Yasunari Kawabata’s Thousand Cranes is complex though its simple language and slimness might suggest otherwise. Told through scenes centered around the tea ceremony, the novel examines many triangles. Below, I will try to tease them apart:
Husband-Lover #1-Lover #2
Husband-Lover #2-Daughter of Lover #2
Son-Father’s Lover #1- Father’s Lover #2
Son- Father’s Lover #1-potential fiancé
Son-Father’s- Father’s Lover #2-Daughter of Lover #2
Son-Daughter of Lover #2-potential fiancé
The list is potentially endless but shows us how just like the pottery that is passed down from person to person to be used in the tea ceremony, so too are our entanglements passed down. And the outcome is often that like the fragile pottery we are either made present and live through our history or are shattered to pieces, broken and unused. The scene between the protagonist, Kikuji and the daughter of his father’s lover (who then became his lover), Fumiko, plays this out:
Kikuji could not bring himself to say that the Shino bowl was like her mother. But the two bowls before them were like the souls of his father and her mother.
The tea bowls, three or four hundred years old, were sound and healthy, and they called up no morbid thoughts. Life seemed to stretch taut over them, however, in a way that was almost sensual.
Seeing his father and Fumiko’s mother in the bowls, Kikuji felt that they had raised two beautiful ghosts and placed them side by side.
The tea bowls were here, present, and the present reality of Kikuji and Fumiko, facing across the bowls, seemed immaculate too.
Evenutally, Fumiko shatters one of the bowls which had belonged to her mother and the spell is broken but not soon enough for Fumiko. Instead, the follows the only path which is certain to her and that is the path that leads to her death, leaving behind the two who began the novel Kikuji and his nemesis, the asexual Kurimoto, his father’s first mistress.