Kitchen

by

Banana Yoshimoto

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Mikage Sakurai Character Analysis

The protagonist and narrator of Kitchen, whose mother and father died when she was very young. Mikage was raised by her grandmother, who died a few days before the story begins. The story thus revolves around Mikage’s visceral experiences of grief—in the first half of the story, she grieves her grandmother, and in the second half of the story, Mikage grieves Eriko, who forms a motherly bond with Mikage when she and her son Yuichi take Mikage in. Mikage has lived in the shadow of death her whole life and battles a deep sense of loneliness and isolation throughout the story, though she knows the only thing she can do is keep on going. Yoshimoto symbolizes Mikage’s pain with metaphors of darkness throughout the novel, while light represents Mikage’s joy. Mikage is obsessed with kitchens and finds them extremely comforting in her darkest moments. Just as Eriko once advised her, Mikage finds that her experiences with suffering enable her to have a profound understanding of the joy that cooking fills her with. Over the course of the story, Mikage develops a bond with Yuichi that evolves into romantic love. They understand each other because they have both experienced profound loss in their lives. Nonetheless, Mikage is afraid to pursue a relationship with Yuichi because she doesn’t know if they can build a life together from the dark place of their collective experiences with bereavement. At the story’s climax, Mikage impulsively tracks Yuichi down by breaking into an inn he is hiding away in to bring him some delicious fried pork, which revives him and pulls him out of his dark state of mind. Heartened by Mikage’s visit, Yuichi returns to Tokyo instead of running away, while Mikage makes peace with the necessity of suffering and joy in life and is finally able to embrace her love for Yuichi.

Mikage Sakurai Quotes in Kitchen

The Kitchen quotes below are all either spoken by Mikage Sakurai or refer to Mikage Sakurai. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Death and Grief Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grove Press edition of Kitchen published in 2006.
Part 1: Kitchen Quotes

When he saw my grandmother’s picture on the altar, again his tears fell like rain. My first thought when I saw that was that my love for my own grandmother was nothing compared to this boy’s, whoever he was. He looked that sad.

Related Characters: Mikage Sakurai (speaker), Yuichi Tanabe, Mikage’s Grandmother
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Usually, the first time I go to a house, face to face with people I barely know, I feel an immense loneliness.

Related Characters: Mikage Sakurai (speaker), Yuichi Tanabe, Eriko Tanabe
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

This was his mother? Dumbfounded I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Hair that rustled like silk to her shoulders; the deep sparkle of her long, narrow eyes; well-formed lips, a nose with a high, straight bridge—the whole of her face gave off a marvelous light that seemed to vibrate with life force.

Related Characters: Mikage Sakurai (speaker), Eriko Tanabe , Yuichi Tanabe
Related Symbols: Light
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Yes, but. Could you call someone who looked like that ‘Dad?’

Related Characters: Yuichi Tanabe (speaker), Eriko Tanabe , Mikage Sakurai
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

You’re a good kid, too.

Related Characters: Eriko Tanabe (speaker), Mikage Sakurai, Yuichi Tanabe
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

We would spend a little time together before bed, sometimes drinking coffee, sometimes green tea, eating cake and watching TV.

Related Characters: Mikage Sakurai (speaker), Mikage’s Grandmother
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Little by little, light and air came into my heart.

Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

I loved the Tanabes’ sofa as much as I loved their kitchen. I came to crave sleeping on it […] I slept like a baby. There wasn’t anything more I wanted: I was happy.

Related Symbols: Kitchens
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

When I opened the door, I shuddered. It was like coming back to a stranger’s house. Cold and dark, not a sigh to be heard. Everything there, which should have been so familiar, seemed to be turning away from me […] there was only one thing to do—humming a tune, I began to scrub the refrigerator.

Related Characters: Mikage Sakurai (speaker), Mikage’s Grandmother
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

It was like watching Bewitched.

Related Characters: Mikage Sakurai (speaker), Eriko Tanabe , Yuichi Tanabe
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

It was like being falling-down-drunk. My body was independent of me. Before I knew it, tears were flooding out.

Related Characters: Mikage Sakurai (speaker), Mikage’s Grandmother
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Looking up, I saw white steam rising, in the dark, out of a brightly lit window overhead. I listened. From inside came the sound of happy voices at work, soup boiling, knives and pots and pans clanging. It was a kitchen. I was puzzled, smiling about how I had just gone from the darkest despair to feeling wonderful. I stood up, smoothed down my skirt, and started back for the Tanabes’.

