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Published in English
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Thousand Cranes (千羽鶴 Senbazuru) is a 1952 novel by Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata. The novel is divided into five episodes: "Thousand Cranes", "A Grove in the Evening Sun", "Figured Shino", "Her Mother's Lipstick" and "Double Star".
The novel is set in Japan after World War II. The protagonist, Kikuji, who has been orphaned, becomes involved with Mrs. Ota, a former mistress of his father's. She commits suicide, seemingly because of the shame she associates with the affair, and after her death Kikuji transfers much of his love, and his grief over Mrs Ota's death, to her daughter, Fumiko.
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Red & White
Decay The tea ceremony decays throughout the novel. It is no longer used for traditional Japanese purposes. Chikako has turned it into a tool for her to meddle with Kikuji's life. She spreads this poison. Tradition is falling apart due to hate.
Fate/legacy/inheritance Kikuji is unable to escape the life that his father left him, but he is also not willing to. He inherits all his burdens and drama. Kikuji is a "modern" man as displayed by the fact he is a bachelor, and conducts casual sexual relationship with modern women. Despite this Kikuji actively chooses to obsess over the past. The reason for this is because in 1950s Japan was in a transient state between being connected and in tune with cultural practices of the past, whilst beginning to adopt westernised, modern cultural and social practices. This had massive effects on sexuality. As male sexuality, and therefore male identity, was supported by the subjugation of female sexuality, when economic and social modernity opened up new opportunities for women to have independence, women were no longer shackled to the household, and their approaches to sexuality changed. Thus, male sexuality and male identity which was superior on the basis of the subjugated, subservient female, was destabilised. Therefore, Kikuji's obsession with his father's sexuality is because he feels emasculated by the females who surround him, and so he is trying to establish a sense of agency which he aligns with his father, and the generation his father represents.
Kikuji chooses to inherit Mrs. Ota. He sees her as an object which is as transferable to him as his father's tea bowls, or his house, therefore he wishes he will also receive his father's dominant masculine identity. The first time he has sex with Mrs. Ota in the section Thousand Cranes, he states: "It was an extraordinary awakening." This moment displays that Kikuji feels as if he has found a sense of self, and identity in this encounter, previously unexperienced by him before. He describes it as a "triumph", like "the conqueror whose feet were being washed by the slave." Essentially Kikuji believes he has regained his masculine identity and the power associated with it. He believes he has regained the dominant masculine sexuality of his forefathers he is entitled to, that his generation has lost.
This novel is one of three novels cited by the Nobel Committee in awarding Yasunari Kawabata the Nobel Prize for Literature. The other two books are Snow Country and The Old Capital. The novel was selected for translation and inclusion in the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works.
- Yasunari, Kawabata, Thousand Cranes, Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker. (London and USA: Penguin, 2011), p18.
- Kawabata, Thousand Cranes, p18.