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Banana Yoshimoto's novels have made her a sensation in Japan and all over the world, and Kitchen, the dazzling English-language debut that is still her best-loved book, is an enchantingly original and deeply affecting book about mothers, love, tragedy, and the power of the kitchen and home in the lives of a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan. Mikage, the heroine of Kitchen, is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, she is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who was once his father), Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale that recalls early Marguerite Duras. Kitchen and its companion story, "Moonlight Shadow," are elegant tales whose seeming simplicity is the ruse of a writer whose voice echoes in the mind and the soul.

160 pages, Paperback

First published January 30, 1988

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About the author

Banana Yoshimoto

166 books6,546 followers
Banana Yoshimoto (よしもと ばなな or 吉本 ばなな) is the pen name of Mahoko Yoshimoto (吉本 真秀子), a Japanese contemporary writer. She writes her name in hiragana. (See also 吉本芭娜娜 (Chinese).)

Along with having a famous father, poet Takaaki Yoshimoto, Banana's sister, Haruno Yoiko, is a well-known cartoonist in Japan. Growing up in a liberal family, she learned the value of independence from a young age.

She graduated from Nihon University's Art College, majoring in Literature. During that time, she took the pseudonym "Banana" after her love of banana flowers, a name she recognizes as both "cute" and "purposefully androgynous."

Despite her success, Yoshimoto remains a down-to-earth and obscure figure. Whenever she appears in public she eschews make-up and dresses simply. She keeps her personal life guarded, and reveals little about her certified Rolfing practitioner, Hiroyoshi Tahata and son (born in 2003). Instead, she talks about her writing. Each day she takes half an hour to write at her computer, and she says, "I tend to feel guilty because I write these stories almost for fun."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 8,080 reviews
Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,521 followers
January 12, 2015
There's something about Japanese writers. They have the unparalleled ability of transforming an extremely ordinary scene from our everyday mundane lives into something magical and other-worldly. A man walking along a river-bank on a misty April morning may appear to our senses as an ethereal being, barely human, on the path to deliverance and self-discovery.
There's something deeply melancholic yet powerfully meaningful about the beautiful vignettes they beget. Few other writers are capable of creating such exquisite surrealistic imagery as the Japanese writers.

Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto, is no exception to this cherished convention.
Revolving around the theme of dealing with loss, Kitchen focuses on two young women as protagonists and their perceptions of life and death.
It tells us about how recurring personal tragedies shape and reshape our views on life and death, the kind of catharsis we wish for and the mechanisms we often end up resorting to, in order to keep our personal grief from spilling over into the realm of our everyday reality.
Kitchen is definitely not the most ingeniously narrated tale ever. Rather it suffers from the monotony of brief, simple sentences that may not sit well with some readers who love eloquence.
But this simplistic mode of narration helps it stay true to its original intention, that of recounting the story of ordinary people doing ordinary things yet coming to unexpectedly profound realizations about the great quandary of life.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,079 reviews6,891 followers
June 1, 2017
Can cooking help you cope with the despondency you feel from loss? I’m not talking about wolfing down garlic mashed potatoes from a pan; I’m talking about a multi-course gourmet meal that you are willing to toss out if it’s not perfect and start all over again. That’s the theme of Kitchen. Our main character is a twentyish-woman who lost her father at an early age and then her mother. She went to live with grandparents but her grandfather died, and then her grandmother, and now she has no living relatives.

She turns to her kitchen. But she is also invited to live with the family of a young man she has known since childhood. Now here’s a modern family: just two people, the young man and his mother. But did I tell you his father is his mother? Or, to phrase that more correctly, his mother is his father? It’s a transgender situation. The two young people are drawn to each other but then he is hit by loss. They grapple with trying to help each other, maybe love each other, or maybe just pity each other, and try to stop each other from jumping over the edge.


This very short novel has a short story appended at the end: Moonlight Shadow. This story, also about loss, and it could be the same woman, takes us into magical realism. Maybe they do come back, at least to tell you they’re ok.

I found the two stories very moving and fascinating to read. Translated from the Japanese.

Photo: Model of a Japanese kitchen, ca. 1880, from peabody.harvard.edu
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,106 reviews3,877 followers
February 8, 2021
Important Note: When I read this in 2015, I took GR's publication date of 2001 at face value. However, it was first published in Japanese in 1988. Had I realised it was so long ago, I would have read it as a historical piece and not been distracted and annoyed by the portrayal of trans characters which was probably daringly progressive back then. Nevertheless, this review stands as my experience of reading the book, though I'm uprating to 2*.

"People aren't overcome by situations or outside forces; defeat invades from within."

I didn't like this book. It comprises a novella (Kitchen) and short story (Moonlight Shadow), but I'm not sure how much is the book's fault, and how much can be attributed to being set in an unfamiliar culture (Japanese teens/twenties), possibly bad translation, and that although the atmosphere is contemporary, it was actually written and set nearly 30 years ago.

I was expecting lyrical language, and quirky insights into Japanese attitudes to death and LGBTQ issues. I was sadly disappointed, but kept going because it was short and because I gave up part way through my previous book (something I rarely do).

Language: Teens and Translation

The weaknesses here made me sad. Both stories are narrated by a (different) young woman. The language is often simple, but rather than the spare beauty I vaguely associate with Japanese and Chinese writing, it's mostly just banal and awkward. That may be how angst-ridden, love-up, bereaved Japanese YAs really speak (or spoke, 30 years ago) or it may be the translation, but the result is the same.

After a particularly egregious section of stilted psychobabble, one character says, "What kind of talk is that? Sounds like it was translated from English." I guess the author is aware of how clunky it is. Odd.

"It's amazing how good this is," I said.
"Isn't it," said Hiiraji.
"Yes, it's delicious. So delicious it makes me grateful I'm alive," I said.

Another: "Why do I love everything that has to do with kitchens so much?... a kitchen represents some distant longing engraved on my soul." Does anyone think like that? (And it doesn't answer the question anyway.)

Metaphors must be hard to translate, but this one is so mixed up, I grudgingly admire it: "The two of us, alone, were flowing down that river of light, suspended in the cosmic darkness, and were approaching a critical juncture."

Maybe YAs would relate to the characters better than I did (I have no idea), but I'd be reluctant to recommend it to them because of the next problem...

Transgender is not Transvestite

The weaknesses here made me cross. Anyone concerned with LGBTQ issues (especially trans ones) may feel the urge to throw this book at the wall. One has to remember it's a different culture, a generation ago, but the trouble is, it doesn't feel like a historical novel.

One young man takes to wearing his dead girlfriend's sailor-suit school uniform. He finds that comforting (and no one would think it odd for a girl to wear a boyfriend's jumper); a female friend is "mortified" to be seen with him, but other girls find it attractive because they assume it means he understands women. Not exactly enlightened views, but plausible, perhaps. However, they're not challenged, which tacitly condones them.

Worse, is the trans character. She's much loved and sympathetically portrayed, but the terminology is muddled and descriptions would raise eyebrows and hackles nowadays. Early on, she is described as having "had everything 'done', from her face to her whatever", but she is often referred to as "really" being a man or a transvestite. Then it turns out that it was only when her wife died that she realised "I didn't like being a man... It became clear that the best thing to do was to adopt a sort of muddled cheerfulness. So I became a woman." Really?! Just like that? To be cheerfully muddled?!

Finding Solace after Bereavement

The sudden death of loved ones is a unifying aspect of both stories. They all find awkward support from each other, and one finds solace in kitchens and food, another in jogging (and the river that had divided them, been their meeting place, and was ultimately where they were separated for ever).

