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Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata
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Thousand Cranes (original 1956; edition 1981)

by Yasunari Kawabata, Edward G Seidensticker (Translator)

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962None8,970 (3.79)46
Member:andrewreads
Title:Thousand Cranes
Authors:Yasunari Kawabata
Other authors:Edward G Seidensticker (Translator)
Info:Perigee Trade (1981), Paperback, 147 pages
Collections:Your library, Read - owned
Rating:****
Tags:Japanese literature, Japan, Nobel laureate

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Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata (1956)

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English (23)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (2)  All languages (27)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
With subtlety and an economy of words the author brought the characters to life. I understood and cared for them deeply.

I highly recommend this book. My full review can be read at http://chapterofdreams.com/?p=4890 ( )
  mlbelize | Jan 27, 2014 |
This is a short novel set in post WWII Japan, but really almost timeless as it is built around the many centuries old tea ceremony. A young melancholy man, Kikuji, must deal with life surrounded by people and objects that have come to him following his father's death. It is a strange philosophical story but very interesting and left me sad. Poor Kikuji is the victim here, primarily due to the machinations of one of his father's mistresses as well as his own failures.

Kawabata received the Nobel prize in literature in 1968. This story was first published in english translation in 1958 but was originally in Japanese from about 1949-1951. ( )
  RBeffa | Nov 10, 2013 |
This was a sad book, a book where the main character was never able to escape his fathers shadow. I have read Palm of the Hand stories and much like those Thousand Cranes feels like a book that happens rather than one you read. ( )
  dtn620 | Sep 22, 2013 |
Reseña de Fantasía Mágica

Este es un libro bellísimo. Tengo debilidad por las historias orientales, especialmente las japonesas.
Este es un gran ejemplo de la narrativa nipona, con su ritmo completamente diferente, calmo y pacífico aunque las emociones que se narren sean turbulentas y violentas.

Es el primer libro que leo de Yasunari Kawabata, premio Nobel de literatura "por su maestría narrativa que expresa con gran sensibilidad el espíritu nipón", como dice la biografía de mi edición. Este autor es realmente un maestro en su arte, de esos escritores con la magnífica habilidad de crear una historia atrapante en base a algo muy simple. No será el último libro que lea de él, se los aseguro.

El argumento es simple, como lo es la historia. No hay un gran punto de tensión, ni un conflicto central. Todo el libro es un conflicto pasivo. En Mil Grullas (¿ya dije que me cautivó sólo por el nombre?) lo importante no es la historia sino los personajes, las emociones, lo que pensarán y sentirán a continuación, la nostalgia, la vida, la muerte. Y el té. La maravillosa ceremonia del té, que nos acompañará durante la breve (pero muy sustancial) cantidad de páginas.

Durante una ceremonia del té Kikuyi conoce a la hermosa señorita Inamura, vestida con kimono y portando un pañuelo con mil grullas. Kikuyi es un hombre melancólico que recuerda constantemente la muerte de sus padres. Está solo, y es esa soledad la que lo acerca a quienes fueran las amantes de su padre.
Una de ellas, Chikako, la mujer de la mancha entre los pechos, lo asquea y lo intriga, intenta manipularlo y cuidarlo a su modo retorcido. Pero no es ella el centro de la historia, sino aquella viuda que pasara tantos años junto a su padre, la señora Ota, que parece confundir al hijo con quien fuera su amante, y su hija, mortificada por la vida a la que fue forzada durante toda su infancia.
Las emociones se mezclan entre los personajes, la culpa, el remordimiento, el amor y a veces la obsesión. La vergüenza, un sentimiento tan encontrado en las historias japonesas, está tan presente en cada una de las acciones de los personajes como lo están sus pasiones.

Está dividido en varias partes, y esas partes en capítulos.
Cada sección está nombrada con algo muy específico, con frases breves pero llenas de belleza.

Es una historia melancólica en la que el texto simplemente fluye. Es una narración dulce y poética, donde la naturaleza y el amor por ella están siempre presentes en pequeños comentarios. Leyendo este libro se siente paz, se escucha el silencio de las casas japonesas, se saborea el gusto del té y se siente entre los dedos la belleza de los tazones de cerámica que nos acompañan a lo largo de todo el libro. En muchos momentos me hizo pensar en la película El sabor del Té.

