It happened once upon a time, in a village somewhere in the snow.
A young man named Yohyo saves the life of a suffering crane who has been shot with an arrow. Later, a beautiful woman named Tsu appears before Yohyo. They fall in love and marry, and live together happily. But two greedy men, Sodo and Unzu, see that the beautiful “cloth of a thousand cranes” woven by Tsu sells for high prices in the city, and attempt to discover Tsu’s true identity.
Sodo and Unzu scheme to make a lot of money by urging Tsu to weave more cloth. Incited by the two greedy men, Yohyo is caught up in their plan.
Tsu is saddened to see her beloved husband possessed by greed; because of her deep love, however, she resolves to sacrifice her own wishes and weave new cloth. But she makes Yohyo promise never to look into the room where she is weaving.
But Sodo and Unzu peep into the weaving room and are astonished to see a crane holding feathers in its mouth and moving about over the loom. Spurred on by the greedy men, Yohyo breaks his promise to Tsu and looks into the room as well.
Now that the crane’s true form has been seen, she can no longer live as the beautiful woman Tsu. Having grown thin from her efforts, she gives the finished cloth to Yohyo and tearfully bids him farewell. She then turns back into a crane and leaves forever.