"I felt that I was the only person alive and moving in a world brought to a stop. Houses always feel like that after someone has died."

If I had lost a parent, partner or child, maybe I'd have been more engaged with this book, but I suspect my experience would be so different as to be barely comparable. I'm grateful that I'm not in the position to compare.

Still, this helpfully explains that losing a partner is even worse than losing a dog or a bird! So I've learned something.


There were glimpses of something deeper. When overtly self-analytical, I don't think they worked, but some were genuinely poignant and thought-provoking.

Mikage was an orphan, raised by her grandmother: "I was always aware that my family consisted of only one other person. The space that cannot be filled, no matter how cheerfully a child and an old person live together - the deathly silence that, panting in the corner of the room, pushes its way in like a shudder." (The punctuation is a little odd, though.)

Reality, Magical Realism, Dreams

Both stories have a dash of this. In the first, it's a dream that might be a premonition; in the second, there's an ethereal character who (maybe) shows another character a little gap in time.


* "Far off in the pale sky, thin clouds gently flowed, suspended."

* "It was the kind of frozen morning in which mood shadows seem to be pasted on the sky."

* "She was someone whose face told you nothing."

* "The little girl, whose face epitomized 'grandchild'."

* "Her power was the brilliance of her charm" which "condemned her to an ice-cold loneliness."

* "The sound of raindrops began to fall in the transparent stillness of the evening."

* Traditional housewives "had been taught, probably by caring parents, not to exceed the boundaries of their happiness".

* "On the deserted bridge, with the city misted over by the blue haze of dawn, my eyes absently followed the white embankment that continued on to who knows where. I rested, enveloped by the sound of the current."

* "I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die. Without that, I am not alive." Hmmm.
Profile Image for Brina.
887 reviews4 followers
April 6, 2017
Kitchen and its accompanying story Moonlight Shadow comprise the first novella by award winning Japanese novelist Banana Yoshimoto. Both stories are told through the eyes of young women grieving following the death of a loved one, and deal with how that death plays a profound role in relationships going forward. Told in straight forward prose leaving nothing to chance, Yoshimoto tells two elegant stories.

In Kitchen, Mikage Sakurai had just lost her grandmother, the last person in her family to pass away. Alone in the world and unable to cope with her university schedule, Mikage falls into a bleak existence. One day, a classmate named Yuichi Tanabe invites her to live with him and his mother in their apartment because Mikage's grandmother had a profound effect on him. Although reluctant to accept the kindness, Mikage agrees and the Tanabe's couch becomes her new home.

Mikage becomes rooted in the kitchen. It becomes her compass by which she compares all homes that she has ever entered. Upon arriving, she takes over cooking for Yuichi and his mother Eriko, a transvestite who runs an all night club. Both lead busy lives and emit positive energy, encouraging Mikage to engage in her newfound passion of cooking. The three make up a new family unit until Mikage can recover from all the death around her.

Months pass and Eriko is murdered at her club. The tables turn and Mikage helps Yuichi cope with his loss. Their relationship continues to center around food, and Yoshimoto paints a vivid picture of their life with her description of food and colors as well as Mikage's dreams that determine which life path that she should take. Although both Mikage and Yuichi appear to have bleak existences, their story ends with the reader feeling hopeful that they have finally turned the corner.

These dreams segue to Yoshimoto's second story, Moonlight Shadow. Satsuki is only twenty years old when her boyfriend of four years Hitoshi passes away in a tragic accident. Unable to cope, she turns to jogging in order to push away sad thoughts. Hitoshi's brother Hiirage who is also coping with the death in his own way attempts to pull Satsuki out of her destitute life, yet to no avail. Eventually a stranger named Urara appears and tells Satsuki of a phenomenon that could end her pain at once. This leads to a denouement in which Yoshimoto gives Satsuki hope for her future.

Banana Yoshimoto has been a leading Japanese novelist for the past thirty years. Her first two stories contrast the pain of death for the living with their hope for a brighter future. Using luscious imagery of food and dreams, Yoshimoto creates vivid scenes in which the living should be happy to be alive. These two stories compliment each other perfectly and rate 4 bright stars.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 12 books1,268 followers
July 9, 2007
Oh, let's face it; I love everything Banana Yoshimoto's ever written! But that said, she's not for everyone; she's a minimalist storyteller, at least in my opinion, able to turn the emotional state of the right reader with the flick of just one beautiful perfect phrase, but only if you're ready to catch that beautiful perfect phrase and appreciate it for what it is. Give up on this review yet? Then you shouldn't be reading Yoshimoto! Actually consisting of two novellas, Kitchen (named after the better of the two) is the story of 1990s urban life in Japan, full of quirky postmodern characters right at the beginning of an age where the Web let everyone on the planet understand that. If you liked the movie "Amelie," you'll love the sparse, haunting story of a hurt woman being told here, who slowly learns to trust the world again through the relative warmth of urban kitchens; like I said, the finale can be heartbreaking if you let it. Oh, just read any of Yoshimoto's books, seriously!
Profile Image for Jr Bacdayan.
211 reviews1,657 followers
October 16, 2016
This is a book on healing, a lovely look at the hurting human heart and its captivating reflection. Convalescence has never been so beautiful. One has to admit that the theme of loss in literature has been one of the most exploited and has been done so masterfully by the best. But never have I encountered one on recovery where it has been handled as exquisitely.

“Everyone we love is dying. Still, to cease living is unacceptable.”

When you lose someone, a void is created. You seek to fill that hole inside you. Stability is what you desire, because your once solid world of certainties has crumbled. And so we latch onto the most basic things and habits. Constant things we know that will never leave and never fail us: a kitchen, cooking, the road, running, clothing, videos, pictures, songs, books. You lean on that, get strength from the habit till you are strong enough to gamble on more uncertain things.

Hurt is ice. It melts; it turns to water that evaporates into thin air. But ice takes time to melt, tear by tear. There is nothing you can do but wait, and so you do. Until the time when the coldness is gone and you sigh and inhale the air that was once pain.

“In a downpour of blessings, I prayed, as though it were a hymn: Let me become stronger.”

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is divided into two stories of love, loss, and hope. It’s one of the most breath-taking pieces of literature I’ve read. The stories’ elegant simplicity feels like a breeze of cold air that can hurt, numb, and refresh. There’s also an element in the writing that feels almost evanescent, a certain transparency that is pure honesty. I wasn’t instantly spell-binded as you might think. It took a while, but when it did, it felt right. Everything was perfectly clear, like looking into a small pond seeing your own reflection and washing your face with its cold clear water.

I really needed this. Oftentimes we read books, they touch us and we cry but after a few hours it’s completely out of mind. Sometimes though, just sometimes we encounter a book that touches us so directly that it isn’t readily manifested by external emotions. This book is one of those. I didn’t cry, but I suffered. The last paragraph is nothing but one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. It stirred something inside me and after reading I felt a deep tranquility. I felt at peace. It seemed like a heavy burden was lifted from me and after, a delicious calm radiated through me. It still does.

I feel light. I feel like flying, soaring.

The worst is yet to come, but I feel hope.
Profile Image for Jaidee .
572 reviews1,071 followers
November 27, 2022
2 " quirky, lazy, sloppy" stars !!@

I wanted to like this book very much. In the end, I couldn't !!

Poor writing, incongruent character psychologies and inane dialogue took any enjoyment away from a rather sweet melancholy love story.

Another little novella was included in this volume (Moonlight Shadow). I do not have the patience nor the stamina to read it.

Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,179 reviews9,232 followers
July 6, 2014
I did a quick audit of my Japanese cultural input and came up with the following :


Tokyo Story – beautiful acknowledged masterpiece
Nobody Knows – great indy
Kikujiro – worth watching
Love Exposure – quite insane, probably brilliant, unmissable, but you should be warned that it’s quite insane
Visitor Q – er, probably avoid this one! Really gross.
Seven Samurai – may be the greatest film ever, if there is such a thing


Babel – brilliant film, but the Tokyo part is strange & uncomfortable
Lost in Translation – what planet was everyone else on? This was a snoozefest. If you haven’t seen it, count yourself fortunate


In the Miso Soup – Ryu Murakami – yeah, I liked this
A Personal matter – Oe – yeah, I HATED this
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by the other Marukami guy – I LOVED this because it was so easy to parody and gave me my top scoring review (While I was reading it was a different story)


Absolutely NOTHING

And now to add to this very small Japanese input, Kitchen, a tender sprig of a novel. It was kind of goofy, kind of nice, kind of weirdly translated. Kind of sad. Had a transgendered person and a transvestite. Had a lot of food. If I write any more of this review it’ll be longer than the novel. But basically, I need more Japanese stuff. Recommendations welcome.
Profile Image for TK421.
554 reviews257 followers
March 15, 2013
One of the many things I love about goodreads is that a person is able to see what other “friends” think about a novel before committing oneself to reading it. I would have never read KITCHEN had I not seen that Mariel, Oriana, and Jason Pettus, three of my friends, all thought highly of this slim book.

But, even with the high ratings of these three “friends”, I still had to find out information about Banana Yoshimoto, the author. So I went to Wikipedia (obviously, where else would I go?) and read about her accomplishments and many literary awards in her home country of Japan. It seemed there was a phase lovingly referred to as Bananamania both in the US and in Japan. Then, just as I had decided that perhaps this book was not worth moving to the top of my TBR pile, I saw that Yoshimoto had outspokenly said that she aims to win the Nobel Prize in literature. (I loved this bravado!) Most critics don’t see this as happening, saying she is a “lightweight.” Well, I put what the critics had to say aside and began reading this novel.

And I have to say I loved the use of a kitchen as a metaphor for life and life’s daily interactions. When you stop to think about it, there are a lot of events that happen in a kitchen over the course of the day. I had never stopped to give this much thought. (In graduate school I did read some essays by a sociologist and anthropologist team that ventured across Europe studying bathrooms as a way to see into a country’s culture.) But if the kitchen metaphor was only a stand-a-lone point of the story, the book would have floundered. So Yoshimoto supplies whatever actions happen in a kitchen (home, apartment, restaurant, even the simple act of eating as communion) with direct language that is sparse, beautiful, and laden with underlying messages. You see, the real question of this novel is: What does love mean to a person when it becomes absent in one’s life?

This is an incredibly difficult question to answer, for both the characters in the story as well as for the reader. In the story, Mikage loses her grandmother and is then invited to stay with Eriko (a transvestite) and her (his) son, Yuichi. For the most part, this piecemeal family goes about its daily interactions as any “normal” family would. That is until tragedy strikes. I won’t spoil what happens, but let’s just say Mikage loses again, along with some other characters. It is at this point that the reader takes on a new role: one of participant. There are several choices that the reader must make: 1) stop reading; 2) allow the events to play out and continue reading; or 3) believe in the tragedy and get lost in the story. I chose number 3. And even though I have no basis of understanding to compare to these characters, I felt their pain, the confusion, the moments of helplessness that teeter precariously on the edge of hopelessness.

Perhaps it would be easy to label this as just a sentimental novel by an overrated novelist—but that may be missing the point. This is a powerful novel if allowed to be read as a powerful novel. It tries to give answers to difficult questions. Sometimes the novel succeeds. Sometimes it fails, even, dare I say, becomes hokey. But all of that can be whitewashed over by the simple notion that this novel achieves what other great novels achieve: the ability to be whatever the reader wants it to be.

I cannot say that Banana Yoshimoto will be a contender for the Nobel Prize, but I can say that she delivers a strong argument for being one of the great writers currently writing today.

Profile Image for s.penkevich.
780 reviews5,388 followers
December 21, 2020
Truly happy memories always live on, shining. Over time, one by one, they come back to life.

Memory winds its way down the back alleys of our lives casting shadow plays in the corridors like moonlight. A tragedy in life is that we don’t always appreciate what we had until we look back on it, seeing diamonds in the rough in even our darkest days. While romancing hard times is problematic, realizing the beauty that hid even then is a wonderful reflection. Personally, my biggest moments of growth came in the worst, saddest, hungriest of times for me, and while I do not miss them or wish them on anyone, I can fondly recognize the beauty that always lurked out of sight. Kitchen, the 1988 novel that made Banana Yoshimoto an international success with the 1993 English translation by Megan Backus, examines hard times and the ways we realize our growth in retrospect, learning the hard truths about life and embracing their difficult realities in order to press on. Overall, Kitchen is an endlessly quotable and charming little book even if a touch of overly sentimental but unfortunately troubling when it comes to the depiction of its trans character, even if she is a beloved and emotional center of the book (more on this later). Still, there is a heart to this story of a young girl learning to become her own person, find her passion and fall in love, all told in some elegant prose.

Again and again I will suffer; again and again I will get back on my feet. I will not be defeated. I won't let my spirit be destroyed.

The one charm about the past is that it is the past,Oscar Wilde said. Removed from us, we can safely access what occurred and learn from it. But the past can still hurt, and often does as the characters in Kitchen discover. Mikage has been orphaned with the loss of her parents at a young age and now her grandparents. She moves in with Yoichi, a boy her age that her grandmother was fond of when seeing him working at the flower shop she frequented, and Yoichi’s mother, Eriko. The three of them form a found-family and live peacefully together, growing and bonding. But it isn’t until looking back that Mikage realizes how much those moments meant to her, especially once Eriko is sadly gone.

While reading this I came across an album review for the new Taylor Swift by Brandon Taylor, author of Real Life that had a line that really resonated with me and this book. He mentions that Swift can ‘ tap into some larger cultural idea of the breakup itself: the misaligned fake admiration of a toxic relationship.’ When discussing the ways we look back on hard times and notice the beauty, it is easy to do this, which in itself is fairly toxic similar to the ways literary fans have had to have the conversation on not romanticizing mental illness. Yoshimoto manages to navigate this well, as Mikage can recognize her moments of growth, the love she felt living with Eriko and Yoichi, miss all these things, but still not romanticize the pain she was suffering both then and in her present. Which is, ultimately, an indication of maturity.

Just when one can't take anymore, one sees the moonlight. Beauty that seems to infuse itself into the heart: I know about that.

The narrative to Kitchen is fairly ingenious in the way that it is told from the before and after of their times together. It leaves all the events to be recounted in the form of memory, so we witness the emotional reckoning with events in hindsight at the same time we learn of them, doubling their emotional impact. This also helps highlight their moments of beauty, and what is more beautiful than identifying moments of growth. ‘I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time,’ wrote Virginia Woolf, ‘it expands later.’ What the characters learn is how sadness and hard times shaped them because they were able to roll with them and keep on keeping on.

I realized that the world did not exist for my benefit,’ Eriko tells Mikage, ‘It followed that the ratio of pleasant and unpleasant things around me would not change. It wasn't up to me.’ Life will always be hard, but finding love and happiness must still go on and we must always get up and keep going.
Why is it we have so little choice? We live like the lowliest worms. Always defeated - defeated we make dinner, we eat, we sleep. Everyone we love is dying. Sill, to cease living is unacceptable.

