First published in 1987, “Kitchen” is about free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan. Kitchen is Yoshimoto’s first novel that propels her to stardom in Japan and across the ocean. She is literally unheard of by me until I started reading her book last month and received many recommendations from fellow bloggers who love the book.
Kitchen speaks about a young girl named Mikage Sakurai, whose grandmother recently died. Yuichi Tanabe who is well acquainted with Mikage’s grandmother invite Mikage to come stay with him and his mother Eriko. Mikage accepted.
The threesome got along fine, as Mikage rediscover her passion for cooking and spend a summer of bliss in Yuichi’s home kitchen. Kitchen and cooking was Mikage’s therapy.
A twist of events caught Yuichi in similar position as Mikage and the unlikely pair form a unbreakable bond.
In this book, Yoshimoto handles some difficult topics. She explores about transsexuality. Of the two books containing 4 stories, Yoshimoto talks about death in all of them. Different sort of death every time that is dealt with in different ways, but always a love interest in the horizon or alongside the morning. Perhaps the essence of it was to convey that:
No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die. Without that, I am not alive. That is what makes the life I have now possible.
Moonlight Shadow is another “getting over mourning” story about a young girl, Satsuki, who lost her beloved boyfriend of 4 years to a car accident, in which the girlfriend of Hitoshi’s brother, Hiiragi, is also involved. Soon Satsuki and Hiiragi form an unlikely bond and a queer encounter with a woman called Urara provides the source of strength to Satsuki to overcome her grief. Surrealism and lost love is the main themes in this short story.
Hardback. Publisher: Faber and Faber, 1993; Length: 150 pages; Setting: Late 80’s Japan. Source: Library Reserve Stock. Finished reading at: 10 April 2010. The book is translated from Japanese by Megan Backus.
The story is told through the eyes of Tsugumi’s cousin, Maria Sharigawa. Maria’s mother is a mistress of a man in Tokyo, she and her mother stay with the Maria’s mother’s younger sister Masako family and work for them in the Yamamoto Inn, a seaside resort in Japan. Masako has two children, Tsugumi and Yuko. Tsugumi is frail and always made to believe that she will die young. Her family, Dad Tadushi, Mom Masako and Sister Yuko, prepared for the worse and as a result everyone spoiled her and succumbed to all her whims and fancies.
For most of the growing up years, Maria grew up with Tsugumi at the seaside.
The same as Yuko they put up with Tsugumi’s insolent behaviour. I think Tsugumi is a refreshing change for the usual goodie main characters. She is selfish and malicious, she is rude, she swears, she belittles everyone, she’s really quite a despicable girl, depending how you see it. Yet Maria and Yuko find so many ways to justify their love for Tsugumi and how her presence makes their lives a little bit more colourful and interesting.
“I just notice that my thoughts have started linking up with all these amazingly big issues. Life death, stuff like that. And it’s not because she’s so frail, either. It’s just that when I look into her eyes, or when I look at the way she lives her life, for some reason I start feeling sort of solemn”. – Kyoichi
I knew exactly what he meant. Tsugumi’s very presence linked us to something huge.
Now Maria’s father is finally able to bring Maria and her mother to Tokyo. Maria is enrolled in University, moved out of the seaside town and into the big city. She was invited back to the seaside town by Tsugumi to spend the last summer by the sea before Tusgumi’s family sell off the inn. Maria has to deal with the changes in Tsugumi as she found love for the first time, in the form of Kyoichi Takeuchi, and deal with the possibility of losing her to her poor health.
One of my favourite passage in the book is this:
Being able to go anywhere isn’t the point. Hey, it’s nice here, too. You can wander around in your sandals, wander around in your bathing suit, and you’ve got the guts – even if you were to end up spending your entire life here you’d get to see more than all these bozos who make trips around the world. That’s the sort of feeling I get from you.
Tsugumi is so frail that she hasn’t been out of her home. Travel and wandering may suits some, but really who needs to go anywhere if you have found your favourite place to live in?
After reading three books from Yoshimoto (including Hardboiled Hard Luck), both are definitely better than Hardboiled and I find Kitchen deserves the accolades received. In Goodbye Tsugumi, Yoshimoto’s writing is more developed. Goodbye Tsugumi feels as if it adopts the prose of subtleness and gentleness that bears the trademark of Ishiguro, except it is more lively and witty, with a heart rending and nostalgic mood in every page.
I am slightly surprised at myself, because it is hard not to like spoilt, foul-mouthed, bold and perseverance Tsugumi. I met a lot of Tsugumi in life, people who always want to be in the centre of attention, spoilt, demanding yet is loved by everyone around her; and you are suppose to hate people like that. At first, Tsugumi’s rudeness and demands grate on my nerves, but soon through the eyes of Maria I began to understand what makes Tsugumi tick. I find some Tsugumi in me. A Tsugumi who is frail and fraught with illness yet persist to take up challenges and hard work that is beyond one’s physical tenacity and capability. Seems impossible, yet it is.
Between these two books there is a 15-year gap. Kitchen is good, Goodbye Tsugumi is even better.
Paperback. Publisher: Faber and Faber, 2002; Length: 186 pages; Setting: Contemporary Japan. Source: Library Loot. Finished reading at: 20 April 2010. The book is translated from Japanese by Michael Emmerich.
Did you read any of Banana Yoshimoto’s novels? What do you think about her novels? Do the characters epitomise the psyche of young contemporary Japanese? Why do you think death is a main theme in every one of her stories (at least for the 3 that I have read)?