Once upon a time there lived a young man named Karoku, who lived with his mother in the mountains of Japan. One winter, on his way to town to buy a futon, Karoku saw a crane trapped in a cage. He felt pity for it and wanted to help. Karoku beseeched the man who set the trap to release the bird, but the man refused. Then Karoku decided to buy the crane with the money he saved for the futon and let the bird free into the sky. As he came home that evening, Karoku explained to his mother what he had done, and his mother approved of his kind actions.
The next day a beautiful girl unexpectedly appeared in front of Karoku’s home and asked to be given a place to stay for the night. At first Karoku politely refused, but as the girl continued to beg, he let her into the house. To Karoku’s great surprise, the next morning, the girl asked if she could become his wife. Karoku politely refused, but the girl insisted, and so he agreed to marry her.
A month had passed, when one day Karoku’s wife asked her husband if she could weave on the loom in the storeroom. She would weave for three days and no one would peek into the room where she worked. Karoku respected his wife’s wishes, even though he worried, listening to the sound of the loom from morning till night. On the fourth day his wife emerged from the room, handing him a piece of beautiful fabric, and asked Karoku to sell the cloth in the castle. The lord of the castle, greatly amazed at the beauty and high-quality of the woven fabric, paid Karoku two thousand Ryou. He added an additional three thousand Ryou in advance for another piece of fabric.
Karoku came home delighted and told his wife that the lord asked for another cloth to be woven. His wife agreed and once again asked her husband not to peek into the storeroom until she was finished. Karoku respected his wife and did not peek into the room, yet as the days passed, he grew increasingly worried and decided to make sure his wife was alright. As he entered the room, he gasped, for what he saw was a crane weaving a piece of fabric, using its own feathers. The crane then spoke to Karoku, telling him that she is his wife and the crane that he had released from the cage. By weaving the fabric with her own feathers she repaid Karoku for his great kindness. But since he had now seen her true form, she could no longer stay with him. Karoku felt deep sorrow, and the crane’s heart ached to stay, but a flock of cranes soared above the house and took Karoku’s wife away towards the setting sun.
Adapted from "The Gratitude of the Crane," Radio Japan Online.