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Past vs Present in Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata Essay examples

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The novel Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata takes place in post-war Japan, an era of change, where there is a struggle between keeping Japanese traditions and becoming Westernized, or “modernized”. In this way, the setting reflects a major conflict in the novel: past versus present. This struggle is subtly, yet clearly, expressed in the characters throughout the story as they face the cultural shift as well as deaths, and must decide whether or not to move on and accept change or to remain stuck in the past. The character Chikako Kurimoto, ex-mistress of the protagonist’s father, Mr Mitani, clings to the past. She continues to serve Mr Mitani after his death by cleaning the tea house, which does not need cleaning because the protagonist Kikuji, his son, does not practise tea. She also meddles in Kikuji’s life, in a way transferring her possessiveness of his father onto him, and uses tea ceremonies to inject herself into his life. Another way she ties herself to the past is by continuing the annual tea ceremonies held by Mr Mitani after his death. Through keeping the tradition of tea, Chikako attempts to feel connected with Mr Mitani.
Chikako continues to keep Mr Mitani’s tea house clean and functional, despite it being out of use since Kikuji’s mother’s death, and Kikuji himself having no interest in it, because she wants to remain feeling useful to him. Mr Mitani loved tea, so the teahouse reminds Chikako of him and remains special to her after he is gone. It is stated that Chikako wanted to remain useful to Mr Mitani after their affair was over, and would do the housekeeping and cooking: “She would come to help in the kitchen when there was to be a tea ceremony and even when ordinary guests were expected.” (p. 13) This show...


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...on with him through his love of tea by cleaning his teahouse, trying to keep his son-- almost an extension of Mr Mitani himself-- away from Mrs Ota through a surprise miai at a tea ceremony, and by keeping the tradition of his annual tea ceremony. With the theme of the struggle between past and present, tradition and modernity, coursing through the story, Chikako’s preference for tradition, as in tea ceremonies and miai, as well as her refusal to move on from Mr Mitani, both imply that she is representing the side of “past” which she portrays antagonistically, by being “tactless” and unpleasant, by meddling in Kikuji’s life and stirring up trouble for everyone. Perhaps a message to be learned from Chikako is that it is unhealthy to not let go of the past.



Works Cited

Kawabata, Yasunari. Thousand Cranes. Trans. Edward Seidensticker. New York: Vintage, 1996. Print.


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