10 Reasons to Love: Banana Yoshimoto

24th Jul 2014

10 Reasons to Love: Banana Yoshimoto
Translations are a great way of discovering new authors we may not ordinarily come across and at For Books' Sake Banana Yoshimoto is certainly a firm favourite of ours! The author of 'Kitchen', 'Amrita' and 'The Lake' is a big personality with a creative and clean writing style and Morgan Giles has ten good reasons you should be reading her...

1. Her name, obviously.

Her given name is Mahoko, but she says she picked her pen name “just because I love banana flowers” and because Banana is both cute and “purposefully androgynous”.

She’s not exaggerating her love for bananas – she even has a tattoo of one on her thigh.

2. Who wants the Nobel Prize for Literature?

The Istanbul Review asked her once,“You once said that you aim to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Do you have a novel or novel topic in mind for the task?”

Banana Yoshimoto replied, “Oh, don’t take that seriously. I was just joking!”

3. She’s one of Japan’s most commercially popular authors…

…but that’s not what drives her.

In interviews, she frequently says: “Everybody seems to be interested in the number of books I sold and how much money I earned, rather than the content of my work. This makes me rather unhappy.” (Bookslut)

4. When asked what she planned to do in the coming months…

Banana Yoshimoto said: “I will make my life simpler, aiming to have more freedom and fewer responsibilities.”

Which is really the only goal, if we’re all being honest.

5. She loves good music

Banana Yoshimoto wrote the afterword to Lizard while on her way to see Sonic Youth play and she dedicated the English-language edition to Kurt Cobain.

She says, “They were companions for me at that blind point in my life, when I was groping for something. Nowadays my favorite band is Britain’s Prefab Sprout. In the U.S., I love the Eels.” But she doesn’t listen to music while she’s writing because “I feel my own rhythm would go out of tune.” (Bookslut)

6. She’s as much of a foodie as you’d suspect

Kitchen, with all its drool-inducing descriptions of food, was written while she was waitressing. Nowadays, her Twitter account is mainly pictures of amazing-looking food (and sometimes cats, because this is the internet).

It’s worth following her just for that, even if you don’t read Japanese. And when asked about what her university days were like she once replied: “It’s almost like I went to university to learn how to drink.”

7. Unique translations

Michael Emmerich, her main English translator, described what makes her work special (and difficult to translate):

“I’d say I find it most difficult in translating Yoshimoto to fine tune the language. Her writing is so carefully stripped down, so beautifully balanced between the plain and the poetic, the cliched and the overwhelming”. (Quarterly Conversation)

8. She couches serious wisdom in very simple language..

Take this part from Goodbye Tsugumi (translated by Michael Emmerich):

“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.”

9… And she wrote the best description of what it feels like to be in love ever.

“Every time I look into his eyes I just want to take the ice cream or whatever I’ve got in my hand and rub it into his face. That’s how much I like him.”

(also from Goodbye Tsugumi)

10. Her advice to young writers:

When asked what advice she has for young writers, she said:

“I would say to them, ‘just write and write.’ Without any fancy theories or logic. Express yourself with your words, not others.” (Bookslut)


What’s your favourite Banana Yoshimoto book? Leave us a comment! You can also read our review of The Lake here.


Morgan Giles is a Japanese literary translator specialising in contemporary women writers. Her favourite authors are Jean Rhys, Fumiko Hayashi, Kathy Acker, and Yoriko Shono. She writes about Japanese literature at www.all-wrongs-reversed.net and on Twitter (@wrongsreversed).”

[photo credit: Manuela Barattini on Flickr]


  • Lindles says:

    Although I’ve come across the name before (and it’s uniqueness stuck in my mind) I’ve yet to pick up one of Banana Yoshimoto’s books; I was afraid they were overhyped or that the name was a gimmick to draw people in. It’s safe to say that this list has given me new perspective on the matter.