Kitchen

Banana Yoshimoto


Forget the Are they Couple? I am in love with Eriko
mgromero@middlebury.edu
“I am beautiful! I am dazzling!… Believe in the me that you knew (Kitchen, page. 49).”  Grief is painful, and strange, and paralyzing, and confusing, and long. It drives you to lay around and do nothing, stare at the wall, and have no thoughts as the light outside disappears as it does in your spirit. ... read more

“I am beautiful! I am dazzling!... Believe in the me that you knew (Kitchen, page. 49).” 

Grief is painful, and strange, and paralyzing, and confusing, and long. It drives you to lay around and do nothing, stare at the wall, and have no thoughts as the light outside disappears as it does in your spirit. Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen () is a story of how a young woman, Mikage, processes this overwhelming grief. She finds the kitchen as her only place of solace and comfort. There she lies on the kitchen floor with the fridge doors open, just being. A state that everyone can empathize with and feel for the woman who was now alone in the world. 

Kitchen is a journey with Mikage on how she moves from the kitchen floor to the couch next to the kitchen to working in the kitchen. She did not get up from the floor by herself, Yuichi Tanabe, her classmate in university supported her as she grieved over her grandmother and him, his favorite customer. Mikage then meets Yuichi’s mother Eriko, who is a transgender woman, and thus begins the transition from strangers to friends between Mikage and Yuichi. Many read this novel specifically for Mikage and Yuichi and see their relationship as the endearing and sweet, which it is in my opinion, and how Banana (1964-Present) makes the reader feel warm and fuzzy is reason enough to read her book.

However, I would not recommend this book just for their love. The real star that captured my attention, as she should yours, is Eriko. She is the symbol of how Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is a trailblazer in literature in empowering women. She is grace and strength and no societal expectation of what a woman should be, will hold her from shining. Not since Torikaeba, a 13th-century Monogatari from imperial Japan, have transgender characters been main characters in a story. The debate in scholarly circles is questioning the reason behind Banana writing Eriko as a transgender woman. Marketability? Queer-bating? A character? We do not know and the answer to this question is up to the reader to decide. With this, I caution the Transgender community on the language others describe and speak to and about Eriko. There are many occurrences of misgendering from her son and she suffers pain, which many in the Transgender and LGBTQ+ community have experienced, because of her identity. This is not a book that escapes the unfortunate realities Transgender folk face, so if that might upset you, then this book is not the best option. While the novel centers around Mikage and Yuichi, Mikage's grandmother and Eriko play a major role, Eriko’s energy is infectious and to me makes her the reason to read this book. How she carries herself is as an inspiration and a paradigm for women.

I like to believe Banana writes Eriko to bring attention to society's problem of the lack of acceptance. Eriko is a kind person and she stepped up as a mother when Yuichi’s mother died and took in Mikage during her time in need. Mikage remembered this and repaid her kindness when Yuichi needed someone the most, so the love story everyone loves would not have been possible without Eriko. She helps Mikage and the audience think of their shine and uniqueness, and no matter the pains we endure, never let grieving prevent you from dazzling. 

 

Yoshimoto, Banana, Megan Backus, and Banana Yoshimoto. Kitchen. New York: Grove Press, 1993. Print.

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sgregory@middlebury.edu
After reading the first section of kitchen I am intrigued by the continuous talk about the weather and the sky. I am wondering if this has some significance to Yoshimoto herself or if it has a deeper rooted meaning within the novella?
 

sgregory@middlebury.edu
After finishing the novella I am left with the lingering question about the relationship of Yuichi and Mikage. They seem to have a connection that goes beyond simple love but this connection if rooted in despair - what does this and the theme of consumption have to do with one another? Are they representing some dichotomy within life itself or is it something else that is being represented here?
 

