The volume contains 27 stories linked loosely by a shared theme: the imprint of age. Switching points of view adroitly from that of a small child to the elderly and various ages in between and beyond, not to mention those of animals, supernatural beings, inanimate objects, and more, author Shinji Ishii puts together a collection of tales improbable and often surreal. Lyrical, fable-like stories suggestive of magical realism are the keynote, but with autobiographical episodes centering on the author and his preschool boy Pippi interspersed among them. The effect this creates is of a treasure chest of archetypal stories related by a father to his son.
One memorable example is Yonsai no pīkōto no botan (The Peacoat Button at Four). The central character is a man named Jerry who for over 50 years has been running a shop selling antique buttons in Marblehead, Massachusetts. For example, a button from the uniform of an American soldier who participated in the invasion of Normandy during World War II. Or the second button from a jersey worn by Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams before the war. Jerry learns the provenance of each button from its original owner, adds his own research, and briefly summarizes the story on the button’s sales tag. He has gained a reputation as “the greatest story collector on the East Coast.”
As if collecting stories in this same way, Ishii spins tales set variously in his hometown of Kyoto, in Okinawa and elsewhere in Japan, and in foreign places he has never seen. The son who is two years and five months old at the outset turns five in the final story. He muses over many of the stories his father has told him in the course of the intervening years and months. The peacoat his mother gave him for his fourth birthday is adorned with a button made of water buffalo’s horn and purchased at Jerry’s store. Its story is that more than four decades earlier, Jerry had personally sewn this button onto a peacoat he gave his own four-year-old son. Here, at the end of the volume, it becomes clear that the book as a whole represents Pippi’s own reflections on what he has learned and how he has grown through his encounters—both in real life and in the stories he has been told—with all manner of unusual figures and incidents.