Yoshimoto, Banana. Kitchin, Kitchen (1987)

(adapted from web page of Kumiko Sato:

http://www.personal.psu.edu/staff/k/x/kxs334/academic/fiction/yoshimoto_kitchen.html)

 

Summary

The narrator, Mikage, is a college student living with her grandmother in Tokyo. Her Grandmother is her only family member after her parents died, but she has also died three days prior to the narrative present. Mikage, left alone, cannot believe this reality. She starts to sleep in the kitchen, which is her most favorite, and conformable, place in the house. One day, a boy Mikage has never seen visits her house. He is Yuichi Tanabe, a student of the same university. He invites Mikage to live with him and his mother, and tells her that he knew Mikage's grandmother very well at the flower shop he works for and that her Grandmother was always worried about what would become of Mikage after her death. Mikage moves to Yuichi's house, where a huge sofa becomes her favorite place (and her bed). Yuichi's mother, Eriko, is surprisingly beautiful, but Mikage learns that she is actually a "he," originally Yuichi's father. After his mother's death, he had plastic surgery and has lived as a woman. Yuichi is a boy who does not know how to love people, but very, very kind. He can only love people in the way he loves a fountain pen (which means he can love things very sincerely as well). Mikage finds one form of family at this Tanabe residence, especially through cooking. Mikage cooks porridge for Eriko. Yuichi and Mikage cook ramen after they had the same dream of cleaning a kitchen together. Mikage thinks that a kitchen, anywhere, will be the location of the "family."

 

Comments

Soon after its publication, Kitchen became quite popular among young girls. The atmosphere, the language, and the use of food in Banana's works were catchy to women of her generation. Banana's stories use both the language and story line that might be typical in culture of shojo manga, or comics for young girls. The most eminent characteristic of Kitchen as shojo culture is, I think, the lack of the sense of reality, which is exactly "realistic" to girls. When I first read Kitchen, I was surprised to find my reality, the reality I belong to, in narrative (although her narrative sounded rather childish). Whether written by men or women, whether realism or fantasy, I had not found that kind of reality I lived in expressed in fiction, and Banana's narrative seemed successful in reconstructing this reality of shojo culture. What are those characteristics? In terms of the form, or narratology, there are no realistic descriptions of facial traits or clothes, except for the kitchen.

Mikage looks like "non-chan," a dog Yuji had years ago. That's all we know about her looks. There is also the lack of emotional waves in narrative. How does Mikage describe her emotion after her grandmother's death? She writes, "Senjitsu nanto soboga shindeshimatta. Bikkuri shita." Bikkuri shita, "surprised," is the only word that describes Mikage's emotion. This is a narrative that recountss incidents and emotions with such nonchalance that death and cooking have the same weight, in other words, they have equal (non-)reality. There is no climax, no ending, of course. Banana's language flattens and disembodies reality.

 

The content in relation to culture of shojo. Like Banana's many other stories, Kitchen centers on the absence of family. I think it is off the point to say that the loss of family conditions the shojo culture. To the contrary, it seems that family relationships are precluded from the shojo culture, which necessitates the loss of family in the plot of Kitchen. Since family as blood relations must be disembodied in shojo culture, an empty, clean sign replaces "family"-- the sign is "kitchen." Kitchen is a vacuous sign that circumscribes the hole left by "family" in the conventional sense. Like "kitchen" and "family," the disembodiment of human relationships such as "friendship" and "love," takes place as their replacement by signs of inorganic objects. A sofa and kitchen at Yuji's house substitute for affection among Mikage, Yuji and his mother.

Cucumber salad replaces Mikage and Eriko's friendship, ramen replaces Mikage and Yuji's love. Cleaning a kitchen together in dream is the only expression of the relationship between Mikage and Yuji. When Mikage says that Yuji can love people only in the way he loves a fountain pen, she may also mean that we recognize our reality, our relationship to reality, only in the vacuous signs of inorganic materiality.

 

For more explanation of shojo, go to "What is shojo?"

 

Kumiko Sato

10/24/1999

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