gdevries@middlebury.edu
4/18: After reading the first chapter in Kitchen, I wonder how the upbringing of Yuichi affects her relationship with Eriko. Because she never grew up with a mother and father, does she love Eriko because, in one sense, she symbolizes both of the parents she lost?
4/20: To answer my 4/18 question, Eriko did serve as both a mother and father figure to Yuichi and Mikage. Eriko seems to have made an impact on her community as well. What did she do to influence both her children and her town?

cetrillard@middlebury.edu
I was contemplating over whether Kitchen can be seen as a feminist text. There were hints at a more feminist approach as seen in the messages of freedom to express one's self despite societal pressures, but the messages are so subtle that one would not typically observe it as feminist activism. However, these kinds of hints could have been extreme for their time. Perhaps reading this from my perspective, I regard the relationships and expressions of the characters to be "normal" but perhaps readers of the time this book was initially published, it could have seemed radical.

jayhoc@middlebury.edu
I wonder what influences Yoshimoto Banana had on her writing. The description of Mikage drifting reminded me of Camus, along with the description of aloofness. Beyond this, I found the interaction between Sotaro and MIkage - I think that interaction illustrates how this text is feminist.
Does the story "cheat" by having somewhat of a happy ending? Does that reinforce the social order?

nlara@middlebury.edu
  1. In what unconventional ways does Eriko show her love for Yuichi? In what ways was the grandmother like a parental figure /to Yuichi? + What impact did Eriko have on the lives of those around her?

mmflores@middlebury.edu
One line that caught my attention was "It was all your imagination. And imagination is sometimes worse than reality” (Yoshimoto, 64). This reminded me of all the emotional attachments to objects listed in the book: sweater, kitchen, perfume. I wonder if these objects represent a side to each character that they do not want to acknowledge?

swittig@middlebury.edu
After reading Kitchen and Yoshimoto's bio, she seems to often juxtapose feelings of isolation and grief with finding love. Her bio also explains that she writes out of personal experience, and I wonder if her works are more well received than the others we've read so far because they leave the reader felling good. I think she has plenty of modern and feminist notions in her work, but her approach is not outright jarring like Kurahashi Yumiko or Kanai Mieko and I wonder if like Higuchi Ichio, her subtleness contributed to her sucess and the effect that had on her writing's impact.

swittig@middlebury.edu
Having finished the novella, I am questioning to what extent her message was feminist in nature or more modernist in general. There are plenty of elements like the characters of Chika and Eriko that empowers gender and sexual preferences, as well as highlighting Yuichi's intense feelings of emotion. Similarly, neither Mikage or Yuichi have a clear definition of their relationship but choose to live together without labels because it is what feels good to them. These are all things typically looked down upon as well by an overtly masculine patriarchy, but I feel Yoshimoto's work empowers men along with women to be who they want to be and feel how they want to feel regardless of the status quo.

alinas@middlebury.edu
 I'm curious about the parts where Mikage is compared to a dog. First Eriko says Mikage looks just like the family dog and that's why Yuichi likes her and then Mikage compares herself to a dog when she's talking to Sotaro and says the Tanabe family took her in like she was a stray dog. In American culture comparing someone to a dog would be offensive although dogs are beloved in american society. I'm curious about how dogs are percieved in Japan and if there are negative or positive conotations when comparing someone to a dog.

nquizon@middlebury.edu
This question links into Tristan's and the transgender representation in literature, but how did the cultural impact of artforms such as Noh and Kabuki, where men regularly played the part of female characters, affect the reception of transgender people?

nquizon@middlebury.edu
Nick, Sophia, Maria: The kitchen is a place of intimacy, and the attachment to physical objects represents different things for each characters. For example, the kitchen is a way of coping with loss of family for Mikage. The sweater is an attachment to Yuichi's mother. These objects are also points of familiarity that give insight between strangers.

nquizon@middlebury.edu
Is Eriko's character present solely to challenge the idea of the nuclear family? How prevalent was this trope/sentiment in Japanese culture before/after Western influence?

