The Sign of the Chrysanthemum

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The Sign of the Chrysanthemum
The Sign of the Chrysanthemum Book Cover.jpg
The Sign of the Chrysanthemum
Author Katherine Paterson
Illustrator Peter Landa
Country United States
Language English
Genre historical novel
Publisher Crowell
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 264 pp (hardcover edition)
ISBN 978-0-690-73625-0 (hardback edition)
OCLC 488236
LC Class PZ7.P273 Si

The Sign of the Chrysanthemum is a 1973 work of literature that was the first published work by the American novelist Katherine Paterson. The novel is set in 12th century Japan and tells the story of Muna, a 14-year-old who searches for his long-absent father following his mother’s death.


Muna has never seen his father and only knows that he has a chrysanthemum tattoo on his shoulder. He meets a likable ronin named Takanobu on a ship, which Muna was hiding on. Later on, after Muna and Takanobu leave the ship, they are in the city and go exploring. Muna loses track of Takanobu and gets lost, but the two later reunite. As Takanobu takes care of Muna, he finds him a job cleaning stables. But one New Year's Eve, a fire occurs at the Red Dog where Takanobu met Muna and sent him to do an errand. On the errand, someone tells him that a man named "Plum Face," a person Muna knew, was dead. He is also told that Takanobu is "dead".

Muna faints from the noxious fumes of the fire and is badly burnt. Later, a man named Fukuji, who is the master swordsmith of the capital, finds Muna. Muna stays with Fukuji, doing house chores and other "women's work". One day when Muna is outside, he sees a man dressed as a monk who seems to be following exactly what he does. He finds out that he is Takanobu. Muna is happy to see Takanobu again and asks him to do one favor. Takanobu wants Muna to steal a sword from Fukuji and give it to him. He convinces Muna to give him the sword by saying that he is Muna's father.

But when Muna brings the sword to Takanobu, he says he will not give it to Takanobu unless he says he is Muna's father. When Takanobu doesn't answer, Muna attacks. Muna hits Takanobu in the hand, wounding him. Muna runs away to the woods and buries the sword in front of a neglected shrine. At the same time, Fukuji, who has woken up, wonders where Muna has gone. Suddenly, a visitor comes to Fukuji and tells him that he is Muna's father. Fukuji realizes that the visitor is Takanobu. When Takanobu claims that he is Muna's father (which may or may not be true), Muna must choose between fulfilling his "father's" wishes and proving his loyalty to Fukujii.