This synopsis will contain spoilers!
Kikuji attends a tea ceremony held by a woman named Chikako who Kikuji's now deceased father had a brief affair with years before. During the visit, Chikako tells Kikuji that he should inspect the young woman there named Yukiko (as Chikako intends to arrange their marriage). Kikuji also sees a Mrs. Ota (another woman his father had an affair with, but for much longer and all the way up to his death), and her daughter Fumiko.
The tea ceremony is tense with the history of the two women and the children caught in between. After, Mrs. Ota waits for Kikuji and they end up going to an inn and sleeping together. Kikuji, both shamed and intrigued, begins to fall for Mrs. Ota. Chikako, however, works to bring the marriage with Yukiko about while pushing Mrs. Ota and her daughter away from Kikuji. Mrs. Ota stays away from Kikuji for a time, but after meeting and sleeping together again, her guilt and sorrow become too much and she kills herself upon returning home that night.
Kikuji begins to meet with Fumiko more, and the daughter begs Kikuji to forgive his mother, though Kikuji does not understand why she needs forgiven any more than he does. He meets with Yukiko one more time, at his own home this time, but he continues to refuse Chikako's attempts to bring the marriage about. Chikako continues to come by his house and generally interfere with his life.
Fumiko moves, but doesn't tell Kikuji until he calls for her and she does not live there anymore. They meet and talk, both about their parents and tea. Chikako arrives one day and tells Kikuji that both Yukiko and Fumiko are now married. Kikuji is shocked, and hurt, but attempts to hide his pain. A few days later he receives a call from Fumiko telling him to look out for a letter from her without a stamp. He offers his congratulations, and she is shocked to hear that he thinks she is married when she is not. She agrees to meet him at his home.
When Fumiko arrives she tears up the letter and tells Kikuji to destroy the tea bowl she previously gave him. He refuses, but she says he must if another bowl he has is nicer. He finds the other bowl, and they realize it was the “man and wife” bowl his father and her mother used during their affair – or at least they represent as much to the children. She casts the Shino (her mother's) bowl aside and shatters it. There is an implication they sleep together. The next day Kikuji seeks her out, but she is not at work or at home. He is stricken by the though they she is dead, having killed herself, though he sees no reason she should die for what happened on the previous night.
Yasunari Kawabata the Last Line of in Thousand Cranes