Banana Yoshimoto, née Yoshimoto Mahoko, is one of Japan’s most famous contemporary novelists, second only to Haruki Murakami. She changed her name to “Banana” because she loved banana flowers and thought the name was “cute” and “purposefully androgynous.”
Yoshimoto was born in Tokyo on July 24, 1964, to a family well-versed in the arts. Her father Takaaki Yoshimoto was a critic and poet, her mother Kazuko was a haiku poet, and her sister Yoiko Haruno is a manga artist. Yoshimoto also liked drawing but knew her sister was better, so she turned to writing and decided to become a novelist. She said of her time in school, “I didn't do much sports, just stayed up until late, writing novels. As a result I was dozing in class every day. In addition to that, booze came into my life at university [College of Art at Nihon University, Tokyo]. It's almost like I went to university to learn how to drink. Still I have no regrets about those days...though I wish I had studied a bit harder then.”
Her first work, the novella Moonlight Shadow, was published in 1986 and won a prestigious literary prize from the university. The following year, while she was working as a waitress, she published what is perhaps her best-known work and the one that catapulted her to fame: Kitchen. Besides later novels like Amrita (1994) and Hardboiled & Hard Luck (1999), Yoshimoto has also published collections of short stories and essays.
Yoshimoto has won the Scanno Prize, the Fendissime Prize, the Maschera d’argento Prize, and the Capri Award. She is so popular in Japan that there have been shrines dedicated to her. She told an interviewer that this fame can be somewhat problematic: “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.”
She has said that her favorite writers are Truman Capote, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and William Burroughs. She is married with a daughter.