„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 by her grandmother who had died recently. Now Mikage is all alone in this world and she states: „everything before my eyes seemed false“. After the funeral she pulls 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 come over to his mother’s house and move in, which Mikage accepts gratefully.
On the first visit at the house of the Tanabe’s she likes the kitchen instantly. Eiko Tanabe, a beautiful, perfectly styled mother arrives. She had done some plastic surgery, and was a man before, actually Yuichi’s father, but changed after the death of his wife and became his mother. Mikage instantly likes also Eiko and feels adopted by the warm hearted loving person.
Mikage overcomes her grief slightly and enjoys staying at the Tanabe’s. But this situation interferes with the relationship with her boyfriend, so she finally leaves him. Yuichi also begins to struggle with his feelings for his girl-friend 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 will not go on so smoothly. The next catastrophe is already near and will burden Mikage’s and Yuichi’s relationship soon. They both have to find their way on their own.
‘Kitchen’ is a story of mourning and loss. It describes well how you feel when you miss someone who is dead, with all your memories and embodied memories as well; remembering all the things which belong to the relationship and to oneself. Mikage goes all through this mourning process and finds relief in astonishing ways.
„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 mourning and loneliness, but it is not a sad story overall. 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 herself is full of life.
‘Moonlight Shadow’, the second novella in this book, is a variation of the themes and motifs of ‘Kitchen’. It is like her little sister, but not standing behind.
It is also a story about loosing a loved one. Hitoshi had died. Satsuki, his girlfriend is mourning over the loss of her dead lover. She goes through the deep feelings 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 a strange woman named Urara, a ghost-like creature, and the story turns somehow into a mystery.
Then there is a counterpart to Satsuki: Hiiragi, the brother of Hitoshi. He has lost his lover at the same car accident. Hiiragi has his own special way in coping with his feelings and one can see similarities between him and Eiko Tanabe in ‘Kitchen’.
‘Moonlight Shadow’ has more transcendental moments than ‘Kitchen’ and therefore a certain magical power in itself.
Both novellas are well-written and I recommend them as Japanese stories one has to read if you are interested in Japanese literature. Banana Yoshimoto writes simple and lightly. It goes directly into your heart. She writes emotionally and is a good observer. No wonder, that this book is one of the best-selling novels in contemporary Japan. First published in 1988, it created a ‘Bananamania’ and she won many literary prizes.
吉本ばなな. キッチン, 1988.
Banana Yoshimoto: Kitchen. Translated by Megan Backus. Grove Press, 1993 (Cover).
More reviews of Banana Yoshimoto’s books on Japan Kaleidoskop