The opening scene of ‘‘The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket’’ finds the unnamed narrator walking outside the university (equivalent to the American high school). He turns to approach the upper school, which could mean the school that was situated higher up the hill, or it could mean a school attended by young teens, perhaps the equivalent of an American middle or junior high school. Since the school has a playground, it is more likely to be a school for younger children.
Although the time of day is never specified other than to indicate ‘‘a dusky clump of bushes,’’ the reader learns that it must be dusk, if not dark. Kawabata implies this when his narrator discovers the bright lanterns bobbing along the base of the embankment. If it were daytime, lanterns would not be needed and the colorful light shining through them would be all but invisible to the naked eye. As it is, the narrator watches in wonder at the sight of twenty children engaged in an insect chase.
Immediately from this first scene, Kawabata employs vivid imagery. The walls of the university are tile-roofed, and the fence is constructed of white board. He describes the individual colors of the children’s lanterns as they bob through the dark. The first two paragraphs are constructed almost completely using sensual imagery, a literary technique Kawabata will continue to rely on throughout the story.
The scene witnessed by the narrator is so idyllic that he likens it to a fairy tale, and he explains how the children came to participate in the insect chase in progress before him. What began as one child curious to find the owner of the singing from within the bushes soon became twenty children, all eager to hunt and capture the singing grasshoppers. Although one of the children bought his red lantern (and eventually discarded it as something gaudy and tasteless), most of them carefully and lovingly constructed their own lanterns out of multicolored paper, which they cut into various designs.
These lanterns are important to the children, and what was sufficient one night was not so in the light of day. So each day, the children would thoughtfully craft a new lantern. The lanterns represent the individuality of each child, and the children put mighty effort into besting one another. ‘‘Look at my lantern! Be the most unusually beautiful!’’ Those lanterns, with their mystical patterns and superb craftsmanship, are what the children are using to light their insect chase.
Kawabata never specifies the ages of the children, but given the nature of the activity, the reader assumes they are young enough to still enjoy such innocent activity but old enough to have the skills to have produced such fine and intricate lanterns.
One boy—whose name we eventually learn is Fujio—stands and shouts out to his peers, ‘‘Does anyone want a grasshopper?’’ A number of children reply that yes, they would like the grasshopper. Even as they crowd around him, the boy repeats the question. As still more children approach him to claim the grasshopper, he asks his question a third time. Finally, one of the children who responds is a girl, and it is this particular girl whom Fujio wanted to attract.
Fujio hands the girl, Kiyoko, his insect. It turns out to be not a common grasshopper but a bell cricket. In Japan, bell crickets are beloved for their unique singing, and their song is considered by many to be the voice of Buddha.
When Kiyoko announces that the insect is actually a bell cricket, the other children are excited in an envious way. She looks at Fujio as she places the cricket in her little insect cage that hangs at her side. Fujio grasps the cage and holds it at eye level so he can peer inside.With his multicolored lantern also at eye level, he glances at Kiyoko’s face.
At that point, the narrator realizes that Fujio wanted Kiyoko’s attention all along, and the narrator admits to a pang of jealousy at this experience of first love. Suddenly, he sees something no one else can see because they are standing too close to Fujio and Kiyoko.
In the light of his lantern, the design of which included his name, ‘‘Fujio’’ shines on Kiyoko’s white kimono. And in the light of Kiyoko’s lantern, the design of which also included her name, ‘‘Kiyoko’’ shines on Fujio’s waist. Neither child would ever know that this occurred, but the narrator sees it and understands the meaning: for one brief moment—perhaps more, if their lives’ paths dictate it to be so—Kiyoko and Fujio belong to one another.
At that point, the narrator imparts the wisdom he has gleaned only through decades of living and loving. He advises Fujio to take pleasure in a girl’s delight and to appreciate her when she believes something to be more than it is but accepts it even when the truth is revealed. The narrator then warns Fujio that even when he has the intelligence to look for a life partner who is not like all the other girls or women, he will find that most of them are common and plain, like grasshoppers. ‘‘Probably you will find a girl like a grasshopper whom you think is a bell cricket.’’
The narrator sees Fujio as a man, when his heart has been broken and he becomes jaded to love. At that point, the narrator says, even a bell cricket (that rare woman who is special and unique and worthy of love) will seem like a grasshopper (common and nothing special). He pities Fujio for his inability to ever know that there was one moment in time when his name was written on the breast of a girl, when she was his, and he was hers.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, Yasunari Kawabata, Published by Gale Group, 2001.