There is a lightness and glowing charm to a book that deals so heavily in death and loss. Eriko is gone, which leaves a hole in everyone, but Mikage must move on and help people like Yoichi do the same. Eriko will always exist in her memory, and she is safe and perfect there. In a book that deals so much with memory, we are reminded how tragic it is to lose memory. This is why something like Alzheimers is so unbearably sad. When Mikage speaks to Chika, who works at the club Eriko owned, what saddens her most is that Chika says ‘I can’t believe in the gods. We’ll never see dear Eriko again, and I can’t bear it.’ While, sure, the idea in belief in an afterlife means seeing those we loved again, but it also is often implied that in the afterlife we remember our time spent on earth. If Chika can’t believe in the gods, and can’t believe in the afterlife, it would seem Chika may believe in death as finality where all memory of life evaporates. This is tragic to Mikage, though she doesn’t express why, as so much of the beauty in her life is digging up the beauty in memory.

All this said, the handling of Eriko in the book is rather frustrating and almost lead me to abandon it. Eriko is trans, and Yoshimoto seems to constantly remind you ‘she used to be a man’. Which is just uncool. Granted this was 1988 and was probably progressive at the time, though other novels have approached trans identity. If it was just at the beginning I wouldn’t be as bothered, but it is relentless. And this is about the character that is the emotional centerpiece of the novel. Yoichi frequently reminds Mikage of her dead name and the level of passing the women at the club have is remarked upon as if their most defining trait. Granted, the discourse we have now wasn’t around at the time, but it still seems worth mentioning as it will definitely offend some. Eriko being trans is passed off as she simply decided she didn’t want to be a man, which seems to sidestep a lot of emotional aspects that would have fit really well into the novel. While it was nice to see a trans character be openly embraced, the handling left so much to be desired and irked me.

Everyone we love is dying. Still, to cease living is unacceptable.

Kitchen is an emotional roller coaster and an effective coming-of-age novel. It is a book that will likely have few pages without underlining. This is a book about embracing loss, change, and all the hardships that life can throw at you and turning them into something good. Like Mikage’s cooking. In the depths of her sorrows, she was able to mix the ingredients of her life into something lovely, be it food or friendship. Both, it seems, tended to happen in the kitchen for her.


As I grow older, much older, I will experience many things, and I will hit rock bottom again and again. Again and again I will suffer; again and again I will get back on my feet. I will not be defeated. I won't let my spirit be destroyed.
Profile Image for Henk.
822 reviews
March 20, 2023
Like an anime, focussing on feelings of loneliness and loss, and the human spirit that tries to find its way regardless. The last part of the book feels bolted on, but the overall message touched me
Why is it we have so little choice? We live like the lowliest worms. Always defeated - defeated we make dinner, we eat, we sleep. Everyone we love is dying. Sill, to cease living is unacceptable.

A touching book that achieves a lot, in a sometimes magical realistic style, in less than 200 pages.
In the first part of Kitchen an orphan needs to leave her home. She is taken in by a boy and his trans parent, who works in clubs and bars. Loneliness and loss play major parts, and overall I got strong Tokyo Godfather vibes, in the sense that Banana Yoshimoto presents us a story of outcasts bonding together in a rather inhospitable, normative world.
The Japan of the boom era is represented by shopping as therapy, contrasted with the rural rituals in respect to a dead grandmother.
Chosen, constructed families feel warmer than many societal more acceptable constructs. The protagonist gets unhappy at her university and with her former, more conventional boyfriend, while her oddball roommates don't judge her, but support her in overcoming grief.

In this section it struck me how many physical, focussed on attractiveness, comments there are about women, like this is their only value in society. Plastic surgery is already mentioned, while this book is from the 1980's, a premonition of a tidal wave of body dysmorphia and beauty standards yet to come. Also masculinity is investigated by the author, with men not allowed to cry or tell their partners they have cancer.

Two broken people together don’t make a whole necessarily and sometimes the narrative steers into overly sweet territory. Still the katsu don scene is *chefs kiss*, and would work perfectly in an anime.

I don't see clearly how the last third of the novel is connected with the rest of the book?
Food, loneliness and loss serve as recurring themes, showing people the way to a reconnection from their loneliness to their lives. Consumerism makes a return with KFC being the go to staple food when someone is sick. There is a metaphysical event at a river, and magical dreams, that to me again felt very anime.

In this part as at the first section of Kitchen the value of living is questioned and reaffirmed. I found this part less captivating, but Kitchen is a very progressive, interesting, positive and at many times touching work, that deserves a broad readership.

People aren't overcome by situations or outside forces. Defeat comes from within.

Someday, without fail, everyone will disappear, scattered into the blackness of time.

De keuken en ik zijn overgebleven, dat is een wat fijnere gedachte dan dat ik alleen ben.

Ze volgt altijd haar intuïtie, ik vind het fantastisch dat ze ook de kracht heeft dat te realiseren

Telkens als ik met hem had afgesproken gebeurde hetzelfde: dan werd ik verdrietig omdat ik was wie ik was

Hij hield van haar zoals hij van vulpennen hield

Het is pittig om een vrouw te worden, vind je niet?

Weet je, ik houd van mijn leven.

Haar menselijk inzicht neigde flink in een richting die haar goed uitkwam

Tot 1996 werd het in Japan niet verteld tegen de patiënt dat hij of zij kanker had

Ik huilde als man keihard, waardoor ik geen taxi kon nemen

Ze wekte de indruk dat er juwelen schuilen in het hart van de mens

Mensen bezwijken niet onder omstandigheden en krachten van buitenaf, ze worden van binnenuit verslagen, dacht ik uit de grond van mijn hart

Achteraf kan ik zeggen, god is een klootzak

Op de plek waar een geliefde is overleden is de tijd voorgoed tot stilstand gekomen.

Totdat ik op het punt kom dat de herinneringen alleen maar herinneringen zijn

Gebeurtenissen die als dromen aanvoelen

Ik hoop dat al mijn dierbaren gelukkiger zullen worden dan ze nu zijn.

Maar zolang je leeft gaat het leven onverstoorbaar door, en zo erg is dat niet.
Profile Image for Sarah.
414 reviews12 followers
October 24, 2013
This is, hands down, the worst thing I've read in recent years.

Let's start with the translation, because that is largely to blame for my utter disgust. The prose is terrible. Awkward, contradictory, inconsistent, hackneyed and immature. (Apparently not so in the original Japanese which has been hailed as poetic and lyrical. Even given my limited knowledge of Japanese, I can see how this would be the case.) This is what I would expect from an electronic translator, e.g. google-translate and its ilk. Though the work has been proofread appropriately for a work destined for mass distribution, (the only glaring errors are an inability to distinguish between the colon and the semi-colon, and an army of commas deployed across each page splicing at random.) I suspect that it was never edited for content.

