Kitchen is the title of a novella by Mahoko (“Banana”) Yoshimoto, and it is also the name of the book containing that novella along with the novella Moonlight Shadow. When the book was published in Japan in 1988, it was an immediate success, propelling its author to a superstar status in the literary world that she has managed to maintain since then, due in part to her tremendous output, averaging a book a year. With the English release of Kitchen in 1992, her U.S. publisher gambled a fortune on pre-publication publicity, having posters of the author plastered on walls in major American cities. The book went on to be a major best-seller and “Banana-mania” eventually spread across the globe. Yoshimoto’s fans tend to be fanatical in their ardor, exchanging testimonials and gossip about the author on the Internet and anxiously speculating about which novel will be the next one translated into their own language.
In the novella Kitchen, the elements of a typical Banana Yoshimoto work can be found. Death, the occult, sexual ambiguity, love, physical beauty, and the trials and tribulations of young adults living in the big city are themes that present themselves, to varying degrees, in most of her works of fiction. It is Yoshimoto’s penchant for exploring the same territory time and again, along with her self-professed goal of providing an upbeat ending, that lead to criticism of her work as derivative and saccharine. Yet it is plain to see, from the wide range of her readership and the intensity of their devotion, that Banana Yoshimoto is a writer who has earned respect and serious consideration.
Section 1: Kitchen
The first half of the story starts with Mikage’s praise for kitchens of all kinds, clean or dirty, large or small. This becomes a description of her situation: with the death of her grandmother “the other day,” Mikage is alone in the world. That situation, however, lasts only briefly, for the first plot twist appears a few pages into the novella, with the appearance of Yuichi Tanabe at her front door. Mikage does not know Yuichi, but she remembers having seen him at her grandmother’s funeral, and she later remembers her grandmother having mentioned him as the nice boy who worked in the flower shop she went to every day. “I just stopped by to ask you something,” he explains. “I was talking to my mother, and we were thinking that you ought to come to our house for a while.” Mikage agrees to come for supper that night, and while she is there she falls in love with their kitchen and becomes fascinated with Yuichi’s mother, Eriko, who was his father before having a sex-change operation. “Dumbfounded, I couldn’t take my eyes off her,” she says of their first meeting, before knowing of Eriko’s male past. She finds that she sleeps well on the sofa, which is next to the kitchen, and the next day when Eriko asks her to come and live in the apartment with her and Yuichi, Mikage accepts.
Once, while removing things from her old apartment, she receives a phone call from Sotaro, her old boyfriend. When they meet, he says that he knows she is living with “that Tanabe guy,” that everyone knows it at the school she has dropped out of, that Yuichi’s girlfriend slapped him during a loud, jealous argument in the cafeteria. Mikage does not think that it is the big deal that the others do, and when she later asks Yuichi if he doesn’t think her living there is “a little weird,” he assures her it’s not.
Mikage has a dream that is recounted in detail, about her and Yuichi cleaning her old apartment as a final step for her leaving it. In the dream, they sing a love song together, and then Yuichi, who “was suddenly revealed to be a prince,” says, “After we finish cleaning up here, I really feel like stopping at the ramen noodle stand in the park.” Waking from the dream, Mikage goes into the kitchen and runs into Yuichi, who woke in the night with a hunger for ramen noodles. He correctly guesses the...
(The entire section is 1,299 words.)