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Thousand Cranes – My favorite Kawabata

January 31, 2012

Thousand Cranes is perhaps the best work of Kawabata; as good as Snow Country. It is written in prose but has the touch of poetry. The haiku like quality of Kawabata’s prose is made even more beautiful by the tea ceremony descriptions. Deeply Japanese in form, it makes a very strange read for the non-Japanese reader. But Kawabata renders the strangeness beautiful somehow and the post-war turmoil of the modern Japan gives it a common ground with the modern West. The elaborateness of the tea ritual can astonish a western reader in which the cups in which the tea is taken are very important. There are sister-brother, man-wife cups and so on…

The photographic images given by Kawabata are etched into memory. They are unforgettable.

The story is of the son of a wealthy merchant. The novel begins with the tea ceremony in which Kikuji is invited by a mistress of his dead father. There he is involved into an affair with a rival of Chikako, Mrs. Ota. He meets a beautiful girl with a kimono of cranes. The image is deeply etched in Kikuji’s and readers memory. The novel is a series of tea ceremonies and Kikuji’s relations with and feelings for three women.

Japanese art, modern and traditional resurface all over the novel, at meaningful places. For a reader unfamiliar to the Japanese history, it’s hard to make connections, but otherwise these connections are important.

Japan was untouched by post-modernism before the war, but post-war writers like Kawabata were influenced by it and in Thousand Cranes we see some ugly images described in detail, which would be very unorthodox for a traditional Japanese writer.

Thousand Cranes is one of the representative works of Kawabata and the post-war Japanese writing, with post-modernism, Japan balanced in proper manner.

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