Sunday, March 3, 2024

Book review: ‘Kitchen’ by Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is a book that I heard a lot about. This book is also one of the reasons that I visited ‘The Japan Foundation-Library’ regularly which is situated in Green Park, Delhi. On every visit, I found out that the book had already been taken by someone. After visiting the library for more than two months, I lost all hope of ever getting my hands on it. A week back when I visited the library again to return the other books I borrowed, I found it on the shelf and that too by chance as I was not even looking for any book, and there it was ‘Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto.

Kitchen: The novel

Kitchen is a story about Death, grief, loneliness, and love. It is also a story of urban life in Japan. Mikage Sakurai lost her parents at a young age. It was her grandparents who brought her up. When she was in junior high, her grandfather also died. From then on, it was just her grandmother and her but when she lost her grandmother as well, she felt alone and lonely. Yuichi Tanabe is a boy who does part-time work at the flower shop where Mikage’s grandmother used to buy flowers. Yuchi invited Mikage to live at his home which is shared by his mother as well and this is the turning point in Mikage’s life. The third main character in this book is Yuichi’s mother, Eriko, who is in actuality his father turned into a woman after his wife’s death. 

The Story talks about the grief process that one goes through after a loved one’s death and the loneliness one feels. At the same time, if you get a support system like the kind Mikage got from Yuichi and his mother Eriko, it becomes a little easier. 

When Mikage got better, Eriko died. The closeness between Yuichi and Mikage because of going through the same experiences of the death of loved ones in life makes them understand each other better compared to other people in their lives which ultimately makes them fall in love as well. 

This book also gives you an idea of how someone can be depressed but still functioning. After her grandmother’s death, Mikage had all the negative thoughts about herself and her life but she was still doing all she was supposed to do.

Why is the book titled Kitchen? It is because this is one place which gives Mikage some happiness. A place which calms her, and makes her feel protected and loved. A place which doesn’t make her feel lonely in this world. When she agreed to live with Yuichi and Eriko, it was on the condition (set by Eriko) that she would cook for them instead of paying rent. It is also by learning how to cook and by trying different recipes in their kitchen she found the passion of her life. She found a job as a culinary assistant in a school and left Tanabe’s apartment to live on her own. When she visited Yuchi after Eriko’s death, she cooked good food for him in the same kitchen which made her feel good when she was depressed. 

One thing that I appreciate about this book is that it is just 105 pages book and if we consider the second story in the book ‘Moonlight Shadow’ as well then also only 150 pages. I wish I could read more such short novels. So, if you want to read about grief, loneliness and love please go ahead and read this book. It won’t disappoint you. There have been two films also made of the story, a Japanese movie in 1989 and a more widely released version produced in Hong Kong by Yim Ho in 1997. 

Banana Yoshimoto: the author

Banana Yoshimoto is the pen name used by Japanese writer Mahoko Yoshimoto. She was born in 1964, in Tokyo. Her father was the poet and critic Takaaki Yoshimoto, and her sister, Haruno Yoika, is a well-known cartoonist in Japan. She studied at Nihon University, Division of Arts and majored in literature.  There as part of her graduation, she wrote a story ‘Moonlight Shadow’ in 1986 which was an immediate hit and earned her the Izumi Kyoka Prize from the faculty.

This short story is included in most editions of Yoshimoto’s novel Kitchen. Her first novel Kitchen was published in 1988 and translated into English in 1993 by Megan Backus. Kitchen was an instant sensation in Japan and made the author one of the most recognizable names of contemporary Japanese fiction. She chose the pen name Banana Yoshimoto because of her love for Banana flowers, and it was her elder sister’s creativity which inspired her to find something of her own and she started to write when she was about 5 years old.


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