Lo recomiendo a todo aquel que quiera leer algo realmente bueno, una belleza literaria para deleitar la vista.
No es una historia rápida, y el final nos dejará mirando el espacio vacío al final del último párrafo, con un sentimiento de pérdida y de que no tuvimos suficiente.
Belleza. Este libro es belleza para almas sensibles. ( )
  outlanders22 | Sep 21, 2013 |
With emerald shades,
Dance eternal cranes.
In the pristine rains,
A warm koicha shared.
Upon poignant chests.
Tranquil prayers knelt

Just as Bolaño teases my psyche, Kawabata plays with my rhythmic senses. In his words I find songs of a wintry heart waiting for a prosperous spring. I cannot refrain myself from scribbling lost thoughts in the shadows of Kawabata’s characters. Speaking of shadows; what an enigmatic delusion? The more you walk into it the more it grows; a loyal companion who never departs your physicality no matter how much you want it to leave. And then somehow, on a rainy day you crave for the sun, once again to be able to walk with your humble silhouette. Kikuji lived in and among numerous shadows of his past and present. Like the serpentine birthmark on Chikako’s breast, Kikuji’s past was conspicuous as warts on a toad. The ugliness of the birthmark that marred Chikako’s luminous skin spewed venomous ghosts through the intoxicated brew. The novel opens with Chikako inviting Kikuji to meet a prospective bride in pretense of a tea ceremony. The purplish mark on Chikako’s breast was all Kikuji remembered about his father’s mistress. As if the mark was an effigy of his father’s betrayal, the anguish of his mother and yet somehow it made him desire its touch in a bizarre way. Yukiko Inamura , a girl with the thousand cranes patterned kerchief was chosen for Kikuji’s miai(matchmaking).

Kawabata interlaces the complex emotions in simple characterizations; analogous to the meticulous procedures that of a tea ceremony. Sen no Rikyū is considered as a profound historical figure in the tradition of wabi-cha(the Japanese Way of Tea). In the early 1500s, Rikyū integrated the teachings of Zen philosophies with the simplicity of tea to achieve aesthetics with pristine lucidity. Based on the four Zen principles of Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility; the tea ceremony is more of a spiritual experience than mere drinking of tea. The ceremony that commences with the cleaning of the tea utensils before the tea is whisked, is symbolic to achieving stillness of mind and heart, by eradicating the worldly filth and strives for simplicity. Kawabata however fills the beauty of the tea ceremony with repulsiveness of human complexities and rigid destinies; a befitting paradox to the traditional Japanese art of Tea. Regarding his novel, Kawabata once said, “It is a negative work, and expression of doubt about and warning against the vulgarity into which the tea ceremony has fallen."

Unlike other tea masters, Mr. Mitani left a legacy of guilt and melancholic irregularities to his son (Kikuji). With the passing of tea utensils through generations, Kikuji not only inherited the embellished porcelains but also his father’s revolting past and his women. Kawabata uses various tools of the tea ceremony as pictures on a nostalgic wall of grotesque sentimentalities. When Chikako serves tea to Kikuji in his father’s favourite Oribe(a black bowl) for the first time, Kikuji snubs the wistfulness brought by the kitchen-ware.

"But what difference does it make that my father owned it for a little while? It’s four hundred years old, after all – its history goes back to Momoyama and Rikyū himself. Tea masters have looked after it and passed it down through the centuries. My father is of very little importance.’ So Kikuji tried to forget the associations the bowl called up.It had passed from Ota to his wife, from the wife to Kikuji’s father, from Kikuji’s father to Chikako; and the two men, Ota and Kikuji’s father, were dead, and here were the two women. There was something almost weird about the bowl’s career."

The same outlook is displayed when Fumiko brings the Shino Jar over to the cottage.

"A jar that had been Mrs. Ota’s was now being used by Chikako. After Mrs Ota’s death, it had passed to her daughter, and from Fumiko it had come to Kikuji.It had had a strange career. But perhaps the strangeness was natural to tea vessels. In the three or four hundred years before it became the property of Mrs Ota, it had passed through the hands of people with what strange careers?"

The ceramics that once were proud of their serene concoctions were now symbols of forlorn tragedies. Kawabata delineates the corruption of sanctimonious tea ceremony by whisking in human greed and viciousness. Resembling the serene tea that gets muddied by loosened clay particles., the essence of chaste spirituality vanishes into emotional turmoil ridden by jagged history of the human soul In this book, the tea ceremony upstages the mortals as it takes the centre stage of vanishing traditions and escalating materialistic vulgarity transforming into a laudable protagonist.

Furthermore, when Fumiko brings the red and the black Raku bowls over to Kikuji’s cottage, the molded clay become symbols of an incomplete love. The love between Mrs. Ota and Mr. Mitani that was haunted by immoral ramifications; Mrs. Ota’s love for Kikuji as she could not detach herself from his father’s memories; Kikuji’s love for Fumiko that dwelled in sinister shadows of his bedding Mrs. Ota; Fumiko’s apprehensions in reciprocating the warmth burdened with her mothers sins and the malice of Mr. Mitani in Chikako’s sexless existence. In a peculiar way all of it appeared to juxtapose the ghosts raised from the antique bowls.


"Though they were ceremonial bowls, they did not seem out of place as ordinary teacups; but a displeasing picture flashed into Kikuji’s mind. Fumiko’s father had died and Kikuji’s father had lived on; and might not this pair of Raku bowls have served as teacups when Kikuji’s father came to see Fumiko’s mother? Had they not been used as ‘man-wife'...."




With artistic perfection Kawabata paints the red and black Raku giving a heart to these lifeless objects. The crimson love blackened by shame. The dreaminess of a man’s love and a woman’s devotion perished in morbid fancies.

