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Grief and Longing in Banana Yoshimoto

‘To me a kitchen represents some distant longing engraved on my soul’

Banana Yoshimoto is one of Japan’s finest contemporary writers. Her debut novel Kitchen (1988) – written while waitressing at a Tokyo golf club – sold six million copies within two years in Japan, sparking ‘Bananamania’ across the country. It was translated into English in 1993.

Young women dealing with grief feature not only in the two stories which make up Kitchen (‘Kitchen’ and ‘Moonlight Shadow’) – but in all her translated Japanese novels.

Although death, loss and loneliness form Banana’s favourite tropes, her characters yearn for and find meaning in their lives after tragedy. For Satsuki in Moonlight Shadow, morning running helps her process the death of her boyfriend (with whom she was with for 4 years).

Similarly in Kitchen, following the passing of both her parents and grandparents, Mikage ‘wished my heart would break and get it over with’ but then finds joy in the methodical process of cooking.

‘To me a kitchen represents some distant longing engraved on my soul.’

The feeling of Banana Yoshimoto

‘Instead of finely detailing a scene for the reader, I prefer the reader to sketch out something using all five senses’ (Banana Yoshimoto)

New readers of Banana Yoshimoto must not expect elaborate plots. What makes her literary prize-winning novels remarkable is their feeling: immersive, dream-like, and atmospheric. With simple and short sentences, her prose seeps into your soul – leaving an unforgettable emotional mark.

We feel our feet touch the ground as we realise the significance of our existence.

'Each one of us continues to carry the heart of each self we've ever been, at every stage along the way, and a chaos of everything good and rotten. And we have to carry this weight all alone, through each day that we live. We try to be as nice as we can to the people we love, but we alone support the weight of ourselves.'

 Goodbye Tsugumi (a story of two cousins longing to relive and hold onto past summer memories amid inevitable change).

 

Embrace the world you live in

‘The ritual of our daily lives permeates our very bodies.’ (HardBoiled and Hard Luck)

Banana’s novels resonate this message, not only for the grieving but for all of us. We will all experience death, heartbreak, and loneliness at some point. Yet time continues spinning on… it’s up to us how we use it.

Following her mother’s death, the female protagonist of The Lake decides to move to Tokyo with ambitions to establish herself as a graphic artist. She’s steeped in sadness but while staring out the window of her flat, it dawns on her:

But I have my life, I’m living it. It’s twisted, exhausting, uncertain, and full of guilt, but nonetheless, there’s something there (The Lake)

 

We can wallow in unhappiness, or embrace our daily lives and find the joy that sustains us.

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. I'm grateful for it.’  (Kitchen).

Out of despair, Banana's protagonists long to find the joy that will flood their loves with meaning. As readers, we long with them and are spellbound by their journey.

 

Let the heart lead you

Typical of many Japanese writers, Banana Yoshimoto writes lonely characters. In her words:

‘I think loneliness is universal and everyone experiences it very strongly.’

However, we must keep moving. Grief, sadness and loss provide the platform to discover and embrace our passions: cooking, running, sewing, singing – whatever they may be. After all, ‘there will always be the never ending cycle of daily life’ (Amrita).

 

About Banana Yoshimoto

Born as ‘Mahoko Yoshimoto’, Banana Yoshimoto gave herself the name Banana because she thought it was ‘rather cute and androgynous’. Her works have enchanted readers across the globe and continue to be read and re-read with gusto.

‘When people read they can escape the way they view the world and their everyday lives. When they read, they are protected.’ – Banana Yoshimoto

She shines as one of the Japan’s and the world’s outstanding women writers.

 

Osusume Book Packages

Inspired by this article? Keen to read Banana Yoshimoto and other Japanese authors?

An Osusume Book Subscription gives you a translated Japanese novel (read in English) every month. Click the link to see options.

 

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