Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is the story of a young Japanese girl, Mikage, who lost her family and finds a new one with an old friend, Yuichi. When Mikage first lost her grandmother, she was launched into a depressive state. Yuichi helped reassure her and pick her back up. Throughout the novel, Yoshimoto develops a theme of the influence of a family by using Mikage to express struggles faced without one. Death is used to bring the characters to the realization that there can be new beginnings and that relationships are paramount in life.
Individual’s need support from a family in order to live a happy life.The importance of kitchens in Mikage’s life is repeated throughout the novel which helps express Yoshimoto’s view on the importance of families. The motif of a kitchen is very significant besides the fact the title of the book is “Kitchen.” This is also how the novel starts, Mikage immediately expresses that kitchens are “the place I like best in this world” (pg 3).
She also makes the claim that she loves all kitchens since all she needs is “a place where they make food” (pg 3). After her grandmother died it was ” the one place I Mikage could sleep” (pg 4) which suggests Mikage is the most comfortable within a kitchen. One interpretation shows that family should be where an individual feels most comfortable.
Despite no longer having a family Mikage still finds comfort in a kitchen, this alludes to the fact that she finds the kitchen to be her “symbolic” family. Since she claims she wants to “breathe my her last in a kitchen,” (pg 4) this highlights the importance of kitchens in Mikage’s life and therefore highlights Yoshimoto’s importance for a family in the life of an individual. Mikage finds comfort from multiple kitchens within the novel. For starters, she spent most her days and nights in her grandmother’s kitchen because it is where she is comfortable. Then when the Tanabe family took her in, she found comfort in their kitchen and would spend time in there seeking comfort.
Yoshimoto uses the kitchens to show that Mikage can find a family without the blood relationships. This support that she receives from both her “symbolic” family and her newfound family, with Yuichi, is what ultimately allows Mikage to live a happy life.Death is also a general theme within the novel. But although it is a more radiant theme it doesn’t make the novel dark and disturbing. Death is ultimately what separates Mikage and Yuichi from their family members, but it also draws them together.
When Mikage lost her grandmother she is thrown into a depressive state and starts to distance herself from the world. When Yuichi and his mother, Eriko, step in to take care of her, she falls out of her depression. Later on in the novel when Eriko dies, Yuichi is launched into a depressive state. Then Mikage, knowing the effect of loss, steps in and takes care of Yuichi and gives him a reason to continue on. By placing the characters in tragic circumstances, the novel shows how people cope with death.”Everyone we love is dying. Still, to cease living is unacceptable” (pg 82). This shows Mikage’s attitude towards life, even though she lost her entire family, she remains optimistic.
Each character deals with a personal tragedy but death is what causes the characters to also realize they need one another. Mikage and Yuichi bond over the fact that death “follows them.” But like in most literature, the author uses death to represent a new beginning rather than the end. This is shown in the book with Mikage and Yuichi’s relationship. If Mikage’s grandmother never died, Yuichi most likely wouldn’t have reached out to Mikage. This death created a beginning for Yuichi and Mikage, and this is what solemnly makes the book. The end of her grandmother’s life creates a new relationship and beginning for Mikage.
This message is also shown when Yuichi’s mother, Eriko, dies. When this happens, Mikage and Yuichi hadn’t seen each other in months. If Mikage hadn’t found out about Eriko’s death she would have continued on with her life and wouldn’t have reconnected with Yuichi.
This death created a new beginning for Mikage and Yuichi and brings them to the realization that their feelings for each other are more than friends. Before Eriko died she explained to Mikage that grief and sadness are essential for a happy life, “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” (pg 41). By having both Mikage and Yuichi fall into a depressive state, this allows the author to use death as a new beginning and allow the characters to discover new paths rather than ending what was. With the new paths created, these characters learn that a family is needed in order to live a happy life.Depression is also a major theme within the novel. Mikage is followed by depression after her grandmother’s death. Mikage describes the loss of her grandmother early on and explains how she felt “all alone” or how it felt like “the blackness of the cosmos” (pg 4). These depressing feelings return when Mikage expresses that “someday, without fail, everyone will disappear, scattered into the blackness of time” (pg 21).
Her mood changes quickly though. When Yuichi knocks on the door to her apartment she explains that he “seemed to glow with white light” (pg 7). Depression follows both Yuichi and Mikage after Eriko’s death as well. At the beginning of chapter 2, Eriko breaks the news to Mikage about Eriko’s death and Mikage responds with wanting to give up on life completely.
“From the bottom of my heart, I wanted to give up. I wanted to give up on living… I never thought it would be this hard but I would go on living in the midst of a gloomy depression” (pg 48). After receiving the news Mikage reunites with Yuichi and finds him in a drunken mess. Here the mood changes again. “His sadly cheerful face radiated a cheerful glow” (pg 50).
In the end, Mikage and Yuichi find “brightness” in each other in the same sense that Mikage found the faraway lighthouse shining over the “endless sea shrouded in darkness” (pg 104). Yoshimoto uses depression and positivity to show that life isn’t just darkness and death. Just like the common phrase “there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel.
” By contrasting these emotions, Yoshimoto further supports the claim that an individual needs a family in order to live a happy life. A family will always be there and willing to help; family can be the light at the end of the tunnel.Yoshimoto uses the motif of kitchens, and the themes of death and depression to develop an overall theme of the influence of a family. Mikage is used to express struggles faced without one. For example, how Mikage had fallen into a depressive state after her grandmother’s death and worked to find a new family with Yuichi and Eriko.
Although death was a major underlying theme, Mikage had moments of positivity that helped her further her relationship with Yuichi. In the end, it is assumed that Mikage and Yuichi end up together not as friends, but more like a family. An individual cannot live a happy life without the influence of a family.