Kitchen

by

Banana Yoshimoto

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Kitchen Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Banana Yoshimoto

Yoshimoto was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, in a progressive, left-wing family. Her father is Takaai Yoshimoto, a radical poet, philosopher, and literary critic. Yoshimoto was inspired by her older sister Haruno’s love of art, which prompted Yoshimoto to find her own creative outlet in writing at a young age. Yoshimoto experienced much more freedom in her adolescence than was typical for Japanese youth in the 1980s. She even moved in with her then-boyfriend while still in high school. Yoshimoto studied literature at Nihon University, where she wrote Midnight Shadow, which is often published alongside Kitchen. Both novellas address grieving and loss. Yoshimoto wrote Kitchen while working as a waitress in her first job out of college in 1987. Her vivid descriptions of kitchens and food in Kitchen were inspired by her exposure to restaurant life at the time. Kitchen became an instant sensation in Japan, and Yoshimoto was lauded by critics for her fresh and contemporary perspective as well as her clean, immersive, and deeply emotive prose. The novella received international acclaim when the English translation was published in 1993. Yoshimoto has published approximately one book a year since the early 1990s. Her writing is earmarked by her focus on surviving loss, urban angst, and existential hope, as well as her use of metaphors using dreams. Yoshimoto describes her stories as fables that are grounded in reality but contain subtle elements of magic realism. Yoshimoto is considered one of Japan’s most popular modern novelists and has won many prizes in Japan for her writing, including the 6th Kaien Newcomers' Literary Prize, the 39th Recommendation by the Minister of Education for Best Newcomer Artist Prize, the 2nd Yamamoto Shugori Prize, and the Murasaki-Shikibu Prize.
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Historical Context of Kitchen

Japan experienced a substantive period of economic boom and internationalization in the 1980s, which is reflected in Kitchen’s pop culture references as well as the obsession with buying home and kitchen gadgets that two of the central characters, Eriko and Yuichi Tanaba, exhibit throughout the novel. Around the same time, a new generation of modern Japanese writers emerged who focused on the urban youth culture of their time. Banana Yoshimoto, like her contemporary Hariku Murikami, is considered a front-runner of this movement. Yoshimoto is also often considered a central influence on the “shojo” genre of Japanese manga comics, which focuses on storylines involving women. Like Yoshimoto, “shojo” authors of the 1990s emphasized fictional landscapes that questioned traditional patriarchal values and centered on the female protagonist’s quest for self-fulfillment.

Other Books Related to Kitchen

Kitchen is often published alongside Yoshimoto’s Midnight Shadow, another novella about grief that Yoshimoto wrote in 1986, based on a short story she wrote while at her university. Yoshimoto has published many novels that similarly deal with loss, hope, and urban alienation, including her prize-winning novels Goodbye Tsugumi (1989) and Amrita (1994). Yoshimoto cites Steven King’s non-horror fiction as a major influence. Examples include the novellas Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Body, both published in King’s 1982 collection Different Seasons. Yoshimoto was also influenced by Truman Capote’s writing, which includes Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a novella about love and loneliness in an urban environment. Yoshimoto’s writing centers around the themes of surviving loss or trauma, loneliness, youth, and urban alienation. Yoshimoto is often grouped with other Japanese writers of her time that address urban Japanese youth culture, including Hariku Murakami, whose 1987 novel Norwegian Wood similarly centers on young love in the context of loss, and Japanese-Korean author Yu Miri, whose 1998 novel Family Cinema, like Kitchen, addresses family dynamics.
Key Facts about Kitchen
  • Full Title: Kitchen
  • When Written: 1987
  • Where Written: Tokyo, Japan
  • When Published: 1988 (Japanese), 1993 (English)
  • Literary Period: Modern
  • Genre: Novella
  • Setting: Urban Tokyo in the 1980s, primarily at an apartment near Chuo Park.
  • Climax: Yuichi calls Mikage at the inn she is staying at to say he’s returned to Tokyo instead of running away and will pick Mikage up when she gets back to Tokyo tomorrow.
  • Antagonist: Okuno; Eriko’s Murderer
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Kitchen

Bananas. Kitchen caused such a sensation in Japan that the press dubbed the public’s obsession with Yoshimoto’s writing “bananamania.” Yoshimoto chose the quirky pen name “Banana” because she likes banana flowers and thought it was cute and androgynous. In a subtle allusion to Yoshimoto’s pen name, Kitchen’s protagonist Mikage is gifted a cute glass with a banana motif part way through the story.

Pop Culture. Yoshimoto often references Japanese and American pop culture in her writing, giving her stories a young, cosmopolitan feel. Kitchen’s pop culture references include the Charlie Brown comics, the American television show Bewitched, and a 1980s Japanese pop song.