There are simple errors in translation that can only result from using a bilingual electronic dictionary that provides a list of approximate synonyms rather than actual definitions. This is something I would expect from someone struggling to write in a second language, but it seems that Megan Backus is a native speaker of English. (I am guessing, though perhaps her first language is neither Japanese nor English?) Her errors are nothing less than sloppy, and the fact that they escaped the editing process is embarrassing. Words like 'suddenly' 'though' 'as if' 'ironically' and 'actually' are dispersed at random. The only attempt to acknowledge the intricate Japanese system of honorific and casual verb forms seems to be the use of swears paired with exclamation marks. Words in Japanese that have more than one possible English meaning are translated not only incorrectly, but inconsistently. (The Japanese '笑' could be 'smile' or 'laugh' in English. Maybe it is not a huge distinction, but when a character 'smiles' at something his friend says and then can't stop shaking it creates the impression of an unbalanced or perhaps epileptic person when, in the original, the character was simply laughing.) Even the friendly Japanese exclamatory 'えええ' has been translated with an inappropriate emotional volume. In response to a ringing phone: “[Mikage] answered it. 'Aaaah!' screamed a high, thin voice. 'Mikage, dear? How have you been?'” This accounts, I suspect, for a huge amount of the inconsistencies in the prose, and for characters that vacillate wildly between contradictory and inappropriate emotions. Japanese is a context dependent language. A translator who can't be bothered to acknowledge multi-sentence discourse is not ready to translate prose. Instead, she has given us characters who emote passionately, overreact wildly, and then are described as cold, hard-to-read, independent and stoic. (or vice versa) The only character that displays a realistic chain of response is the anachronistic potted pineapple (dead years before Mikage even meets the Tanabes, yet somehow still able to arouse in her memories of Eriko.) that blooms in the sun and then withers when over watered. At last. Consistency.

Even worse is Backus' (irresponsible and thoughtless) total reliance on cliché to bridge the gap between languages. When it's not garbled and confusing, it is so purple it practically glows. While Yoshimoto’s description is recognized as fluid and poetic, Backus’ descriptions are like farts in an echo chamber: loud, repetitive, embarrassing and stinky. In the 40 pages of the second story, 'Moonlight Shadow', she describes the morning as 'blue' at least 10 times. (Blue mist, blue light, blue dawn etc.) So mindless are her clichés that on one page hell is a raging inferno, then later it is as cold as a winter's day. People smile and chat while being 'as still as a statue', and private thoughts occur 'straight from the heart'. Even while walking in a cold wind, a character squints his eyes 'as if against a cold wind'. Metaphors are as mixed as mixed-nuts and similes are as stale as stale bread. Imagination has been messily sacrificed on the altar of the cliché and even important cultural images like the moon and the night view are lost, drowned in a sea of 'indigo-coloured' sentimentality, running about 'like a chicken with its head cut off' 'in a raging tempest'. Blah.

Mikage's existential angst mirrors my own upon encountering such prose:
“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. In spite of the tempest raging within me, I walked the night path calmly. I wanted it to end, and quickly...”
(she continues on for another meaty paragraph and then runs up ten flights of stairs in a sort of fugue that is simultaneously gloomy and energetic, whereas I just threw the book across the room in a fit of disgust.)

If this is the much celebrated minimalist prose that won so many awards, I dread the thought of her attempt at detailed long fiction.

So, is Backus solely to blame for this abomination of taste and style? I sadly think that she is not. Characters are systematically schizophrenic, detached, emotionally unreliable and static. Events unfold unevenly, and plot development occurs as an afterthought. Unnecessary details are introduced at random and motivation is left unaccounted for. The effect is jarring and profoundly unlikeable.

From a cultural perspective I was embarrassed to see Japanese people represented uniformly as spoiled, privileged, emotionally isolated and selfish, devoid of effective introspection, and socially cold. The theme of loneliness and isolation comes across as a national character flaw rather than a universal aspect of grief and it makes me uncomfortable on a personal and political level.

Looking at the back cover, I noticed that this book is supposed to be “about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love and tragedy...” It is not. The only mother presented is actually a father (and the only family interaction that the reader witnesses is financial), and the central character's 'tragedy' is the loss of a grandmother to old age. As for transsexuality, the book isn't even about any sexuality in any form. Yoshimoto's prudery is so profound that the closest her characters come to acknowledging sex and desire is a veiled allusion to a 'double bed.' As for the transsexual character Eriko, her transition is presented as an impulsive reaction to the loss of a heterosexual partner. Indeed, in both stories cross-dressing is shown to be the result of a mind damaged by heterosexual heartbreak. There is no acknowledgment of homosexuality and non-stereotypical gender identity and Backus can't even be bothered to distinguish between the terms transsexuality and transvestism. Furthermore, (spoiler) Eriko's murder is only considered a tragedy insofar as it affects her loved ones with a sense of loss. They are all so selfishly self-absorbed [yes.] that they only bother to feel bad about the fact that they miss her, not that her life was sacrificed to a bruised male ego in a scene of sexualized violence and systematic homophobia. (It’s also unclear exactly how she died, as the translation suggests that her attacker was killed when she fought back. What?) That is all taken in stride, even by Eriko who anticipates her murder and, rather than turn to friends or the police for protection, sits down to write her will. She says, “lately I've been feeling that I might be in danger...if people I don't care for are attracted to me, I accept it as the wages of beauty.” Here is a profoundly relevant and pervasive social justice issue that is glossed over and turned into an exotic episode used to colour the barely disguised teenage angst of her main characters. The closest she comes to addressing issues of transphobia and the marginalization of the queer community is when she relates how one of Eriko's employees cried after being harassed on the train, but she quickly explains that this is because she is unusually 'sensitive'. All told, this book does nothing to challenge Japanese beliefs that homosexuality and transexuality are a source of superficial entertainment and it actually enforces norms of homophobia and violence against women.

I couldn't like this book less.
Profile Image for M.  Malmierca.
323 reviews267 followers
December 4, 2021
Siguiendo con mi costumbre de no alejarme demasiado tiempo de la literatura japonesa, elijo Kichen (1988) la ópera prima de Banana Yosimoto (1964-) para mi lectura. El libro consta de dos novelas cortas independientes (la segunda más breve, casi un cuento), pero con un nexo común: la muerte como tema principal. La muerte y, especialmente, los efectos que ésta causa sobre las personas que rodean a los fallecidos y que sienten un gran afecto por ellos.

En la primera novela, Kichen, la autora establece una original o al menos curiosa mezcla entre lo fúnebre y lo gastronómico que empaña el resto de los subtemas, incluso el amoroso.

Nos presenta unos personajes desorientados por la pérdida, incapaces de olvidar, que recurren a extraños hábitos para sobreponerse, pero siempre solos, sin pedir ayuda a otros seres humanos. Casi no te crees esa excesiva frialdad, esa desafección que los convierte en piedra.

La realidad es vivir sintiendo, lo menos posible, que el hombre, en realidad, está solo.

La elegancia y sensibilidad niponas que admiro (Soseki, Yanizaki…) también las encuentro en Yosimoto. Su lenguaje es más actual, más directo y dialogado, pero mantiene cierta calidez, cadencia, dulzura y melancolía que me agradan. Un lenguaje sencillo, repleto de detalles de la vida cotidiana de la gente corriente, que creo aporta modernidad y frescura de autora joven al tono más tradicional de muchos de los autores japoneses.

Yosimoto es minuciosa en el tratamiento de temas escabrosos y delicados (muerte, soledad, familia, sexo…) y lo hace de manera natural, sencilla, nada soez. Y, aunque su visión es realmente pesimista, parece que al final deja un rayo de luz para la redención.

El mundo no existe sólo para mí. El porcentaje de cosas amargas que me sucedan no variará. Yo no puedo decidirlo. Por eso, comprendí que es mejor ser alegre.

He de reconocer que quizá estas apreciaciones sean demasiado personales y si lo juzgara desde un punto más neutral podría observar más carencias, pero en cualquier caso, me he sentido bien leyendo esta ópera prima.
Profile Image for Lynne King.
489 reviews652 followers
June 15, 2015
...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'm grateful for it.