Related Symbols: Kitchens
Page Number: 34-35
Explanation and Analysis:

Yes. But 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.

Related Characters: Eriko Tanabe (speaker), Mikage Sakurai
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: Full Moon Quotes

She, too, is a very precious child of mine.

Related Characters: Eriko Tanabe (speaker), Mikage Sakurai, Yuichi Tanabe
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

For an instant I had a vision of Eriko’s smiling face, and my heart turned over. I felt an urge to get moving. It looked to me like the kitchen had not been used in quite a while. It was somewhat dirty and dark. I began to clean. I scrubbed the sink with scouring powder, wiped off the burners, washed the dishes, sharpened the knives. I washed and bleached all the dish towels and while watching them go round and round in the dryer I realized that I had become calmer.

Related Characters: Mikage Sakurai (speaker), Eriko Tanabe
Related Symbols: Kitchens
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

They had been taught, probably by caring parents, not to exceed the boundaries of their happiness regardless of what they were doing. […] What I mean by “their happiness” is living a life untouched as much as possible by the knowledge that we are really, all of us, alone. That’s not a bad thing. […] But—that one summer of bliss. In that kitchen […] Having known such joy, there was no going back.

Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Nothing, nothing at all has any flavor for me know.

Related Characters: Yuichi Tanabe (speaker), Mikage Sakurai, Eriko Tanabe
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

I realized 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. It was clear that the best thing to do was to adopt a sort of muddled cheerfulness.

Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

But right now there’s this katsudon. Go ahead, eat it.

Related Characters: Mikage Sakurai (speaker), Yuichi Tanabe
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

Will you tear a telephone book in half for me?

Related Characters: Mikage Sakurai (speaker), Yuichi Tanabe
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

The endless sea was shrouded in darkness. I could see the shadowy forms of gigantic, rugged crags against which the waves were crashing. While watching them I felt a strange, sweet sadness. In the biting air I told myself, there will be so much pleasure, so much suffering. With or without Yuichi. The beacon of a faraway lighthouse revolved. It turned its light toward me, then turned away, forming a pathway of light on the waves. Nodding to myself, my nose dripping, I returned to my room.

Related Characters: Mikage Sakurai (speaker), Yuichi Tanabe, Eriko Tanabe
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Kitchen LitChart as a printable PDF.
Kitchen PDF

