Book Review: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

„The place I like best in this world is the kitchen“ says Mikage Sakurai in the beginning of the novel Kitchen. She was brought up with her grandmother who had died. Now she is all alone in this world and she states: „everything before my eyes seemed false“.
After the funeral she pulled her futon into the kitchen. Deep sorrow falls upon her.

One day Yuichi Tanabe, a guy she knows from university and who knew her grandmother well, asks her to move into his mother’s house. Mikage sees him as an angel.

Mikage visits the house of the Tanabes and liked the kitchen instantly. Eiko Tanabe, a beautiful, perfect looking mother arrives. She was modeled by plastic surgery, and was a man before. He was Yuichis father, but changed after the death of his wife and became the mother. Mikage befriends with Eiko and feels adopted by the warm-hearted loving person. So she moves in.

She comes over her grief slightly and enjoys staying at the Tanabes. But her stay at the house disturbes her ex-boyfriend and Yuichis girlfriend. She leaves him. Then Yuichi struggles with his feelings for her and for Mikage.

Many scenes take place in the kitchen, which Mikage loves so much. The kitchen is a metaphor for home, caring, nourishment, joy and togetherness, of life itself.

But things do not go on so nicely. The next catastrophe is near and will burden Mikages and Yuichis relationship. They both have to make their way on their own.

Although it is a story of grief and description about loosing a loving person, about how it feels missing someone who is dead with all the memories and embodied memories as well, all the things which belong to the relationship and oneself, Mikage goes through the process and finds relief in an astonishing way.

„No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die. Without that, I am not alive.“ Mikage finds hope and joy and searches a way to Yuichi. In the end they will meet each other again, but different. Their relationship needed commitment and openness on both sides to grow.

The story is mainly about how to deal with grief and loneliness, but it is not a sad story. In all that sorrow Mikage finds also beauty. She loves food, cooking, the smell of things. She seeks relief in nature and with people. There are many magic sparkling moments in this book. It is often warm and friendly and full of hope. Mikage is full of life.

Moonlight Shadow, the second novel, is a variation of the themes and motives of Kitchen. It is like a little sister of it, but not standing behind.

It is also a story about loosing a loving person. Hitoshi died. Satsuki his girlfriend is grieving about her dead lover. She goes through the deep feeling of loss and absolutely unbearable sorrow. One morning she walks to the river in her hometown, a place where she often went with Hitoshi. There she meets the strange woman Urara, a ghost-like creature and the story turns somehow mysterious.

Then there is a counterpart to Satsuki. Hiiragi, the brother of Hitoshi. He lost his lover on the same incident, because Hitoshi and Hiiragis girlfriend had a car accident together.
Hiiragi has his own special way to cope with his feelings and one can see similarities to Eiko Tanabe in Kitchen.

Moonlight shadow has more transcendental aspects than Kitchen. It has a power of itself.

Both novellas are well-written and I recommend it as one of the stories one has to read if you are interested in Japanese Literature. Banana Yoshimoto writes simple and lightly. It goes directly to the heart. She describes mainly the feelings and is a good observer. No wonder, that this book is one of the best-selling novels in Modern Japan. First published in 1988 it creates a Bananamania and won many literary prizes.

Banana Yoshimoto: Kitchen. Washington Square Press, 1994. Japanese original: Kitchin, 1988.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

  1. I read Kitchin many years ago shortly after it was translated in to English. I was very moved by it then. As both of my parents have died in the interim I am sure I’d be touched again…probably in a more profound way than before.

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    • I have read Kitchen for the first time, when I was in Japan in the 90’s. And then re-read it for this blog. It was one of my first book reviews here and I was bit nervous. Kitchen was different reading back then 25 years ago. I did not remember the story was so sad, but in my memory there was a “fresh” attitude and a touching character. It is a book, which can be read several times for sure and it speaks to your heart differently.

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      • Yes, I agree that Kitchen is one of those books one can read at different times in one’s life…..

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