"Why is it that everything I eat when I'm with you is so delicious?" Mikage says, "Could it be that you're satisfying hunger and lust at the same time?" "No way, no way, no way!" he said, laughing. "It must be because we're family."
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Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
(translated by Megan Backus: Washington Square Press, 1988)
A young girl in Tokyo, Mikage Sakurai, is an orphan raised by her grandmother. When grandmother dies, leaving her alone in the world, Mikage is devastated--paralyzed as to what she should do with her life and unable to organize the effects of her grandmother's apartment and move into a new place. A passing acquaintance, Yoichi Tanabe, shows up at the funeral. He'd worked part time in the grandmother's favorite flower shop and was a favorite of hers. Yoichi invites Mikage to move into the apartment he shares with Eriko/Yuji, his mother/father (actually his father who became a transvestite when his wife died and now performs in his own Tokyo nightclub). Mikage agrees because she "trusted their kitchen." Soup serves as a defining emblem of human connection--family--in a modern world where traditional family bonds are ragged and uncertain. We first meet ramen in a symbolic dream sequence, then soba, and finally katsudon in the climax of the book.
Mikage finally summons strength to clean out her grandmother's apartment and move in with the Tanabes. While there, she has a dream of cleaning out her grandmother's kitchen with Yuichi, underlining a defining moment in their relationship. In the dream, Yuichi says, "After we finish cleaning up here, I really feel like stopping at the ramen stand in [Chuo] park." Mikage awakens abruptly. She pads into the Tanabe kitchen and is startled by Yuichi behind her saying, "I just woke up and I'm starving. I was thinking, hmmm, maybe I'll make some ramen...." Mikage explains about her dream and Yuichi freakily realizes he was in it, as he remembers the color of the grandmother's kitchen floor...which he had never seen.
Soba soup catches the tears of Chika, nightclub hostess, who is grieving over the murder of Yuicho's parent Eriko. Mikage joins her there and learns that Yuichi is on a catastrophic bender over Eriko's death...and presently holed up in a tofu-crazy mountain monastery.
Mikage, who has found a career in food, mulls over Yuichi's destructive behavior while she is on shoot in a mountain inn in Izu. Upset, she walks into town and stumbles into a restaurant, where she orders katsudon: "This katsudon", she says, "encountered almost by accident, was made with unusual skill, I must say. Good quality meat, excellent broth, the eggs and onions handled beautifully, the rice with just the right degree of firmness to hold up in the broth--it was flawless."
On a whim, Mikage orders takeout and hires a cab to drive her, at great expense, to Yuichi's tofu hideout. It's locked up tight, so she climbs up the side of the building with the katsudon, badly cutting her hand in the process. Ultimately, though, she is reunited with Yuichi. "Why is it that everything I eat when I'm with you is so delicious?" Mikage says, "Could it be that you're satisfying hunger and lust at the same time?" "No way, no way, no way!" he said, laughing. "It must be because we're family."