Time for another review courtesy of my neighborhood used book store! Inhae at Inside That Japanese Book got me interested in the Butabuta series (her review here) so when I saw this volume I just had to pick it up.
The main character in all the books is Butabuta Yamazaki, whose first name literally translates as “Pigpig”. That’s him on the cover – a stuffed animal that is, well, alive. He’s about the size of a volleyball and has the voice of a middle aged man, and almost everyone he meets is first overcome with shock. How does he move? Is he really drinking that coffee? Am I the only one that sees he’s a stuffed animal?
Yazaki started writing about Butabuta in 1998 and has continued at a steady clip, with 27 books in the series as I write this. Others include Butabuta Cafe, Butabuta Library, and Butabuta on a Summer’s Day. The Japanese level is less taxing than more literary novels, making them easy reads. (For those more interested in the Japanese side of things check out Inhae’s review above.)
So, what kind of doctor can a stuffed pig be, anyway? It turns out he’s an endoscopic and laparoscopic surgeon specialized in gastroenterology. Basically he uses remote controls to move robots and cameras to operate on stomach cancer or diagnose ulcers. Yazaki put a lot of thought into the limitations of a small (if strong) doctor and forged an interesting path for him.
The book is four linked short stories as well as a “short-short”. Each shows us a different facet of Butabuta’s practice as we watch him interact with operative patients in the hospital, coworkers, and elderly home-bound patients in the countryside.
I like Butabuta as a character. He has a sense of mystery about him – why is he alive? Why don’t we meet anyone else like him? He’s pretty much perfect personality and work-wise but it doesn’t get grating or weird, as it’s balanced out with the whole, “but he’s a stuffed pig” thing.
The scenes can be touching and charming. He knows the right thing to say to reassure patients, and when he pats their hand the softness of the fabric on his hoof comforts them. He goes to a batting cage with a coworker, holding a bat twice his size and jumping high in the air to swing at the ball. He volunteers in a rural area on the weekend where he makes balloon animals for children and adults alike.
Each story can be read on its own which is good in a way, but leads to more repetition than I would like. Every person is shocked when they first meet Butabuta and wonder the same things. He’s described as being the size of a volleyball without fail. Maybe as I read more books these will be endearing details but it annoyed me a little bit here.
It doesn’t look like any of these books have been translated into English but if you’re JLPT N2 level or better or in Japanese I think you’ll enjoy the adventures of a certain Butabuta-san. I’ll be continuing the series for sure, with Butabuta’s Bookstore already in my possession and ready to go. Huzzah for finding a new series to love!