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.

<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.

<i>Beauty and Sadness</i> (novel) Japanese short story

Beauty and Sadness is a 1961–63 novel by Nobel Prize-winning Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata. The novel is narrated from the present and past perspective of the characters and how they differed from each other's point of view. A novel that provokes the mind and examines the relationship between life events, it is considered one of Kawabata's best works, though it has on occasion been criticised for its depictions of female homosexuality.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">One thousand origami cranes</span> Origami

The crane is considered a mystical or holy creature in Japan and is said to live for a thousand years. That is why one thousand origami cranes are made, one for each year. In some stories, it is believed that the cranes must be completed within one year and they must all be made by the person who will 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.

Chizuru is a feminine Japanese given name. Notable people with the name include:

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

The orizuru, origami crane 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Katsushika Ōi</span> Japanese artist (c.1800-c.1866)

Katsushika Ōi, also known as Ei (栄) or Ei-jo, was a Japanese Ukiyo-e artist of the early 19th century Edo period. She was a daughter of Hokusai from his second wife. 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. It is based on the novel Beauty and Sadness(1961–63) by Nobel Prize winning writer Yasunari Kawabata.

Tomoko Yoshida is a Japanese writer. She has won the Akutagawa Prize, the Izumi Kyōka Prize for Literature, the Women's Literature Prize, and the Kawabata Yasunari Literature Prize.

<i>Mr. Thank You</i> 1936 Japanese film

Mr. Thank You is a 1936 Japanese comedy-drama film written and directed by Hiroshi Shimizu. It is based on a short story by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Yasunari Kawabata, and noted for its portrayal of depression-era Japan and its location shooting.

<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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1966 Nobel Prize in Literature</span> Award

The 1966 Nobel Prize in Literature was divided equally between Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888–1970) "for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people" and Nelly Sachs (1891–1970) "for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel's destiny with touching strength."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1968 Nobel Prize in Literature</span> Award

The 1968 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972) "for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind." He is the first Japanese recipient of the prize.


  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. Archived from the original on 2022-05-07. 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.