The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P

The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P

A Novel by Rieko Matsuura

Translated by Michael Emmerich


In 2009, Rieko Matsuura’s cult novel was translated and released in America, more than a decade and a half after its release in Japan. “The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P” had been a major success in 1993, as publisher Kodansha International boasts that it sold “300,000 copies in hardcover” rocketing its “cult author to stardom almost overnight. The shocking and sensually fascinating story that lured masses hooked readers.

The novel tells the story of a young woman in Tokyo who wakes up one morning to find that her big toe has become a penis, and how her life changes radically afterward. There is tremendous shock value to this story, which is not so much surreal, but written in the vein of magic realism.

Shock value is never nearly enough to create a wonderful story. Shock value always wears off, and when it is stripped away, what is left? Rieko Matsuura, quite capably has used shock value to enhance the telling of a story, but far from relies on it. She generated a story moved by stunning, memorable characters, which provide a firm base for this novel. The lives and interactions of the characters are so believable, real, and complex that the audience cares about them, and as a corollary care about the story. The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

Other strengths of the novel include the humor found throughout the novel, as well as the provoking questions it raises about gender, sexuality, and the act of sex.

There were a few weaknesses. The translation, while acceptable, could have been written much better. Several times, the prose was awkwardly written. Also there were a few parts, which seemed a bit long, notably around the middle.

Overall, The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P is a stunning read, and is a must for anybody interested in contemporary Japanese literature.


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