mgromero@middlebury.edu
 Thinking back on the question Professor Milutin brought up if representation is a good thing, as I read I could not help but pick up on the subtleties on how Banana writes about Eriko. Well into the second part she still refers how Eriko was not really a mother or was a man and I found it quite odd. I wonder if its due to Mikage still trying to understand Eriko and her character development being used as a way to combat the perceptions against the Trans Community. Though I think in general the novel does a good job in representing Eriko in a positive light and her will being very powerful in cementing her identity as a women and her beauty of light that comes from her living her life freely. What other mechanisms did you note Banana use to portray Eriko?

egavin@middlebury.edu
In comparison to the readings from last week, the societal critiques feel much more discrete in Kitchen. Is this an effective way to change societal norms through writing or are more dramatic/graphic techniques more effective?

rurbina@middlebury.edu
Daily Question 4/18: Are the kitchens a depiction of the like Yoshimoto wants, since most of her writing is her fondness for a well ordered kitchen. Could she be expressing her ideal life with living relatives and a stable home with her visit to Yuichi's apartment.  I wondered this because when she was in Yuichi's apartment and saw the kitchen she said that it made her feel no isolated and she saw herself in the reflection of the window.

rurbina@middlebury.edu
Make-Up Question: I was shocked to see the inclusion of a transgender role model in text given that even today there is controversy on how to bring up similar topics to the public. How was her work perceived in 1988 and later when there was a bigger audience when the text was translated in 1993. Was there pushback by external entities or by her own publisher to publish the book?

sabrinak@middlebury.edu
4/18 Daily Question: How come Mikage never knew about Yuichi until her grandmother's death?
4/20: I just liked the full circle effect of both Mikage and Yuichi talking about their dreams about ramen and the same kitchen and how Mikage returns back to Yuichi with katsudon because she wanted to share it with him.

ttanchanco@middlebury.edu
After reading the first segment of Kitchen, I'm left wondering what the significance of consumption is? The first thing that Mikage does with the Tanabes is cook and share a meal, there are several memories of eating or drinking tea and juice, when Eriko dies Mikage and Yuichi eat a huge dinner and drink together, and the ending of the segment ends with sharing tea and reminiscing. The importance of the kitchen is also something I'm questioning. Is hospitality and nourishment the key takeaway from the significance of eating together? Enjoying and savoring meals and togetherness?
I'm wondering what the significance of including transgender characters in the story is. It seems that Chika and Eriko are very important characters and they are crucial to many parts of the plot. They are also depicted in an extremely positive light, though all characters tend to poke fun at their gender. I'm wondering if they signify something deeper, and what is to be made out of the playful manner in which they handle transgenderness throughout the story?

ayepizmedina@middlebury.edu
I noticed there was a lot of imagery with light and dark elements with its typical joy/happiness and grief/sadness meanings respectively but I wonder if this is also a symbol for family ties? For example when Migake loses her grandma, it is dark as if her family tree died, but brighter elements appear when she starts to form more of a family-like bond with Yuichi and Eriko.

mmflores@middlebury.edu
The importance of objects is reflected heavily in both the kitchen and in the moonlight. In general, do you think the sentimental value of objects' influence is similar for each individual? If so, do you think the emotion behind the sentimental influence stays the same?


mgromero@middlebury.edu

Annotated Bibliography for Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

A. Ohsawa, Yoshihiro. “‘Censorship’ in Translation: Political Correctness in Hugh Lofting’s The Story of Doctor Dolittle and Yoshimoto Banana’s Kitchen.” Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature 54 (2008): 34-43. muse.jhu.edu/article/402966.

