Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is a love letter to the non-traditional family. None of the story’s central characters are raised in a conventional family environment by two biological parents. The protagonist, Mikage Sakurai, was raised by her grandmother, who has just died when the story begins. Mikage’s love interest, Yuichi Tanabe, is raised by his transgender parent Eriko (who was Yuichi’s biological father but now identifies as his mother). The most central family dynamic in the plot is Mikage’s found family. Mikage is taken in by Yuichi and Eriko when her grandmother dies, despite barely knowing them at all. Through Eriko’s relationship with Mikage, Yoshimoto emphasizes that consistent nurturing and emotional support are what really make people family, regardless of their biological relationship to each other.
Eriko’s relationship with Mikage, as well as other relationships in the story, show that Yoshimoto considers day-to-day nurturing as an essential component of what creates a bond of family between people. Eriko, who runs a nightclub, pops home every night just to check in and say hello to her son Yuichi and Mikage, and make sure they’re alright. Eriko also imparts frequent advice to Mikage, even after Mikage has moved out, showing that Eriko continues to care for Mikage from a distance. Eriko’s son Yuichi similarly forms a bond with Mikage’s grandmother before she dies. Yoshimoto underscores that their day-to-day companionship was what fostered a bond of love between Yuichi and Mikage’s grandmother. Mikage’s memories of her grandmother also center on the day-to-day moments they shared, such as Mikage’s grandmother’s daily greeting of “Welcome home,” their chats over tea and coffee, and watching TV together.
Yoshimoto also believes that the people who take time to provide emotional support, especially about difficult topics like coping with pain and finding meaning in life, are essentially taking on a parental role in those actions. Mikage often reflects on her deep conversations with Eriko, which make Mikage feel seen, understood, and supported as a person. For example, Eriko, who grieved her spouse, tells Mikage that deep joy cannot be felt without the experience of deep pain, which enlivens Mikage and makes her feel more hopeful about navigating the path through her grief. Yoshimoto shows that people can love each other like family even if they are not biologically related. Eriko refers to Mikage as her “daughter” and “precious child” even though they are not related. When Mikage’s grandmother dies, Mikage describes Yuichi’s grieving as so intense that it seems his love surpasses her own, even though Yuichi and Mikage’s grandmother are not related. Mikage reflects, “When he saw my grandmother’s picture on the altar, again his tears fell like rain. My first thought when I saw that was my love for my own grandmother was nothing compared to this boy’s, whoever he was.”
While none of the family relationships emphasized in the story fit the conventional picture of family, the relationships nonetheless epitomize its true meaning. Yoshimoto thus portrays family as a bond that emerges from day-to-day interaction, nurturing, and emotional support, rather than from biology.
Family Quotes in Kitchen
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.
Usually, the first time I go to a house, face to face with people I barely know, I feel an immense loneliness.
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.
Yes, but. Could you call someone who looked like that ‘Dad?’
You’re a good kid, too.
We would spend a little time together before bed, sometimes drinking coffee, sometimes green tea, eating cake and watching TV.
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.