Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

When I went to the dermatologist Monday, having developed a rash on my face (my face! at Christmas!) due to all this flipping stress at school, the nurse asked me what I was reading.

“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.”

16 thoughts on “Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto”

  1. First of all, a rash?! Oh, dear. I hope it isn't painful. I had shingles several years ago and it was awful!! I thought only old people got shingles. Little did I know.Ah, 24-years-old and an orphan? I think of how my daughter would cope without any family remaining. She has quite a few good friends, many who belong to her church, so I'd like to believe they would take her in and love her like family. Actually, I know this to be true already since this is exactly what they did 2 1/2 years ago. Yes, we were here for her, but not right there in Texas.I agree with the author and you. Taking care of others is often the best way to take care of ourselves. Again, this is so true of my personal experiences.This sounds like a lovely book. I know what you mean about the possibility of losing something in the translation, though. I read The Sound of Waves about 10 years ago and while I enjoyed it, I felt it read rather simplistically, and I wondered if some of the beauty was lost in translation.I may just have to look for this book, as I too find solace in my kitchen. Just not during the hectic holiday season when I'm working RETAIL!!!!!


  2. Wow. The excerpt makes this sound like an amazing story. I'll be adding it to my list. As for being totally alone at 24…I don't know if I could've managed. I lost my dad when I was 18 and my mom three years ago, when I was in my 40's. I still thought, very clearly "I'm an orphan." It was one of those bedrock moments that we all have. Luckily, however, I do have my sister and her kids. And my four footed babies. Without them… who knows? I'm glad I don't have to find out.cjh


  3. Les, it's a rash that's like consuming my left cheek. It's so awful, and the cream the doctor told me to put on it only seems to be making it worse. "Vanity, thy name is Bellezza…" I think you would find this book as moving as I did, especially with your deep and abiding appreciation of all things kitchen. I need to pick up The Sound of Waves. Most importantly, I'm glad your daughter had a family of sorts around her from church while you were farther away.cj, your comment tugs at my heart. I have both of my parents with me still, but I often wonder how I'll manage when we're inevitably separated. Isn't it weird how we can think, "I'm orphaned!" in our 40s? That makes perfect sense to me. I'm glad you have a sister; I have a brother, but we're very different. There's not a lot of solace with him. Anyway, please accept a hug from me in having your parents gone. I'm so sorry.


  4. This is definitely on the wishlist now! I've been wanting to read some Banana Yoshimoto and figured this was where to start but wasn't sure. Now I know 😉 I hope your rash clears up soon 😦 Sending good thoughts your way. It's funny that you should mention wondering what's lost in the translation because I was wondering the same thing. I'm reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami right now (and loving it by the way!) and there are so many scenes that I'm convince that while they remain beautifully written are different from their natural form. There's English slang thrown in and little things like that and I wonder how much different it would be to read it in the Japanese with Japanese slang! and Japanese references that we couldn't possibly know. But alas, I'm too lazy to learn Japanese, so I settle for this. It's still a wonderful story!


  5. Bellezza -Thanks for the hug – it's always appreciated. As for the siblings, I actually have three sisters and two brothers but I'm only close to the one. My brothers and I have nothing in common and the other two sisters live very different lives. Which is fine. I wouldn't trade my relationship with my sister and her kids for anything.My review of Snow Country is up and I've moved on to The Woman in The Dunes, which is proving to be vastly different. cjh


  6. I loved that book–I have read it a few times. I lost both my parents –one when I was in Jr. High and one as I started high school. I was sent a few thousand miles away to live with an old eccentric aunt. So I guess I understood the loss part in a more casual way perhaps–it isn't something you dwell on, otherwise you don't move forward–and a young girl always wants to be moving forward. I liked the characters very much– I also wonder what was lost in translation.


  7. ps I hope that rash isnt shingles– if it is giving you headaches and pain go back to the doctor. oh and by casual, I didn't mean that I didn;t grieve–I still miss my folks as they were wonderful people– I have many great loving memories altho people often say you can't have many memories when it happened so young– ah but you do–because at age 15 & 16 you have been with your parents every day, under the same roof, and have depended on them for everything. to have them suddenly gone-is shocking.


  8. This books sounds really good. It looks as if I'll be reading a few Japanese books even after the challenge is over. Hope the rash clears up soon. I have been meaning to tell you that it appears that my daughter and your son share the same birthdate, December 7th.


  9. Oh dear! I hope your rash clears up soon! I'm so glad you enjoyed Kitchen. I really need to read something else by her. I always wonder what's been lost in translation too. I guess we'll just have to settle for our English translations though.


  10. What a difference a day makes! I've been buried at school with mountains of presents (you know you have too many when the sight of chocolate almost makes you ill rather than ravenous), and the doctor's office. Apparently, the first dermatologist prescribed the wrong cream which only inflamed my cheek…oops. That's why my father says doctors are licensed to PRACTICE medicine: they practice on you.Anyway. Thanks for all the well wishes, everybody. Plus, it's been exciting to read some of your reviews for the Japanese Literature Challenge. This weekend I plan on writing a post with an update on what everyone's been doing. Until then, happy Friday night!


  11. I have never even heard of this book (I seem to be so caught in the anglo-women-authors world of the late 19th and early 20th century). But when I do read wonderful stories by Asian women I am always so moved by their graceful, intelligent, and deeply moving prose. I will certainly add this title to my list.Merry, Merry Christmas to you … I am so glad to have found your blog this year!


  12. Thank you for writing your review of Kitchen. I am glad that you are feeling better. I tried to read this 10+ years ago, but the story made me so unhappy that I never finished it. Now perhaps I will!


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