Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto


Although I had reservations about the previous book I read by Banana Yoshimoto, I wanted to try this one, her most well-known and loved. The main character, Mikage, begins by telling us how much she loves kitchens of all types. She is happy when she is in one and in her grief at losing her grandmother, she can only sleep in the kitchen.

Her grandmother, along with her grandfather, had raised her after her parents died when she was young. She was feeling very alone when a young man she knew slightly because he knew her grandmother as a customer in the flowershop where he worked visited her. He came to tell her that he and his transgender mother Eriko thought she should come and stay with them for a while.

Mikage was able to recover from her great loss with the help of their kindness and after six months had moved out and was employed as an assistant to a talented and well-known culinary teacher. She speculated on why she, rather than more qualified candidates, had gotten the job. After meeting the other candidates, she believed it was because they had grown up with loving parents and were “living a life untouched as much as possible by the knowledge that we are really, all of us, alone.” Her grief had created a willingness to take chances to find real joy.

She hears then from Yuichi that his mother Eriko was murdered by a man who had become obsessed with her beauty and hated her for being transgender. Yuichi had been described as not interested in relationships and a cold fish despite his tears at the funeral of Mikage’s grandmother and the great sadness at the death of his mother. You might be able to predict the turn the story of these two grieving young people takes. Food continues to be central and the kindly personal long distance delivery of katsudon (comfort food) that Mikage takes to Yuichi was an important step.

This novella was accompanied by a short story “Moonlight Shadow,” also about people who are grieving. Satsuki’s boyfriend died in a crash that also killed the girlfriend of his high school age brother Hiragi. Satsuki and Hiragi share their grief though Satsuki is uncomfortable with Hiragi’s choice to wear his late girlfriend’s school uniform. She recognizes that he lost both his brother and his girlfriend.

Satsuki is told about an event that only occurs every 100 years and only under certain circumstances; the dimensions of time and space shift and as long as she stays silent, she can see and hear her late boyfriend. A few days later when she took a birthday present to her boyfriend’s brother, she notes he was dressed normally. He told her that his girlfriend had appeared in his room, took the school uniform, and left. Satsuki concludes he had experienced this event too and was comforted by it.

So, how do I compare this pair of stories to The Premonition? By comparison Kitchen‘s two plots and message are focused and clear and the language less enigmatic. The characters are unusual, in particular the transgender mother (former father) of Yuichi, and were clearly drawn and had appeal. The important characters are formed by the grief in their lives. I think my curiosity about this author is sated.

Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen, Grove Press, 2006 (originally published in 1988), 160 pages. I listened to the audiobook. The public library has a different edition that does not include “Moonlight Shadow.”



  • I enjoyed reading this Charlotte, because it’s a long time since I read the novel. I can barely remember it. I’ve read a couple of Yoshimoto’s books since, thought just one on my blog. I enjoy her writing, but then again I love reading Japanese literature.

    (BTW, my favourite Japanese comfort food would be oyakodon!)

    • It is pleasant to be reminded of books one read long ago. Yet another reason to follow book blogs. Japanese literature is not a special interest of mine, but I am always looking for a book I love as much as Convenience Store Woman.

      I looked up a recipe for oyakodon and that does look comforting!

      Thanks for your comment.


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