The purpose of these pieces is to reflect the Anglo-Americanization of translated Japanese texts and how they attempt to mold Banana’s Yoshimoto’s Kitchen into a more acceptable Western model through political correctness and readability, which misrepresents the characters in the story. Ohsawa argues that the English version of Kitchen suffers from censorship due to the translator’s choice to modify the writings to be less offensive to their audience. Ohsawa compares Kitchen’s French and German counterparts and how their translators kept the phrase “gay New Yorkers” to maintain the “faithfulness to the source (pg.39).” Banana used the phrase to contrast the timidness of a character to that of “gay New Yorkers,” which the English translator recognized as offensive to some and thus scrapped the phrase. Japanese authors’ works are molded to fit into the specific audience’s societal expectations, which fuels the disconnect between the original and the translation. Ohsawa writes to readers of Japanese literature and translators to bring attention to the common problem of translating popular stories. He leans on the side that original Japanese works are better and more representative, so to properly understand, one must read the original version. This critic’s perspective does limit much of the audience, considering that not everyone can read Japanese and that as a Japanese native it makes sense for Ohsawa to side with the Japanese version. I do agree that translations can distort a story, but this further demonstrates how much the quality of translation matters. Translation is more than switching words from one language to another, it is about, capturing the meanings and emotions of the text. That Kitchen translation that, Ohsawa analyzed, failed to capture Mikage’s speech style, indicating that when selecting the version of Kitchen or any popular non-English work, one must choose carefully. It is important to note before trying to gain more understanding of the novel, the gap language and society have caused in scholarly works and analyses of the novel.

B. Furukawa, Hiroko. “Representations Are Misrepresentations: The Case of Cover Designs of Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen.” TTR, Érudit. Association canadienne de traductologie, October 8, 2013. https://www.erudit.org/en/journals/ttr/2012-v25-n2-ttr0844/1018809ar/. 

C. [1-Japanese version: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/68/KitchenNovel.jpg

2-American version: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71F85zXcMjL.jpg                        

3-British version: https://metropolisjapan.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/bananananana-252x380.jpg

4-Second British version: https://www.erudit.org/en/journals/ttr/2012-v25-n2-ttr0844/1018809ar/media/1885431n.jpg ]

Continuing on the qualms of translating, Furukawa compares different book covers of Kitchen and points to how non-Western works are forced to abide by western cultures’ existing beliefs for marketability. The packaging of Kitchen is intentional and acknowledging the unfortunate stereotypes non-western cultural items endure allows the readers to unlearn the subtle censorship and racism in the literary industry. Furukawa looked into the American, English, and Dutch book covers, and compared them to the original Japanese book cover, the Western designs were curated to achieve a familiarity for the audience. 

The Japanese cover presents a story of a young Japanese woman navigating the ambiguous relationship between love and death. We typically associate black with death or a funeral, so the black and white theme represents the grief Mikage experiences from her grandmother’s and Eriko’s death. Their deaths brought Mikage and Yuichi together to form a relationship and they both support one another in their grief. Their relationship is represented through black flowers as a reminder of how Mikage’s grandmother and Yuichi’s mother's deaths were key events in furthering their relationship. Mikage struggles with separating her grief and her love for Yuichi beyond the deaths and at the end of the novel, the reader with Mikage wonders if she loves him romantically. While the American version Americanizes Mikage by having her wear an outfit one could see any Western woman wear and thus transforming the story into “an accessible yet still ‘oriental’ [product] (Part. 12).” The British cover is the most explicitly offensive because it uses the image of a crying geisha, which mischaracterizes the story because while Mikage experiences grief she is known for her happy-go-lucky attitude. Moreover, the an obvious lack of geisha in the story. The second version of this book, which has a woman lying down and looking at the reader on its cover, is no better because the use of the woman’s gaze projects the “adherence to an incorrect image of Japanese women [as infinitely ready for the sexual pleasures of western men] (Part. 21).” 

Since I would not have considered the significance of book covers otherwise, Furukawa’s interpretation is unique and important because it problematizes this categorization and management of “foreign” literature. Especially considering, how Japanese women authors typically have to wrestle misogyny domestically, their stories’ sexualization outside Japan seems to be a new fight for recognition in a different context. Furukawa does a great job in analyzing the covers one by one and the visual evidence is presents is highly compelling. 