Samadrita in her excellent review began with:

There's something about Japanese writers. They have the unparalleled ability of transforming an extremely ordinary scene from our everyday mundane lives into something magical and other-worldly.

I thoroughly agree with her and that magical quality transforms what could have been a rather banal book into a great one.

The book is divided into two stories both concerning young Japanese women.


Mikage Sakurai has lost her dearly beloved grandmother whom she had been living with, and she feels lost, alone and vulnerable. She’s now an orphan as there are no other relatives. The tide has gone out and she doesn’t know when or whether it will return. She knows she has to find a new apartment to live in but hesitates. So when a casual acquaintance, Yuichi Tanabe, who used to work part-time in her grandmother’s favourite flower shop, invites her to stay with him and his mother, Eriko, she agrees, especially when she sees the enormous sofa, which would be her bed, in the living room and finally the kitchen. She was a particular lover of kitchens.

The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it’s the kitchen, if it’s a place where they make food, it’s fine with me. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. White tile catching the light (ting! ting!).

I truly empathized with Mikage from the beginning of this story to the end. A tale that on the surface appeared to be simple and even trite at times, but which soon uncovered a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of human emotions which I had never seen expressed in this way before.

I was the sword in the scabbard firmly attached at Mikage’s side. I was her friend, her alter ego and champion in her quest to re-find herself, in fact her soul. I would protect her at all cost.

Such interesting characters are to be found in this rather philosophical work, individuals in fact who I continued to think about after I finished the book.

During the time that Mikage spends with Eriko and her son, Yuichi, the latter who appeared to be a quiet unassuming person, was slowly transformed into a soul-mate of Mikage which rather stunned her. She felt he knew her very soul.

When you’re travelling, every night the air is clear and crisp, the mind serene. In any case, if nobody was waiting for me anywhere, yes, this serene life would be the thing. But I’m not free, I realized; I’ve been touched by Yuichi’s soul. How much easier it would be to stay away forever.

Eriko in particular fascinated me. She was a transvestite, originally Yuichi’s father, then upon the death of his wife from cancer and thanks to plastic surgery, became his mother. She was also the owner of a gay bar. Eriko was such a vibrant individual, colourful and generous both emotionally and physically. She brought back purpose into Mikage’s life, but then tragedy struck again:

Truly great people emit a light that warms the hearts of those around them. When that light has been put out, a heavy shadow of despair descends. Perhaps Eriko's was only a minor kind of greatness, but her light was sorely missed.

The moon and light are also important themes that flow throughout this story.

In addition, there are innumerable turns of phrase that are unforgettable but I particularly liked:

Their faces shone like buddhas when they smiled., and

The dirigible traversed the sky like a pale moonbeam, its tiny lights blinking on and off.

When I finished this tale, I thought of love won and then lost, tragedy, pain, and suffering that I had just encountered but then beauty, hope and optimism are also there. What a marvellous mix.

Moonlight Shadow

...Wherever he went, Hitoshi always had a little bell with him, attached to the case he kept his bus pass in. Even though it was just a trinket, something I gave him before we were in love, it was destined to remain at his side until the last.

This story is also about a young woman called Satsuki who has lost her loved one, Hitoshi but it has more of a metaphysical feel to it. Yes, she has this same dreadful sense of loss as the earlier story. Hitoshi had a brother called Hiiragi, who had lost his girlfriend Yumiko at the same time as Hitoshi had been killed.

Satsuki often goes to the bridge where she used to meet Hitoshi and one day she meets a young woman called Urara. And due to this meeting, Satsuki and even Hiiragi have these metaphysical experiences. This story is all rather dream-like and so different to Kitchen but still excellent in its own right.

When I looked at this title I kept on thinking about the music of Mike Oldfield's Moonlight Shadow. In the preface, the author mentions that she wished to dedicate this song to Mr Jiro Yoshikawa, who had introduced this music to her, the inspiration for this story.

Two exquisite stories and highly, highly recommended.
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,166 reviews2,239 followers
March 7, 2023
Sadly, I had to DNF this short book!
I just couldn't feel the writing, couldn't connect with the characters, couldn't feel anything for whatever that's going on in the story. The writing is simple and is supposed to reach each nook and corner of my heart considering the situation the characters were in. But seriously I simply just couldn't bear the torture of reading something I wasn't enjoying. Left the book at 73rd page out of 152.
Better start another book.
Profile Image for Maria Lago.
434 reviews96 followers
August 15, 2021
Esta novela no habría podido ser más "primera novela" ni a tiros, ¡hurra, Banana! Es una historia tan cándida y encantadora que solo un cínico podría odiarla. El grado de obsesión al que llegan los personajes por alcanzar una perfección que, según creen, les hará felices parece un tema recurrente en la literatura japonesa. Claro que muchas de esas historias que nos llegan desde allá tienen un tinte gris muy marcado (o son decididamente violentas). Aquí en cambio tenemos un arrojo y un afán de mejora que se ajusta cómodamente al cliché oriental, el ya famoso "gambatte, senpai!!" al que el manga y el cine nipón nos tienen acostumbrados. Asimismo, es una novela de autodescubrimiento, de madurez, de amor y de aceptación; no es extraño que se le quedara un poco grande a su aún verde autora. Pero insisto: de verdad es una lectura deliciosa.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,287 reviews731 followers
December 17, 2015

A couple of days ago, I watched a film called Millenium Actress, a Japanese anime film centered around the life of a once wildly popular Japanese film star. I loved it for its lovely story as well as its wonderful animation, but most of all for its peculiar disregard of many of the 'rules' of film that I hadn't realized I unconsciously followed until they were subverted. This sort of bending and breaking of my own sensibilities into something I had never considered something that would work is rampant in this book here, on a much more heartbreaking level. As both the film and the book are Japanese, there could be a correlation that other partakers of that particular cultural entertainment would be familiar with, but I shy away from labeling it as something inherent on a sociocultural level. Instead, I will describe it on my own terms, and see what happens from there.

Kitchen is subsumed in grief. Each part of the story is centered around the death of one or more individuals, who through their passing have prompted the narrator and other characters to go forth on their own personal journeys of coming to grips with what has been left to them. What is missing, an absence that at first bewildered me but one that I now see as beneficial, is the pomp and circumstance that usually accompanies such events. There is no factoring in of all the usual aspects of funerals, mourning rituals, all those standards imposed upon individuals by the weight of tradition and the history of society. In a word, this story has no interest in the attempts of life to make death a thing that can not only be dealt with methods of logic, but also bureaucratic.

Instead, the words are short, sweet, and sharp, as each narrator falls upon their knife of grief and attempts to walk it off. Here, there is no sweeping away of the tragedy into a neat compartmentalization, a time to mourn and a time to thrive coexisting in carefully delineated measurements of a person's history. For how can the horror of a beloved one being taken away in such an unfairly abrupt and often nonsensical manner ever be reconciled, as if the matter could heal as cleanly as a broken bone knitting up in a predictable number of days? As if the evolution of coping with an overwhelming loss could be graphed for all affected, and therein calculate a formulaic equation specifically calibrated for speeding up the resolution as efficiently as possible. As if it was a lie that when it came down to it, one is alone and will always be alone with one's mind, and that is how the battle of mournful reconciliation must always be fought.

