Reformation of Kikuji Mitani in Thousand Cranes



“Thousand Cranes” by Yasunari Kawabata


ILLUSTRATE THE ROLE WHICH MRS OTA AND HER DAUGHTER FUMIKO PLAY IN BRINGING ABOUT THE REFORMATION OF KIKUJI’S CHARACTER TO COME TO TERMS WITH HIS PAST. IN WHAT WAYS (IF ANY) DOES THIS HELP HIM BECOME A BETTER PERSON?

Kawabata’s “Thousand Cranes” is a novel that puts little emphasis on story lines, placing more value on emotions, reflections, symbolism and such. The rather crude (at first sight) plot of this complicated piece of Japanese literature is concentrated on a tangled web of relationships of the past, riddled with jealousy, insecurity and deep mistrust.

Kikuji Mitani, the main character, has grown up watching many of these triangular and adulterous ties all unfold before his eyes – his father taking the star role. As a result of this, even now, as a young working man the ghosts of the past come to haunt him, threatening to take over his life and make him a replication of his father even though he is now dead. The center of this ‘haunting’ is in something he witnessed as a boy of eight or nine – Chikako’s birthmark. This disgusting image has a surprisingly intense effect on Kikuji, in fact so deep-
“He could sometimes imagine even that his own destinies were enmeshed in it.”
This is the state of Kikuji at the start of the book, an obsessive, even neurotic, driven character completely confused and angered by life, trying to push the past as far away as possible.

His first meeting with Mrs. Ota is a forced one, a meeting he would rather have avoided. He had wanted to meet the Inamura girl – later identified as “the girl of the thousand cranes” – who is “beautiful” and more importantly “pure” in his eyes-
“…clean against the rankling histories of middle-aged women”
in sharp contrast to the likes of Mrs. Ota, whose very presence is impure-
“It seemed wrong to meet the girl…here before Mrs. Ota.”
The thought of seeing Fumiko for the first time is even less appealing-
“…he was even more repelled at the thought of meeting the daughter today.”

However his first impressions after four years of Mrs. Ota are-
“She seemed wholly warm, tender, overcome by pleasure at such an unexpected meeting.”
But this is quickly ruined by his malicious thought-
“One can only conclude she was wholly unaware of her place in the assembly”
and in society (?).

From repulsion for both Mrs. Ota and Fumiko, Kikuji reserves his disgust only for Mrs. Ota, leaving sympathy for Fumiko-
“Was the woman foolish, or shameless? He was overcome with pity for the daughter…”
Fumiko is still an unknown, with nothing revealed about her personality or any past history, but Kikuji does notice as Mrs. Ota is leaving that-
“There was a look of appeal in the girl’s eyes.”
We can conclude from here that Kikuji is very perceptive, noticing details that others may not take note of, although her “appeal” can be understood in many different ways, maybe an appeal for forgiveness, or an appeal to stay away from her mother. But the point being made here is that Kikuji is observing maybe a little too much about the two women if he has such a deep hatred for them. He should rather be aloof and uninterested in them. There are many other instances throughout the book where he scrutinizes like this, Fumiko and her mother both being characterized by their “long, white neck(s)/throat(s).” His keen perception of such detail could be used to guess at another aspect of his personality- that he is to some extent like an artist.

However Kikuji’s newfound willingness to deal with his history is displayed when he purposely walks to Mrs. Ota despite his aversion for her-
“Nevertheless, he walked toward the gate.”
This is a very impulsive and perhaps dangerous (mentally harmful) decision for Kikuji to make, quite rash, because anything can happen. He seems to have made it quite clear in the pages before that at the moment he believes that his only salvation from his father’s curse (obviously he feels it is a curse) is to keep away from its living components- Mrs. Ota, Chikako and perhaps Fumiko. Now he is not even stopping to think what this new contradictory action will do to his years