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Butter by Asako Yuzuki review – a tasty exposé of fatphobia and trauma

Butter by Asako Yuzuki review – a tasty exposé of fatphobia and trauma


According to Rika Machida’s boyfriend, gaining weight differs between men and women. Rika is a journalist living in Tokyo and is on track to be the “first woman to join the editorial team” at her newspaper, the Shūmei Weekly. In this highly popular novel by Asako Yuzuki, the author skillfully dissects and uncovers the sexist undertones within these remarks, creating a sharp and gripping story about fat shaming, the joy of eating, and the complicated bond between food and past traumas.

Using the true story of the notorious “Konkatsu Killer” as its inspiration, Butter explores the societal pressure on Japanese women to adhere to unrealistic standards of beauty. The story follows a con artist and skilled cook named Kanae Kijima, who was found guilty of poisoning three of her romantic partners.

Manako Kajii, also known as Kajimana, is a femme fatale who is constantly body shamed during her trial and while she is in prison, similar to Kijima. The husband of Rika’s best friend, Reiko, repeats the sexism Kajii faces from the media by commenting, “I bet Kajimana eats so much food! That’s why she is so huge!” Rika, eager for an exclusive interview, takes Reiko’s advice to write to Kajii and ask for her beef stew recipe, which was the last meal enjoyed by one of her victims. This plan proves to be successful, leading to multiple meetings at the detention center where Kajii is being held.

The bond that develops between Rika and Kajii is both intimate and unusual. Rika becomes more and more intrigued by Kajii’s sophisticated palate. When they first meet, Kajii confesses, “There are two things that I absolutely cannot stand: feminists and margarine.” This combination of impudence and indulgence sparks something in Rika, causing her to contemplate the conflicting expectations placed on women in Japanese society. On one hand, they are expected to be self-sacrificing, diligent, and austere, while also being feminine, gentle, and nurturing towards men.

As Rika’s desire for indulgent food, particularly “rice with butter and soy sauce,” grows, so does her weight, making her vulnerable to the same sexist mistreatment that her companion experiences. Rika even starts to see similarities between herself and Kajii, causing her to lose objectivity in the case and placing blame on the victim. “Are you suggesting that all three men died of natural causes,” Reiko questions, “their downfall due to their inability to keep up with her lifestyle?” The relationship between Rika and Kajii, which occasionally manifests into blatant longing from Rika, reaches its climax in the novel’s unforgettable centerpiece.

Kanae Kijima, the real ‘Konkatsu Killer’View image in fullscreen

The brilliance of Butter lies in its portrayal of individual eating habits as a puzzle to be solved. This is evident in the characters of Rika and Kajii, whose relationships with their fathers play a significant role in their eating habits. While the novel has some strong points, there are also elements that feel contrived and the pacing can be a bit slow. The book shines the most when it fully embraces its foodie theme, with Yuzuki skillfully incorporating social commentary and delicious descriptions that will leave readers salivating. At times, it’s hard to tell whether one should read or devour the novel.

Source: theguardian.com