Politics in a girl's everyday life: "Women's happiness" in Banana Yoshimoto's kitchen
Nozomi Uematsu (Queen Mary, University of London)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the pedagogy of "happiness" in women's everyday life in Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen, in the context of neoliberalism. Looking at the social discourse of the 80s, I will discuss the contradictory connections between women's workforce and domesticity in relation to their happiness.
Paper long abstract:
This paper explores and questions the pedagogy of "happiness" in women's everyday life in Banana Yoshimoto's debut novel Kitchen (1987), in the context of neoliberalism. Looking at Kitchen in the social discourse of the 80s, I will discuss the contradictory connections between a women's workforce and domesticity in relation to their happiness. The protagonist Mikage's pursuit of happiness always already lies in how she can be proximate to the idea of kinship, and this demonstrates the limitation of this novel to imagine woman's happiness outside of bloodlines. Previous critics argue that the novel radically portrays new forms of family through the queer mother figure, as well as by exploring a family connection not through blood relations, but from eating food together; as Chizuko Ueno called it in Midnight Call, 'shokuen-kazoku'. However, I will challenge this optimistic reading of a new family portrait, and argue that this novel reinforces the idea of heterosexism. Happiness works here as a norm and the idea circulates that happiness is in reproducing the blood-related family, seen through the death of the transgender mother, and in the ambiguous relationship between Mikage and Yuichi. In this sense, happiness in this novel works as a border-making system, which excludes those who are not grounded in (heteronormative) bloodlines. Contextualising Kitchen in 1980s Japan, when the Japanese economic bubble reached its peak, and neo-conservatism was on the rise, provides a thread with which to undo the complicated process of gaining happiness in girlhood: in the process of her growth into a woman, the girl is willing to participate in the neoliberal market, to be proximate to the normative sense of happiness. This "happiness" is described as something cultivated through the good care of (heterosexual) parents. The process in this text is precisely that of the girl maturing and entering the market as part of its labour force. In this, the girl is encouraged to fulfill the utmost of her ability with the newfound liberation of women to work, but at the same time, the novel suggests the "ultimate" happiness is still contained in the kitchen, inside the conventional family unit.
The politics and practice of everyday life in modern Japanese literature (Bungaku-Kara-Nichijyo-o-Tou)