D. Kellerman, R. (2010). A Room of Her Own in Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen. Pacific Asia Inquiry,1,1–10.https://www.uog.edu/_resources/files/schools-and-colleges/college-of-liberal-arts-and-social-sciences/bananayoshimoto.pdf

Kellerman analyzes the symbol of the kitchen as a space Banana uses to question Japanese women’s role in society. He at the same time correlates the concept of the third gender, shojo, with Eriko’s identity as a transgender woman. Kellerman explains how the kitchen is a place more than the woman’s sphere, but rather an intersectional point where young Japanese women face the question whether they should be career women or wives. Mikage uses the kitchen as a place to comfort others, which speaks to her womanly nature, but also a place to comfort herself. 

The in-between gender identity called shojo is neither male nor female, but the ideal median who works part-time, yet aspires to be a wife. Her career-oriented characteristics appeal to men and her aspiration to get married to women. Kellerman argues that Eriko’s identity is integral for Mikage to play the shojo role. Eriko is career-oriented, yet her identity as a transgender woman also places her in that in-between spectrum of gender. There is something to be said about how both Mikage and Eriko’s third gender makes them desirable; Mikage and Yuichi’s relationship is a fan favorite, while Eriko dies at the hands of her stalker. Kellerman’s argument signals that the shojo characterization is truly ideal and Eriko was used as a device to uphold that narrative. I do caution members of the LGBTQ+ community who read this novel that there is no scholarly consensus on the reason why Eriko is a transgender woman. It could be to uphold societal norms or to challenge them, that decision is up to the reader to interpret. 

E. Murakami, Fuminobu. “Yoshimoto Banana's Feminine Family.” Chapter in Postmodern, Feminist and Postcolonial Currents in Contemporary Japanese Culture: A Reading of Murakami Haruki, Yoshimoto Banana, Yoshimoto Takaaki and Karatani Kojin, 1st ed., 77–114. London, UK: Routledge, 2005. 

Murakami Fuminobu analyzes the use of food as a symbol for the desire for sex in the subverted incestual relationship between Mikage and Yuichi, who went from strangers to siblings through sharing food. While other works use food to represent sex, Murakami argues that Banana uses food as both a mechanism to bring Mikage and Yuichi together as a means to question the construction of family. The most interesting part of his analysis is how he builds off John Whitter Treat’s analysis of Banana’s Goodbye Tsugumi, where the author argues that the incestuous relationship between Yuichi and Mikage is created to get over their grief of losing their family as they try to rebuild one together. Murakami agrees that the desire to once again feel the nostalgia of home and family is the main factor in the relationship between Yuichi and Mikage. Both authors acknowledge that, while Mikage was adopted into Yuichi and Eriko’s family structure and that Eriko mentions her in her will, Yuichi and Mikage still explore the possibility of a romantic relationship. Many works call their relationship incestuous or borderline, and though I agree that they both depend on one another to get over grief, the incestuous reading might be a little too far for my taste. Murakami’s work is dense and takes some time to digest, but his argument is well thought out and backed by other scholarship. 

F. Brorsson, Kenneth. “Review: Kitchen (1997).” Youtube video, 3:06. May 31, 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5K-9S_lbuA&t=179s

This source is a review of the movie adaptation of Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, though its story is severely changed and so its messaging is again repacked for marketability. The movie takes place in Hong Kong, Mikage becomes Aggie and Yuichi becomes Louie, their personalities are switched and much to fans' disappointment the story focuses on Yuichi instead of Mikage. Mikage is typically seen laying on the floor depressed and unmoving, which is unlike how she was written in the novel. Yuichi was portrayed as more depressed when Eriko died and Mikage was the one who dragged him out of such a depressive state. Kitchen’s popularity has helped diffuse Japanese works outside Japan, but its power and feminist subtexts have suffered through its adaptations and translations around the world.