56 pages 1 hour read

Banana Yoshimoto


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1988

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Summary and Study Guide


Kitchen is the debut novel of Japanese writer Banana Yoshimoto. This short book is a riveting narrative about relationships and how they are tested by extreme circumstances. Kitchen is comprised of two separate stories that are unrelated aside from their focus on interpersonal relationships and the ordeals people endure while on journeys of self-discovery. The overall narrative addresses the themes of death, isolation, and self-forgiveness. By placing its characters in tragic circumstances, the novel investigates how people approach death in multiple ways: on an individual level, as members of groups, and as part of a larger society.

The first story introduces the characters Mikage Sakurai and Yuichi Tanabe, and comprises the “Kitchen” and “Full Moon” sections. “Kitchen” opens with the death of Mikage’s grandmother. Mikage, who is the narrative voice of the first two sections of the novel, is thrown into a depressive spiral at the death of her last blood relative. Her parents died when she was younger, and she now feels that she has no connection left in the world. This feeling evolves into desolation, and Mikage questions her own purpose for living as well. While Mikage is deep in grief, she receives an invitation from a classmate, Yuichi Tanabes, to live with him and his mother. Yuichi was very close to Mikage’s grandmother. He also feels a sense of loss at Mikage’s grandmother’s death, and wants to help Mikage if he can.

Yuichi asks Mikage to move in with him and his mother, Eriko, as Mikage will need to move out of her apartment. When she is not in the kitchen in her apartment, where Mikage sleeps to feel at peace, she feels confused by her inability to find peace or a place in the world, and so takes Yuichi up on the offer to live with him and his mother. Mikage instantly falls in love with the Tanabes’ apartment, especially as they have a nice, lived-in kitchen. Kitchens are safe spaces for Mikage, and tied to life, in that they are communal spaces that breed creativity. Mikage meets Eriko, Yuichi’s mother, and falls in love with her as well. She learns that Eriko used to be a man, Yuji, who was married to Yuichi’s mother, and that Yuichi’s birth mother died when he was young, just like Mikage’s.

Over the course of the first two sections, Mikage and Yuichi must wade through the debris of death, displacement, and self-loathing that seeks to tear them apart. Though it seems clear that they hold feelings for each other, feelings that may even surpass friendship, neither can act on these feelings, due to their shared sadness and isolation. Because they are lost to themselves, they are unable to find identity in one another.

When Eriko is killed in the “Full Moon” section, Mikage and Yuichi’s worlds begin truly to unravel. Yet Eriko’s death is also the catalyst that brings Mikage and Yuichi together after months of being apart. The two must investigate their feelings for one another, as well as delve into what it means to be human and adult, and to deal with both the good and bad in everyday life. If they can understand death and its relationship with life, they can better understand themselves, their relationships to death and, ultimately, their relationships with one another.

The third section, “Moonlight Shadow,” picks up on the theme of death and relationship by introducing new characters. Satsuki (who is the narrator) and Hiiragi are both forced to deal with the sudden loss of loves ones, and to face the reality of living when what they had lived for intensely is taken away. A terrible car accident kills Hitoshi, Satsuki’s boyfriend, as well as Hiiragi’s older brother. Hiiragi’s girlfriend, Yumiko, is also killed in the accident. This section has a more fantastic element about it than the first two. This element is highlighted in the character of Urara. Urara appears suddenly one day, and tells Satsuki of a special event that only happens every hundred years. This event will change both Satsuki and Hiiragi forever. Satsuki hopes the event will bring Hitoshi back so that she can say goodbye. When the event finally takes place, both Satsuki and Hiiragi are faced with their loved ones once again and must find peace, so that all parties involved can move on. Like the first two sections of Kitchen, “Moonlight Shadow” highlights how the individual must find peace within so that he or she may find true peace with others.