While it is true that there is always a banality to this process, it is also true that reality is sometimes stranger than fiction. And here, the overwhelming potential of storytelling chooses to direct its narrators and their tragedies along plots that reject the popular assumption of sadness having more believability than happiness. Unexpected acquaintances welcome stricken souls in for as long as they need a rest from the forceful expectations of reality. Methodologies of all sorts are taken up in the quest to come to terms with loss, whether it be cooking, running, crossdressing, or sex change surgery. The little beauties of seemingly mundane surroundings birth alongside the gaping holes that despair has left in the intermittent musings of daily life. Words such as 'weird' and 'strange' lose their potency in the face of the fact that, had these unusual and rather unbelievable circumstances never come to pass, another life may have joined the ones that had gone before it.

Would that have made the story better? Treating death with the cold dignity of normal proceedings, forbidding the thick interweave of both passionate joy and debilitating sorrow in the span of a short paragraph, scoffing at the small and sometimes magical coincidences that led others in unexpected ways to a life worth living? Should the path to reconciliation always be one of proud obligation, or can it be erratic, irresponsible, and sometimes even sweet?

The choice is always personal, and one must always make it on one's own. Me, I like the idea of a peculiar path being available to those who are faced with the death of a loved one, the most peculiar situation of all. If one is must decide how to live their life past the gap, shouldn't that life be their own?
Profile Image for Coco Day.
101 reviews2,400 followers
December 5, 2022
i liked it but because of the length, i felt i wasn’t very attached to the characters and couldn’t really feel their emotions very deeply.
Profile Image for Nidhi Singh.
40 reviews164 followers
January 12, 2015
If there is a colour for the prose of Banana Yoshimoto, it is blue. Reading ‘Kitchen’ is like walking in the clear crisp air of a blue night in Tokyo. She works beautifully with surrealistic imagery, with artless simplicity. The images of the night, the houses in the streetlight, the colour of the sunset and the sky, the moonlight in the kitchen transpire again and again in the beautifully sparse writing until one breathes completely in the dreamlike quality of it. These images do not convey the sinister, furtive, darkness of night: it is but the beautiful melancholy of night where dreams and reality conflate. The loneliness of the characters flows and merges with these images. How evocative a description of pain, loneliness, separation, and human mortality! Death and loss can truly be a binding force for people, drawing them closer, reshaping their sensitivities, in coming to terms with their loss. And there is the knowledge that no one can understand your loss except for someone who has been through a similar sadness. Yoshimoto’s characters, in their unusual ordinariness, adopt a number of contrivances for a liberation from their grief. Some change homes, some change their gender. They cook extravagant meals, find shelter in some secluded monastery with a waterfall or in the simple domesticity of the Kitchen. Some keep the grief hidden so that it doesn't take the form of perceptible reality. Memories are shining and bright, and they live on but they also keep sucking their bearer away from the present. Moving on gets difficult. And it’s a pain in itself to come to a delivery where one learns to take care of a memory as a memory; something that has passed and doesn’t belong to the present.

"I'll never be able to be here again. As the minutes slide by, I move on. The flow of time is something I cannot stop. I haven't a choice. I go.

One caravan has stopped, another starts up. There are people I've yet to meet, others I'll never see again. People who are gone before you know it, people who are just passing through. Even as we exchange hellos, they seem to grow transparent. I must keep living with the flowing river before my eyes."

Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews941 followers
December 3, 2015
Now that I teach English as my main job I am more than ever aware of how language shapes and limits what can be expressed, how it makes and remakes the social world as it is made and remade. I have read few books from the Japanese, but I would wager I can tell such a text after reading a page! Perhaps it was the themes, not only the flavour of the language, that made this taste so distinctly Japanese to me. Quirky relationships, dramatic melancholy, organised and comfortable domesticity, defiance of convention, appreciation of food and eating, and a kind of pride of place, a cultural pride, chimed with my preconceptions.

Anyway, I love this book, which makes writing look effortless (it isn't) and feels like a personal gift. Mikage, the protagonist, could hardly be more sympathetic as a lonely young adult struggling to overcome grief, and the relationships she is lucky enough to be pulled into nourished my heart as they did hers. The writing is spare, poetic, direct, and often original in its images. As a love story, this feels gloriously contemporary and cinematic.

One of the important characters in the book, Eriko, is a transsexual woman, and Yoshimoto both has her speak her own truth and presents her in a very positive light as self-willed, resiliant, highly atttractive, extremely generous, and surrounded by loving friends. She is also a victim of anti-trans violence.

Personally, I felt sad that both Mikage and her friend Yuichi are negative about vegetarian food! Otherwise, I might give it 5 stars.
Profile Image for Ailsa.
155 reviews214 followers
December 26, 2017
Kitchen is a gentle, comforting novella about grief. How do we continue living in despair?
Mikage and Yuichi's lives are brought together by death. They are on the cusp of falling in love or living as strangers.
"I buried my face into his arm, gripping it fiercely. His warm sweater smelled of autumn leaves."
Charming, ephemeral and semi-absurd. It's an appealing story in which the darkness is belied by a soft quirkiness.

"I realised that the world did not exist for my benefit. It followed that the ratio of pleasant to unpleasant things around me would not change. It wasn't up to me."

"I got dressed to begin another day. Over and over, we begin again."

Moonlight Shadow is the other short story in this edition and it is... short. It covers much the same ground as Kitchen and feels like an earlier work. It was too sparse for me, too blank.
"There was an electric charge between our hearts, and its conduit was the sound of the bell."
I wish I could read these in Japanese. I feel like a lot of ambiguity is being stripped by translation.
Profile Image for Liong.
120 reviews65 followers
October 27, 2022
I did not realize that this book has 2 stories Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow.

These 2 stories are very touching, especially Moonlight Shadow.

Relaxing reading.

I will recommend my friends to read this book.
Profile Image for Fabian.
940 reviews1,546 followers
November 11, 2018
Two romantic tomes that search for goodness and love in human stuff like death and food.

Her writing flashes by, leaving dewy nectar dripping from your lips...
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,170 followers
January 28, 2023
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. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. White the catching the light (ting! ting!).

I love even incredibly dirty kitchens to distraction—vegetable droppings all over the floor, so dirty your slippers turn black on the bottom. Strangely, it's better if this kind of kitchen is large. I lean up against the silver door of a towering, giant refrigerator stocked with enough food to get through a winter. When I raise my eyes from the oil-spattered gas burner and the rusty kitchen knife, outside the window stars are glittering, lonely.

Now only I and the kitchen are left.

This 2018 edition of Kitchen includes a brief introduction from the author and two thematically linked works, both translated by Megan Backus and originally published in English 1993:

- the author's 1988 debut novel キッチン, phonetically Kitchen and translated as such.
- her 1986 novella ムーンライト・シャドウ, phonetically Moonlight Shadow and translated as such.

The title of the 42-page Moonlight Shadow is taken from the 1983 Mike Oldfield record featuring Maggie Reilly. Which has meant my head being filled with...

Four a.m. in the morning
Carried away by a moonlight shadow
I watched your vision forming
Carried away by a moonlight shadow
Stars move slowly in a silvery night
Far away on the other side
Will you come to talk with me this night?
But she couldn't find how to push through.

The story is narrated by Satsuki whose boyfriend of 4 years Hitoshi died in a car accident alongside Hitoshi's brother Hiiragi's girlfriend Yumiko while giving her a lift back to the other side of the river. Satsuki and Hiiragi support each other in their grief, which Satsuki tries to deflect by taking up running, and the somewhat unconventional Hiraagi by wearing Yumiko's sailor-girl style school uniform. When Satsuki meets a mysterious woman, Urara, by the bridge over the river, the connection to the song becomes clearer to the reader, and Satsuki and Hiraagi move closer to closure.

Kitchen clocks in at 103 pages, close to ideal length for a novel, and has a similar basis of young protagonists working through the loss of a love one.

