Tale of the Crane (Tsuru no monogatari)

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Historical period(s)
Edo period, early 17th century
Handscroll; ink, color, gold, and silver on paper
H x W (overall): 15.7 x 982.9 cm (6 3/16 x 386 15/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


crane, Edo period (1615 - 1868), Japan, Tale of the Crane
Provenance research underway.

This elegant, small handscroll illustrates in full color, silver, and gold the Tale of the Crane, one of many Japanese stories that teach that good deeds will be rewarded. The style and quality of the handscroll suggest that an aristocratic patron commissioned it for private enjoyment.

The tale is of a man who rescued a crane that was about to be killed. Soon after, a beautiful young woman asked the man for a night's lodging and later married him; his prosperity increased, arousing the jealousy of the lord's daughter. The lord made the unreasonable demand of one koku (a ricebale, about forty-four gallons) of rapeseed, or else the man's wife would have to leave him. Knowing that they could not produce so much, the couple replied by asking whether old or new seed was acceptable. The lord then demanded a wazawai (misfortune). The young wife's parents brought a wild beast "as large as an ox and . . . as fearsome as a wolf." The wazawai demonstrated its supernatural powers to the lord by conjuring up a terrible storm that so threatened his mansion that he decided to let the man live in peace and prosperity. The wife then revealed to her husband her true identity as the crane he had saved and promised that he would live in prosperity to the age of eighty. She then resumed her form as a crane and flew away.

Published References
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Thomas Lawton, Harold P. Stern. The Freer Gallery of Art. 2 vols., Washington and Tokyo, 1971-1972. cat. 82, vol. 2: p. 177.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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