“Oh, just a lovely Japanese book,” I said, tucking Kitchen under my arm.
“In Japanese?” she asked, astounded.
“No, unfortunately,” I said, “in English.”
However, I would dearly love to have read this book in Japanese. I often wonder what is lost in the translation from one language to another, especially since Japanese contains characters, not an alphabet. I would hate to miss an important nuance.
I was deeply moved by Banana Yoshimoto’s book. How could an author so young write so knowledgeably about sorrow? Her heroine, Mikage Sakurai, was orphaned by her parents and brought up by her grandmother. In the very beginning of the story, her grandmother has died, and Mikage finds herself truly alone. She writes, on page four, “When my grandmother died the other day, I was taken by surprise. My family had steadily decreased one by one as the years went by, but when it suddenly dawned on me that I was all alone, everything before my eyes seemed false. The fact that time continued to pass in the usual way in this apartment where I grew up, even though now I was here all alone, amazed me. It was total science fiction. The blackness of the cosmos.”
I have known was it is to be alone, but not at 24 years of age. Not totally without family. It gave me pause to think; where would one go? What would one do?
Mikage finds comfort in a kitchen. (This would not be my first place of solace; I’d probably opt for a church, myself. Or, a school.) “The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it’s a kitchen, if it’s a place where they make food, it’s fine with me.” p. 3
Her interest in the kitchen, her gifts in working with food, open doors for her as the novel unfolds. A friend’s mother advises her with these words: “Because I have a lot of faith in you, I suddenly feel I ought to tell you something. I learned it raising Yuichi. There were many, many difficult times, god knows. If a person wants to stand on her own two feet, I recommend undertaking the care and feeding of something. It could be children, or it could be house plants, you know? By doing that you come to understand your own limitations. That’s where it starts.” p. 41.
I couldn’t agree more. Taking care of others is often the way to take care of ourselves, at least for me.
And so we find Mikage bravely seeking her place in the world and finding love in the process.
About the author from Things Asian: “In her native Japan, Banana Yoshimoto, daughter of renowned 1960’s New Left philosoper Ryumei (Takaaki Yoshimoto) and sister of popular cartoonist Haruno Yoiko, has won much critical acclaim. Her first work, Moonlight Shadow, written while she was working as a waitress in Tokyo (much of it on her breaks and during lulls between customers), won her the Izumi Kyoka Prize in 1986. And Kitchen, which has been made into both a Japanese television movie and a feature length film, garnered her the Umitsubame First Novel Prize. Kitchen has undergone 60 printings in Japan and has been released in translation in more than 20 countries worldwide.”