Here the narrator is Mikage Sakurai, a university student, who has lost her grandmother, her last surviving relative (her parents died when she was young) and has only her kitchen (see the opening quote) left for comfort.

After the funeral she is invited by Yuichi Tanabe, a student from the year below who she barely knows but who worked at her grandmother's favourite flower shop to live with him and his mother Eriko. Yuichi lost one mother through cancer when he was young and Eriko is his second, transgender, mother, a nightclub owner.

The treatment of transgender issues in the novel is a little of its time and place (deadnaming, misgendering and confusion between transgender and transvestite all feature), although rather less cringeworthy now than another translated novel I read recently, Ruth. See Yuri Stargirl's blog for a well balanced take on this aspect.

The story itself follows the paths takeb by Mikage and Yuichi (who suffers another tragedy of his own ) and the choices they make, with food a common theme. This quote from the novel's setpiece highlight when Mikage takes a long taxi journey to 'rescue' Yuichi from an inn in an area where the only food served is variations on tofu, and ends up trying to scale the hotel balconiees to access his room while carrying a bowl of katsudon.

We all believe we can choose our own path from among the many alternatives. But perhaps it's more accurate to say we make the choice unconsciously. I think I did-but now I knew it, because now I was able to put it into words. But I don't mean this in the fatalistic sense; we're constantly making choices. With the breaths we take every day, with the expression in our eyes, with the daily actions we do over and over, we decide as though by instinct. And so some of us will inevitably find ourselves rolling around in a puddle on some roof in a strange place with a takeout katsudon in the middle of winter, looking up at the night sky, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Ah. But the moon was lovely.
I stood up and knocked on Yuichi's window.

A heartwarming and touching read. 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Mrs.Martos .
69 reviews8 followers
March 2, 2023
Dos reletos distintos, Kitchen y Moonlight Shadow (personalmente, me ha gustado mucho más este ultimo), pero tienen en común, en términos de la autora, dos acciones que son cualidades de todo individuo: Conquistar y Crecer.
Profile Image for Najeefa Nasreen.
57 reviews59 followers
April 13, 2022
4/5 stars

I was willing to dip my toes into Japanese literature. Hence, I picked up reading this novella to see how it goes for me. And I'm not surprised to say I'm already loving it. There is something about Japanese writers that makes everyone cling themselves to. Yes, I'm officially in and will be reading many more Japanese pieces of literature that I've already added to my tbr.

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto comprises of two stories. One is a novella (Kitchen) and the other is a short story (Moonlight Shadow). Both the stories center around two young women as protagonists and their perceptions of life and death. (Kitchen) being my favorite of the two so, I'll be talking about that one here.

"Again and again I will suffer; again and again, I will get back on my feet. I will not be defeated."

This is the story of Mikage Sakurai. She's obsessed with the kitchen, which reminds me of Monica, from the famous sitcom - FRIENDS. She too finds solace and peace in the kitchen. Both Mikage's parents died when she was young. She's been raised by her grandmother since then. After the death of her grandmother, she is left all alone. Until one day, when Yuichi Tanabe showed up at her door and offered her to move into his house to live with him and his mother as a family.

Told from the first person's POV, the main theme of the book revolves around dealing with loss and suffering in life. Yoshimoto beautifully takes the story of ordinary people leading ordinary lives coming out to discover the extraordinary realizations of important aspects of life.

On the outer level, both the stories are so different from one another yet so connected to one another from the core. The unavoidable truth is that life ends, for all of us; meanwhile, life goes on. This book deals with the sensitivities of life so delicately. I'm looking forward to reading other books written by Yoshimoto, she has moved me on all grounds based on her writing. I wish it does the same for all of you. I certainly believe this is just one of her outstanding pieces of work.

Review Posted: 31 Mar 2022.

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Profile Image for Oscar.
449 reviews178 followers
February 27, 2022
Directo a mis favoritos.

Me encanta la obsesión de los escritores japoneses con la soledad y la muerte.
Con una prosa ligera y con una sensibilidad única, la autora, con sólo 24 años, describe el cómo se experimenta sentirse sola en el mundo. Tan sola que llegas al punto de encontrar calor en objetos inanimados o en lugares específicos.

Kitchen es un libro de personajes rotos descritos con elegancia. Es un libro que habla de la muerte como lo que es, totalmente natural e irremediable. Morirán personas amadas de tu vida así como el río fluye, encontrarás con quien tomar un té después y buscarás la forma de que ese dolor desaparezca, o de hacerte creer que ha desaparecido.

Kitchen es un puñal y una venda. Te recuerda que estás solo y que tu vida tiene los días contados, pero te enseña que justo en eso se encuentra la belleza de la vida.

“ Hay cosas tan duras que dan ganas de apartar la vista. Ni siquiera el amor puede salvarte del todo”

“La cristalización brillante de aquellos tiempos felices despertó de repente de su sueño profundo en el fondo de la memoria y nos sacudió”

Profile Image for Ankit Garg.
251 reviews346 followers
November 18, 2020
I am fascinated with books set in Japan, and thus me reading Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto was a no-brainer. The novella tells the story of an orphan girl Mikage who was raised by her grandmother. After the granny dies, the protagonist lives with her friend and his mother, who was his father before gender change. The story revolves around both these people then helping each other to deal with their loss and grief.

As the title goes, Mikage finds solace and peace in cooking. Cooking a perfect full-fledged meal is her way of keeping herself sane.

Verdict: Recommended.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,160 reviews1,920 followers
January 15, 2021
The book consists of a novella (Kitchen) and a short story (Moonlight Shadow). There is a focus on loss and grief and its effects and the ensuing loneliness:
“Usually, the first time I go to a house, face to face with people I barely know, I feel an immense loneliness. I saw myself reflected in the glass of the large terrace window while black gloom spread over the rain-hounded night panorama. I was tied by blood to no creature in this world. I could go anywhere, do anything. It was dizzying. Suddenly, to see that the world was so large, the cosmos so black. The unbounded fascination of it, the unbounded loneliness…For the first time, these days, I was touching it with these hands, these eyes. I’ve been looking at the world half-blind, I thought.”
And, of course the title has its relevance:
“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. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. White tile catching the light (ting! ting!).”
Kitchen is the story of Mikage and Yuichi. Mikage loses her grandmother with whom she is living and she is alone in the world and has to move out of her grandmother’s apartment. She moves in with Yuichi and his mother Eriko, who is transgender. There are many nuances of pain, loss and hope here. There’s also a great deal of food:
“This katsudon, encountered almost by accident, was made with unusual skill, I must say. Good quality meat, excellent broth, the eggs and onions handled beautifully, the rice with just the right degree of firmness to hold up in the broth — it was flawless.”
Food is part of what holds the characters together and part of the healing process. Inevitably part of me wants to ask if the centrality of the kitchen for Mikage and the fact she is drawn to cooking is just another way of saying the way of happiness for women revolves around domesticity. The transgender parent might indicate a different attitude to conventional family life. However the working out of the story points to a more conventional sense of family, but that obviously is a matter of opinion. It could be argued Eriko is a victim of society’s hatred and transphobia or that Eriko’s removal eases the way to a conventional heteronormative ending.
Nevertheless the approach to grief is sensitively handled and there is no minimizing of it. There is an unavoidable truth; life ends, for all of us. But in the meantime life goes on:
“Despair does not necessarily result in annihilation that one can go on as usual in spite of it. I had become hardened. Was that what it means to be an adult, to live with ugly ambiguities? I didn’t like it, but it made it easier to go on.”
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