We Should All Read ‘Kitchen’

Written by Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto and published in 1988, Kitchen details the life of newly-orphaned Mikage, a woman made to live with a family her grandmother held semi-close relations with before her death. As she is experiencing a new way of life with mother-son duo Yuichi and Eriko Tanabe, Mikage discovers her love for the kitchen and her passion for cooking to deal with the difficulties life has to offer. 

 One of the many pleasures of Kitchen lies in its writing. On its surface, Kitchen seems a banal read; it holds no detectable plot, and no exact setting apart from Mikage’s mind. However, Yoshimoto’s dive into the complexities of things we see on a surface level makes Kitchen a particularly refreshing read. 

One example of this is the book’s title. Although it’s a simple word describing an unremarkable room in every house, in the book’s context, it is the place where Mikage learns to cope with change.

One of the many realities presented in Kitchen is the undeniable loneliness of its characters as a result of loss. Apart from each other, all those dear to Mikage and Yuichi die. The two of them form a bond on their shared loneliness and are shown to deal with it in vastly different ways. 

While Mikage designated cooking to be an outlet for her emotions, Yuichi instead turned to  isolation and alcoholism. However, regardless of this difference, the two still help and understand each other more than anyone else. In Kitchen loneliness is a universal language, understood with loss, and easily conveyed without conversation. 

As Mikage grows more and more accustomed to life with the Tanabes, she learns that Eriko, the mother of Yuichi, underwent gender reassignment surgery, and Yuichi’s biological mother passed away when he was young. 

Kitchen depicts Eriko brightly, transforming her into the mother figure Mikage never had and describing her as the most feminine character. Eriko is seen as human, as someone who has struggled and triumphed regardless of the discrimination she’s faced. 

Although she is later murdered, it’s crucial that Yoshimoto continues to focus on Eriko through the lens of a person, rather than her gender identity. With the relationship between Eriko and Mikage, Yoshimoto demonstrates that womanhood is not something exclusive based on what someone is born with, but something that can be shared. 

Kitchen is full of meanings. Yoshimoto’s masterful writing manages to convey scenes that seem bland on their surface into extremely deep reflections, and it’s these reflections that make reading this book such a pleasant experience. 

The subjects of loss and femininity are conveyed delicately while also being handled seriously. There are humorous, light-hearted moments but also solemn, deep scenes. The journey Mikage undergoes to discover her own path is realistic, showcasing that the unexpected can be as welcoming as the anticipated. Kitchen  effectively highlights both the emotional struggles someone can go through, and the simple and complex areas of life.