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Banana Yoshimotos novella Kitchen depicts the story of a single girl Mikage who has lost her family. However, she soon discovers a new family with an old friend Yukichi and Eriko his mother. Both of them comfort her and help her pick up her life again. Yoshimoto develops a theme of the importance of family in one’s life by using Mikage as a vehicle to epitomize the struggles one experiences without a family. Yoshimoto conveys that individuals need some sort backing and support from family in order to live happily.
The evident symbolism used to link the importance of kitchen to family is highlighted in Japanese tradition. Traditionally the term for a kitchen is Kamado, and the word Kamado means stove, there are many sayings that involve this word, this is because it is seen to represent the house or a family, examples would include Kamado wo wakeru, and Kamado wo yaburu. The literal meaning would be to break or to divide a stove, but the symbolic meaning is to separate a family. This emphasizes the use of Kitchen as a motif to insinuate a house or family. This symbolism is used throughout the novel, where Mikage’s love for kitchens exemplifies Yoshimoto view that individuals should love their families. Moreover, the happiness attained by Mikage from Kitchens also highlights how families make people happy, hence alluding their importance. Therefore, the extensive use of the kitchen as a place of warmth comfort and understanding symbolises the role of a family, and it’s importance as a supportive element in one’s life. This links into the use of the Kamado’s as a symbol for a home or family, this being a method for Mikage to deal with losses she has experienced with both her grandmother and Eriko.
The importance of kitchens to Mikage’s life is repeated throughout the novel articulating Yoshimoto’s view of the importance of families in life. The motif of ‘Kitchen’ is particularly significant in the novel as firstly the title of the book is ‘Kitchen’ thus connoting significance of this motif. Furthermore it is also how the novel starts, Mikage believes that kitchens are the “best â€¦.place in this world”(Yoshimoto, 2001 , p 3; subsequent citations refer to this edition and appear in the text); this immediately alludes to the reader that Mikage loves to cook and that it is her passion. This double entendre also highlights that families should be where one feels most comfortable, and therefore should be the best company of people one would want. Mikage also suggests that she loves all kitchens since all she needs is “a place where they make food”(p3) then “it’s fine with”(p3) her. This further emphasizes her passion to cook. The motif infers that cooking is the most important activity in Mikage’s life. Despite her passion for cooking, Mikage also seeks out “comfort”(p4) from the kitchen, as it is the “one place she [can] sleep”(p4), after her grandmother’s death. Although she is left with no family, she still is able to find comfort in the kitchen, suggests that Mikage finds the kitchen to be her family. This use of symbolism further illustrates her love for food and kitchens, as it is a place where she seeks warmth and shelter from the tragedies of life, much like what individuals seek out from their families. Moreover, Mikage would want to “breathe [her] last breath in a kitchen.” (p4) This emphasizes her absolute love for kitchens, as she would like to spend as much time in the kitchen as possible during her life, this further underlines the importance of kitchen and reflects Yoshimoto’s importance for family in one’s life.
Furthermore, Kitchens are constantly presented in a positive light by doing so family life is also portrayed in a positive manner, as the kitchen is Mikage’s (symbolic) family, further illustrating its importance. Mikage was in a “daze”(p4) after the funeral, and she pulled “her futon into the deathly silent, gleaming kitchen”(p4 – p5). The use of juxtaposition of “deathly silent”(p4) and “gleaming kitchen”(p5) connotes the Kitchen in a positive light, with the word “gleaming”(p4). This occurs when Mikage has lost all her family, and the kitchen has now become her new family that comforts her. This is depicted with the use of “gleaming”(p4), which symbolises hope and shelter the kitchen gives, which is also what families give too. Moreover, once Mikage stepped into the kitchen it had transformed her feelings from “the darkest despair to feeling wonderful”(p35); this portrays the kitchen as a place of healing, a place that is always uplifting, and soothing. This use of juxtaposition further illustrates the importance of families, as it had consoled her so that she was no longer in a negative disposition.
The importance of family is portrayed on both a physical level as well as a physiological level, where the memory of Mikage time in a Kitchen comforts her. The kitchen comforts her through the deaths of two loved ones first it was her grandmother, and then it was Eriko. After Eriko’s death Mikage comes to the realisation that kitchens “represent some distant longing engraved in [her] soul”(p56). The use of diction infers that the memory of the kitchen itself gives her strength during difficult situations, which in this case is Eriko’s death. This point is further stressed when Mikage is dreaming, she “dream[s] [of] kitchens, [she] will have countless ones, in [her] heart or in reality”(p43), illustrating how the kitchen has become apart of her and is present in her imagination and ideas. This further highlights that the thought of kitchens and food provide healing, and provoke happiness in Mikage, depicting that she cannot live without them and alluding that individuals cannot live happily without a family of some sort. Additionally, Yoshimoto uses the symbolism of plants to illustrate life and further emphasize the motif of the kitchen being a place where Mikage looks for hope. Mikage loved her grandmother dearly and clearly remembered, “[her] Grandmother loved cut flowers. Because the ones in [her] kitchen were not allowed to wilt.”(p7) This use of symbolism suggests that kitchens denote life, which is suggested by the use of flowers, as they link with nature. This further emphasizes the way in which her character sees the kitchen as a place of hope. The summer Mikage had spent with Yukichi and Eriko, was “[a] summer of bliss [spent] in that kitchen”(p59). This infers the comfort Mikage attains when reflecting upon the time she spent with her new family, which is, suggested through the word “bliss”(p59). Thus, memory of time spent with her family gives strength to Mikage in times of crisis or loss. Although the ‘kitchen’ takes on many roles in the novel, all these roles seem to link with the responsibilities of a family, thus depicting that Mikage has made her ‘companion’ the kitchen, her family.
Yoshimoto also highlights the importance of family by taking on a negative view of consumerism, as she considers it to affect family life negatively. Consumerism is a global phenomenon occurring all around the world. It is a social movement in which individuals purchase goods in excess, for pleasure and enjoyment. This is particularly linked with the western world especially America, but this is also evident in Japan today and is apparent in the novella. There are many instances in the novel where the theme of consumerism is illustrated as seen with the purchase of the juicer and the word processor. Mikage believed that “these people had a taste buying new things”(p27) thus highlighting the theme of consumerism, which is further emphasized when “Yukichi exclaimed happily”(p26) coming through the door after the purchase. This enunciates Yukichi’s happiness from buying the word processor, which is viewed as “verged on the unhealthy”(p27). By relating the word “unhealthy”(p27) with buying a surplus of items, this depicts the impression of Yuichi frequently buys unnecessary items. The word “unhealthy”(p27) similarly presents the reader with an impression that this act of buying is so strong that it is comparable to that of a disorder or disease. Thus alluding the negative impact of consumerism, into Japanese culture and tradition, where respect and family time is regarded as important. Moreover, the contextual aspects of the book suggest that Japan was undergoing its greatest boom and financial affluence since its post-war period, and much of it was due to the growth of consumerism in Japan. Despite this, Yoshimoto has chosen to connote consumerism negatively, further illustrating her strong view towards family life despite her liberal upbringing.
In the novella ‘Kitchen’ Banana Yoshimoto, deems that families are very important in everyone’s life. She does this with the use of many literary devices such as symbolism, juxtaposition and diction to illustrate the prominence and responsibilities of a family, which are to be supportive, comforting, accepting and loving towards one another. Yoshimoto also touches upon the negative impacts of consumerism in society and on family life in Japan, depicting that family relations should trump all others. As they are an integral part in ones life as they comfort through the tragedies life and celebrate with the successes.
Word Count: 1498
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