Mikage Sakurai Character Timeline in Kitchen

The timeline below shows where the character Mikage Sakurai appears in Kitchen. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Kitchen
Death and Grief Theme Icon
Mikage Sakurai’s favorite place is the kitchen. She thinks lived-in kitchens, with “vegetable droppings,” tea towels,... (full context)
Death and Grief Theme Icon
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Joy and Suffering Theme Icon
Mikage was raised by her grandmother, as her own mother and father died young. Her grandfather... (full context)
Death and Grief Theme Icon
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Joy and Suffering Theme Icon
One day, the doorbell rings. It’s Yuichi Tanabe, who goes to Mikage’s university. Mikage doesn’t know Yuichi well, though it seems he knew her grandmother, as he... (full context)
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Later, Mikage walks in to Yuichi’s place, noticing an enormous sofa in the middle of the kitchen.... (full context)
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All of a sudden, a woman bursts in who is so beautiful that Mikage gasps. Her name is Eriko, and she’s Yuichi’s mother. Eriko has silky hair, long legs,... (full context)
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Yuichi goes to bed. Mikage showers and settles into the “delectable” sofa, surrounded by plants, knowing that she’ll sleep well.... (full context)
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Mikage wakes to the sound of Eriko bustling around cheerfully in the kitchen as light streams... (full context)
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Eriko says that Mikage reminds her of Yuichi’s old dog, which is probably why Yuichi feels close to Mikage.... (full context)
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Months pass, and Mikage slips into an easy rhythm of working at her part-time job, cooking for Eriko and... (full context)
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All of a sudden, the telephone rings. It’s Mikage’s ex-boyfriend, Sotaro, who’s called to check in as he just heard about Mikage’s grandmother. They... (full context)
Joy and Suffering Theme Icon
Mikage and Sotaro walk home through the park. Mikage points out Yuichi’s apartment and Sotaro teases... (full context)
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That evening, Yuichi walks in carrying a new word processor and suggests Mikage send out change-of-address cards. Mikage asks if her living there is causing problems but Yuichi... (full context)
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Just as Mikage is thinking she should move out soon, Eriko bursts in with a new juicer. Mikage... (full context)
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The next day, Mikage sluggishly visits her old apartment to wrap things up. She drinks tea with the landlord... (full context)
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Mikage leaves the apartment at dusk with the last of her things. It’s chilly and her... (full context)
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A grandmother on the bus cheerfully points out the blimp to soothe her sulking granddaughter. Mikage is jealous: she’ll never see her grandmother again. Mikage concentrates on the blimp, and is... (full context)
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Mikage walks into the apartment, climbs into the sofa, and sleeps soundly after her cry. She... (full context)
Joy and Suffering Theme Icon
Suddenly, Mikage wakes up. She goes into the kitchen thinking about her strange dream, which is fresh... (full context)
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Mikage is amazed, and feels that the shared dream is a miracle and utterly natural all... (full context)
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One evening, as Eriko waters the plants, she imparts her outlook on life to Mikage. Eriko thinks that taking care of someone helps you understand your own shortcomings, and even... (full context)
Part 2: Full Moon
Death and Grief Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...he was stabbing her in the nightclub, Eriko beat him to death with a barbell. Mikage, who had already moved out, doesn’t hear the news until months later when Yuichi finally... (full context)
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Mikage frantically tries to recall the last time she saw Eriko. Was it the day Mikage... (full context)
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Mikage tries to throw together an overnight bag, but all she does is run around opening... (full context)
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Mikage rings Yuichi’s doorbell, feeling hopeless. When he answers the door, she can’t help but smile.... (full context)
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Mikage looks Yuichi deep in the eyes and finds herself saying that for some reason the... (full context)
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Yuichi hands Eriko’s will to Mikage, and goes to bed. It’s a cheerful letter joking about the silliness of a will... (full context)
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Mikage is wearing Eriko’s sweater and her heart lurches as she thinks of the smell of... (full context)
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Mikage and Yuichi sleep into the afternoon. As they sit next to each other watching TV,... (full context)
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Mikage looks up at the ceiling. When Mikage’s grandmother died, she thought things couldn’t get worse.... (full context)
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Over the summer, Mikage had learned to cook. Mikage cooked so much that Eriko and Yuichi had thought Mikage... (full context)
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Yuichi arrives with the car full of shopping bags and cajoles Mikage into helping him carry up all the things he’s bought. To distract Mikage, Yuichi points... (full context)
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As Mikage cooks an enormous feast of stew, salad, pie, vegetables, and all sorts of things, she... (full context)
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Yuichi asks Mikage to move back in. Mikage asks if Yuichi means as a lover or a friend.... (full context)
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Mikage wakes up to the telephone ringing. She answers and the other person hangs up. It... (full context)
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Mikage starts work with her coworkers Nori and Kuri, who are sweet, affluent, well-trained, polite young... (full context)
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That evening, Mikage is cooking curry at Yuichi’s when he walks in. Somehow, she can’t meet his eyes.... (full context)
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Yuichi opens the door for Mikage and they joke about how Eriko insisted on having the car door opened for her,... (full context)
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Mikage recalls a bittersweet memory. Eriko was watering the plants, looking “thrillingly beautiful” in the light.... (full context)
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Mikage is packing. Suddenly Chika—Eriko’s coworker at the club (who wears drag but isn’t explicitly female)—calls,... (full context)
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The next day, Mikage goes to Izu with her colleagues, feeling relieved but guilty about a break from the... (full context)
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Spotting a light, Mikage enters a near-empty eatery with relief, and orders a hearty meal of fried pork in... (full context)
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Mikage asks Yuichi when he’ll be back, and he lies, saying soon. Mikage knows he will... (full context)
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Mikage finds herself in the street, holding a steaming box of fried pork, wondering what to... (full context)
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Mikage approaches the inn, which is locked. She finds a payphone and calls, but there’s no... (full context)
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Laying in a puddle on the roof, Mikage looks up at the glowing moon and realizes everyone’s in the same position: we all... (full context)
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Yuichi is stunned as he opens the window, and rubs his eyes. Mikage says she came to deliver some pork, because she had some and it didn’t seem... (full context)
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Mikage’s chest is heavy in the “tomblike” atmosphere, and she wants to cry. Suddenly Yuichi notices... (full context)
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Yuichi and Mikage joke around and the mood feels easier. Mikage tells Yuichi that she doesn’t want to... (full context)
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Mikage wakes up at her inn to a raging, windy snowstorm outside the window. Looking out,... (full context)