Kawabata does not romanticize suicide. He explores death in depths of salvation for it being the definitive pardon to mortal transgressions. Mrs. Ota’s untimely death or rather suicide brought closure to several irregularities. Her guilt that lived in the Raku bowls churned venom in a sorrowful Shino. Even though one forgives the dead ; the viciousness of the past becomes sorrows of the present. An urge to spit out all the venom.

“Death only cuts off understanding. No one can possibly forgive that”....."Guilt never goes away but sorrow does."

Gravely haunted by her mother’s death; ”Maybe mother died from not being able to stand her own ugliness”; Fumiko could not bring herself to love Kikuji for she felt the burden of acquiring the touch that once belonged to her mother. Even the smashing of the Shino did not mitigate Fumiko’s grief of her mother’s ignominy.

Conversely, the “death” of the Shino in some way freed Kikuji from the paralytic curse induced by Mrs. Ota’s bond to him. Now, he sensed freedom and for the first time saw Fumiko in a pristine cleanness detached from the all the repulsiveness that once followed her existence. Fumiko was then an enlightened soul achieving the primitivism of the tea ceremony.

“He could think of no one with whom to compare her. She had become absolute, beyond comparison. She had become decision and fate."


Leaving traces of the mono no aware concept([b:Beauty and Sadness|14029|Beauty and Sadness|Yasunari Kawabata|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327954071s/14029.jpg|1414440]), Kawabata puts forth the idea of 'perishability' being the essence of nature. The indigo morning glory that hung on the gourd in Kikuji’s cottage, in its short life span bestowed flavor in the morning tea fading in the watery oblivion.Chikako’s greed for the antique tea bowls and Kikuji’s guilt over Mrs.Ota’s suicide and his intriguing affinity to the lipstick stained Shino creates a nauseating sense of filth; contradicting the simplistic spirit of the tea ceremony that Kawabata speaks so fondly; gradually disappearing in human greed. The aesthetic transience of beauty that envelops the wabi-sabi concept of accepted transience and imperfection is vivid through the quixotic words of this text and the flawed existence of its people.

“Does pain go away and leave no trace, then?’‘You sometimes even feel sentimental for it.”


Personally, the picture of thousand cranes is synonymous with Sadako Sasaki, a book that I had read years ago. Sadako, a victim of the Hiroshima bombing, prepared thousand origami cranes as a prayer for her recovery from leukemia. Legend has it that Sadako could not finish the said number of paper cranes; however, her brother Masahiro Sadako asserts that she indeed completed the 1000 paper cranes and it was during her second origami cycle that her youthful life was cut short. In the Japanese culture the crane stand for longevity and good fortune. The tradition of folding 1000 cranes is done when someone has a wish for better health, peace and happiness. Sardonically, the kerchief of patterned crane that the Inamura girl held represented the tragedy of missed chances and missed chances of luck and hope that eluded Kikuji’s fated destiny. The ‘bird of happiness’ after all did not nest in Kikuji’s life .


In his Nobel Prize speech Kawabata commented:-

"A tea ceremony is a coming together in feeling, a meeting of good comrades in a good season. That spirit, that feeling for one's comrades in the snow, the moonlight, under the blossoms, is also basic to the tea ceremony. A tea ceremony is a coming together in feeling, a meeting of good comrades in a good season. I may say in passing, that to see my novel Thousand Cranes as an evocation of the formal and spiritual beauty of the tea ceremony is a misreading. It is a negative work, and expression of doubt about and warning against the vulgarity into which the tea ceremony has fallen.



As the fragrant tea emits transitory life into the tinted ceramics, Kawabata brilliantly bring beauty in the dynamism of nothingness exposing the conundrum veiled within the peaceful periphery of mortality. ( )
2 vote Praj05 | Apr 5, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Yasunari Kawabataprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Komatsu, FumiIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ouwehand, C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ouwehand, C.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seidensticker, Edward G.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Even when he reached Kamakura and the Engakuji Temple, Kikuji did not know whether or not he would go to the tea ceremony.
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fine depiction of life in a period randomly captured without pain.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679762655, Paperback)

With a restraint that barely conceals the ferocity of his characters' passions, one of Japan's great postwar novelists tells the luminous story of Kikuji and the tea party he attends with Mrs. Ota, the rival of his dead father's mistress. A tale of desire, regret, and sensual nostalgia, every gesture has a meaning, and even the most fleeting touch or casual utterance has the power to illuminate entire lives--sometimes in the same moment that it destroys them. Translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker.



"A novel of exquisite artistry...rich suggestibility...and a story that is human, vivid and moving."--New York Herald Tribune


Kawabata is a poet of the gentlest shades, of the evanescent, the imperceptible. This is a tragedy in soft focus, but its passions are fierce."--Commonweal

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:47 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A young man is involved briefly with the two mistresses of his dead father and with the daughter of one of them. In these limited relationships, the limitless human capacity for inertia and illusion is suggested and the infinite strange combinations of human joy and suffering.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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