Kitchen juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love and tragedy in contemporary Japan. It is a startlingly original first work by Japan's brightest young literary star and is now a cult film. When Kitchen was first published in Japan in 1987 it won two of Japan's most prestigious literary prizes, climbed its way to the top of the bestseller lists, then remained there for over a year and sold millions of copies. Banana Yoshimoto was hailed as a young writer of great talent and great passion whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of modern literature, and has been described as 'the voice of young Japan' by the Independent on Sunday.
I wanted to like this book. The characters were compelling and likable. The emotions expressed were described accurately and poignantly.
I wanted to like this book, but alas, I grew weary and it felt like the newly fallen snow became gray and slushy.
Quotes: “My family had steadily decreased one by one as the years went by, but when it suddenly dawned on me that I was alone, everything before my eyes seemed to false.” “I just drifted, listless.”
“But if a person hasn’t ever experienced true despair, she grows old never knowing how to evaluate where she is in life, never understanding what joy really is”.
I liked the use of kitchen as a place to feel comfort and the preparation of food and sharing of food as giving meaning to life.
Banana Yoshimoto made me cry on my birthday. She made me think of my past year, and she made me think of you, too.
It wasn't my intention, really, to read Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow on the night of my birthday; in fact, it wasn't my intention to read Yoshimoto anytime soon at all. I was still sorely amused by her fruity first name to take her book seriously (this coming from someone who lives in a country where Apple is a fairly common name).
But there I was, bored on my 21st, eyeing my shelf for a quick enough read for the night, and so I pulled out her slim little book, plopped myself down on the couch with a bag of chips and a glass of soda, and read until the wee hours of the night.
By two in the morning I was holding back sobs and wiping my nose, wanting so much to go about the house with arms flailing because, goddamnit, how can I think of you on a special night like this?
And why, oh why, did I read two such bittersweet novellas on a supposedly happy night?
"When I'm dead worn out, in a reverie, I often think that when it comes to die, I want to breathe my last in a kitchen," says Mikage, whose only remaining blood relative, her grandmother, dies and leaves her completely alone. Then she meets Yuichi, a boy her age who was very close to her grandmother, and who invites Mikage to live with him and his charming - albeit unusual - mother, Eriko. The relationship of these three people is the story of Kitchen - a story of love and loss and of moving on.
"Maybe all I had been hoping for was a bed in which to be able to stop thinking, just for a little while, about what happened before and what would happen in the future," and I knew then and there that this book was in some way speaking to me; that I would love this character Mikage because she was speaking my language; that she was me, and I was her, and that at one point in my life I have said, or I've been meaning to say, the same things. "From the bottom of my heart, I wanted to give up; I wanted to give up on living. There was no denying that tomorrow would come, and the day after tomorrow, and so next week, too. I never thought it would be this hard, but I would go on living in the midst of a gloomy depression, and that made me feel sick to the depths of my soul."
I saw how apt the whole thing was; I saw how all this was already laid out before me, that this was gift of sorts from some great entity I barely knew. Because this was the story of my past year, only of a varied kind, and that sitting on the couch reading this book was in truth a kind of retrospection of my life, and that lo, here was my 20th year written down for me in someone else's words so that I may grasp it more fully and take something from the experience of it all. Granted, I did not have someone die on me, unlike Mikage, but I knew the feeling of a loss so great it consumed me for the past year and dug a hole in my person, a void that I thought would always and forever be gaping and which scared the shit out of me because it felt that nothing and no one could save me from it. "There are many days when all the awful things that happen make you sick at heart, when the path before you is so steep you can't bear to look. Not even love can rescue a person from that." So true, so true.
And then there was Satsuki, who in Moonlight Shadow experienced a loss of a different kind - the death of a lover, Hitoshi, who died in a car accident. How do you deal with that, an instant parting without a chance to say goodbye? And it is here that I remember you, and I am thrown back into the past full of uncertainty and regret mingled with blissful happiness and the need to make things work, how it all ended without a good enough explanation and an incomplete resolution. What then? "All I wanted was to get through this as quickly as possible, to see the day when memories would be just memories. But the more I wanted that, the further away it seemed. Thinking of the future only made me shudder." Thinking of the future only reminded me of how you're not a part of it anymore.
"The times of great happiness and great sorrow were too intense; it was impossible to reconcile them with the routine of daily life," and so I got rid of the routine altogether, wallowed in self-pity and abused the bed. But, "After my painful, fitful sleep, whether or not I had been able to see him, on awakening I would know it had been only a dream - in reality I would never be with him again. And so I tried not to wake up."
Had I known that such a small book could contain so much beauty and power in a thousand strings of words, I'd have done two things, depending on my state: on one hand, I would have run away, delayed reading this for as long as possible, because to read a story not unlike mine, not unlike ours, unfold before my eyes, teeming with lines that pierced straight through the heart - it was both beautiful and lovely that it was sad to see it pass. But I didn't run away; I held my ground. And amidst the small pangs of hurt I found solace in two stories that spoke of moving on. "People aren't overcome by situations or outside forces; defeat invades from within, I thought," and again I realized yes, this is true. "In this world, there is no place for sadness. No place; not one."
If I could take hold of time and wind it back like a clock, I think I would have given you this book on the night I flew away and told you to read it, goddamnit, because it is everything I have failed and will never be brave enough to tell you, and if fate were a person I'd have hoped he'd handed this to me one day and told me to read it, because it would prepare me for everything that's headed my way. But now I know better, now I know that was and never will be the case. "I realized that the world did not exist for my benefit. It followed that ratio of pleasant and unpleasant things around me would not change. It wasn't up to me. It was clear that the best thing to do was to adopt a sort of muddled cheerfulness." Ah, there it is, a word to describe my state - muddled cheerfulness. Muddled, yes, but cheerful all the same.
