When I was doing my book haul in Kyoto last December, I took this book only because the cover design was cute:
I also fancied that it would be easy to read, and I was right. It took me a week to read it, and I haven’t even had time to post about it in my “currently reading” category. It definitely was the recreational title of my 2018 reading challenge! Let’s have a closer look!
The author矢崎存美 (やざき・ありみ) has written a whole series of stories around ぶたぶたさん. As far as I can tell, there are 21 books and 「ぶたぶたラジオ」is the newest one. There are titles like 「ぶたぶたカフェ」、「ぶたぶた図書館」、「学校のぶたぶた」or 「居酒屋ぶたぶた」. As the author tells the reader in her afterword, our book 「ぶたぶたラジオ」follows a previous one called 「ぶたぶたの本屋さん」, something easily guessed given that ぶたぶた works in a bookshop when our story opens. However, you don’t need to have read the bookshop title to understand the radio one.
A brief word about the story
The cover design and the fact that the main character of our story is someone (?) called ぶたぶたさん made me think that this was a book for children that adults enjoy reading too, but nothing on the cover or the summary pointed in that direction.
ぶたぶたさん is invited to take part in a radio program where people can ask for advice in what is called a 相談コーナー. There are several protagonists in this novel, each in need of help about his or her family life, about love or how to perceive oneself. These adult-relative themes made me think that I am not reading a children book after all.
The book is composed of three parts, each following a different protagonist. There is no real main plot going through the entire novel, and these three parts could almost be read as independent stories.
Reading this novel felt like listening to a radio program whose purpose is to help people to go over their problems. With funny scenes relatives to the true nature of ぶたぶたさん, this book was a real “feel-good” read.
The Japanese level
More than the story itself the Japanese level of this book makes it interesting for Japanese learners. Independently from my own reading level, I found several features in this book that make it (objectively) an easy book.
First, it is short (200 pages) and mainly composed of dialogues. There are few descriptions or introspective parts.
The writing style borrows from children books characteristics. For example, every time a character is surprised or shocked, his or her emotions would be delivered through an exclamation instead of long narrative. For example, someone would say something or something would happen, and the reaction of our protagonist would be “すごい！”, “やっぱりおいしい！” or “やっぱ完璧！” or even “すごいすごい。てじなみたい！”. This gives the whole novel a casual, conversational tone that makes it easier to understand.
The author does not use many difficult kanji or long sentences. Moreover, several kanji words that are usually written in kanji (at least, in the other novels I have read so far) were written in hiragana instead.
What really stroke me, however, is a relatively large number of words with furigana (for a novel, I mean). With my N2 reading level, I constantly was under the impression that the book had been written for me. The kanji that I knew (meaning and pronunciation) were without furigana and all the kanji words that I didn’t know (including those whose meaning I could guess but could not pronounce) were with furigana. It was as though the publisher had scanned my brain and allowed all the kanji words not stocked in it to appear with furigana. 🤩
This had two consequences: first, it was almost a pleasure to look up words and I have done it extensively. This allowed me to add a lot of new words to my Anki deck. Usually, there are so many words that I don’t know in a novel (even if I can guess the meaning) that I don’t bother to add them all, it would be impossible. But in 「ぶたぶたラジオ」, the number of unknown words to me was decently low, so that I could almost look them all up without feeling overwhelmed.
The second consequence is that I could read out loud long passages. I love reading out loud when I can and I am sure that it does a lot of good when it comes to language learning. But of course, with unknown kanji words I cannot always pronounce, it is very frustrating to do so in Japanese. 「ぶたぶたラジオ」allowed me to read smoothly long passages because there were few kanji I didn’t know and if there were, they would appear with furigana.
In short, it was possible to use this novel to do some light study. I plan to read other titles of the series and study them too by looking up the unknown words and read out loud.
One other point is the huge number of onomatopoeia in this book. For someone who decided to learn them seriously, this novel is a treasure. To me, it could as well have called itself “learn onomatopoeia with ぶたぶた!”.
I didn’t read this book because of it had a thrilling story (it hardly has a main plot), but because it was so simple and vivid at the time. I kept smiling while reading because the author creates evocative and funny scenes with a few words. The pleasure I had reading this book considerably helps me to remember all the words and onomatopoeia I learned through it. This book is cute, funny, easy to read and the stories encompassed in it, though simple, easily echoes with the reader.
In a word, I warmly recommend 「ぶたぶたラジオ」to anyone looking for an easy novel in Japanese. Especially for people struggling with kanji. I think that, with a little study to go through less easy passages, this book can be read with an N3 level.
I would not be surprised if all the titles of the series were more or less of the same difficulty level. If I can buy it, I will read 「ぶたぶた本屋さん」.
Extract: At the beginning of the novel, radio host 久世遼太郎（くぜ・りょうたろう）and radio director 高根沢成夢（たかねざわ・なるむ）go to 山崎ぶたぶた’s（やまざき・ぶたぶた）bookshop to try to convince him to participate in one of their radio programs. We are page 15 (the underlined words have furigana):
– 矢崎存美, 「ぶたぶたラジオ」、光文社文庫、p.15