Thursday, April 06, 2006


Banana Japan

The term "banana" means lots of different things to Asians in America. "Twinkie" would be a slang synonym, as in both the banana and the twinke are: "white on the inside and yellow on the outside." This was the kind of terminology that cropped up in the 90s during the height of PC an identity politics.

When I first saw the novel Kitchen for sale, and saw that the writer's name was Banana Yoshimoto, I thought that maybe she was American, and that she was simply trying to be ironic. But, as fans of popular culture know, Banana turned out to be Japanese. As she says on her site, she chose the pen name Banana because:

Just because I love banana flowers.

And, if that wasn't enough, there is this revelation:

I have one (tattoo) of banana on my right thigh and another one of Obake-no-Q-Taro on my left shoulder.

On a recent trip to Japan, I was lucky enough to visit the birth place of the very famous poet Matsuo Basho, commonly referred to as Basho. His poetry is highly regarded and often read in translation by readers who love the level of intimacy and beauty they find in his work. Basho was a lover of travel as this little bit of poetry demonstrates.

"Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home."

Basho is actually a pen name, meaning "banana tree." It turns out that someone -- a disciple -- planted a banana tree outside of Basho's hut. Because the climate was too cold for the tree to bear fruit, it took on a kind of useless appearance. It's said that Basho took on his pen name because a poet is similarly useless, or because he wanted to show his affection for similarly useless things. In the picture above, I'm standing by the banana trees planted at Basho's home in Iga.

Basho nowaki shite
Tarai ni ame o
Kiku yo kana

A banana plant in the autumn gale -
I listen to the dripping of rain
Into a basin at night.

Coincidence? Hard to tell. I couldn't find anything which said that Banana Yoshimoto thought of Basho when she chose her name; I only found quiet denials. But the similar tribute to bananas is certainly intriguing.

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