Sigh. If there was only one thing to be thankful for on my 21st, it would be that for some reason I chose Yoshimoto's Kitchen among the handful of books on my shelf. It was meant to be - I just know it.
PS. "Parting and death are both terribly painful. But to keep nursing the memory of a love so great you can't believe you'll ever love again is a useless drain on a woman's energies."
PPS. The best line I've read in a book, ever: "Believe in the me that you knew."
PPPS. I climbed a window ledge for you on your birthday, too. You never knew, of course. You never knew.
Originally posted here.
The book deals with death. Yes, quite a heavy topic for light reading, and that might be part of its problem. It would seem that the topic would automatically "deepen" the novel... I liked the first part of the book the best (the actual kitchen novella), and I felt a certain connection to Eriko (the transvestite), Yuichi (the son) and Mikage (the narrator), and I found myself cheering for the budding love between Mikage and Yuichi.
However, the language and the "depth" of the book seemed superficial at best. It is saturated with clichees (the phrase "I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off" is used as an actual description). It seemed to be written in a way that a self-absorbant 20-something would talk. But does it reflect the original writing or did it get a bit lost in translation????
I was touched by the ending of the story Moonlight Shadow.
It was a fine way to spend an evening, but this probably won’t be a book I come back to.
I didn’t quite get to Kitchen for the Japanese Challenge, but I’m still glad I read it shortly afterwards. I liked the book, but I didn’t love it.
Food and kitchens play a central role int he book, but it’s essentially about two people finding their way through the grief process. Mikage has recently lost her grandmother, whom she lived with, and her friend Yoichi and his mother Eriko take her in. Yoichi ends up losing someone close to him as well, and the bond between the two of them becomes even closer.
Note: This book has been added as one of the new titles in the latest edition of the 1001 list.
1988, 1993 for the English translation; 105 pp.
First Mikage's grandmother dies. Now she is all alone in the world. Fortunately Yuichi, who cared about Mikage's grandmother too, asks her to stay with him and his mother in their apartment. Mikage accepts and finds herself a new family and a new home with a good kitchen. This is most important as kitchens are the most comfortable places for her.
In the second part Yuichi becomes an orphan, too. He is loosing himself and Mikage is one of a few to understand his misery. She understands that the only chance to save him and herself can be found in them being together.
The third part is a story called Moonlight Shadow. Again it is about the sudden loss of a beloved one and the way the bereaved have to deal with that loss. It was in fact Yoshimoto's first piece of writing and delivers already many themes which later are parts of Kitchen, like death, the exuberance of emotions and mysterious twists in the plot, like when Mikage decides to visit Yuichi in his hotel and intentionally knocks on the right window without really knowing which room belongs to him.
Yoshimoto's stories are sad ones. But she uses language and style to make it easier to endure. Her protagonists are young and lusting for life as well as anxious for it. The process of the stories do not always follow logic, like the panels in comic books. I think this is not so much important for the progress of the story but much more for the psychological background of the characters, which is intentionally not described any further.
In an after-word the author states that she has to say things and will continue to write novels until this need is satisfied. Great - I think to myself. I look forward to read Goodbye Tsugumi.
From the very first paragraph of the first story, even the very first sentence, the narrator Mikage speaks of her love of the kitchen. Throughout the rest of the story, she always returns to the kitchen, always relishes in its familiarity and comforts in its order. I found this story to be very easy to relate to, except for being taken in by near-strangers, as that hasn't happened to me before, but a lot of Mikage's feelings and observational comments on life, death, and love reverberated in my brain as I read them. And because I felt as if I could connect so much with what this main character said and felt, I began to interpret her feelings through my own. I think food is very important to happiness – we've all had bad days where we envisioned something tasty we've been saving in the fridge, telling ourselves, “I'll be all right if I can just eat that when I get home.” The act of cooking also brings people together, whether someone is cooking for someone else or if people are cooking something together. I've always thought food is very closely connected to love. When people go on dates, they very often go out to eat food together, and after a new couple has been dating a short while, they both begin to gain weight.
In the second story, "Moonlight Shadow," Satsuki mourns the death of her boyfriend Hitoshi, and meets a woman filled with vague, mysterious promises. Food also plays a healing role here, although brief. A vivid idea of pain and grief is presented again in this story. I don't know how much more I can talk about this second story without giving away anything that happens, so I'm going to leave it there.
I would recommend this book to anyone experiencing grief or anyone interested in a couple of unique romance stories. Or if you're just interested in something new, check it out.
The first is the best, sadness and joy are perfectly mixed and the characters are just zany enough to be fun and endearing without being annoying. It's a great love story with a joyful open end romance mixing reality with storybook cutenessand is a pleasure to read. In fact you feel it could be much longer.
The second has light touch of magic to aid the grieving process but sadly not a very interesting one and it's peripheral characters do stray too far into oddball territory. Not bad but not great and takes the score down.
The second novella, Moonlight Shadow, contrasted the reactions of Satsuki and Hiirage who both lost loved ones in a tragic accident. Satsuki deals with the loss of her beloved Hitoshi by eating less and less and jogging more and more. Hiirage copes with his double loss--his brother Hitoshi and his girlfriend Yumiko--by wearing Yumiko's old school uniform. Their attempts to console each other are awkward yet touching. As the novella built toward a promised surprise ending, I ached for them to find happiness as well.