Gendered Body-Swapping Plots in Japanese Popular Culture

Author: Mary Goebel Noguchi (Kansai University)
Speaker: Mary Goebel Noguchi
Topic: Language, gender, sexuality
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


In the 2016 hit Japanese animated film Kimi no Na (Your Name), the spirits of a young man and woman exchange bodies while they sleep, moving back and forth randomly as a comet approaches earth. Although this kind of gendered body-swapping plot is unheard of in English literature, it has a long history in Japan. The feudal tale Torikaebaya Monogatari tells of a half-brother and sister who, due to a curse, live as the opposite sex. Plots involving males and females actually swapping bodies took off with a 1973 TV series called Henshin ponpokodama, in which an alien orb allows a boy and girl to change bodies for 10 minutes at a time. In 1979, the manga (comic book) series Ore ga aitsu de aitsu ga ore de (I’m Her; She’s Me) told the story of a sixth-grade boy and girl whose bodies are swapped. Two movie and three television series remakes of this story followed. The 2006 manga and 2007 TV series Papa to musume no nanokakan feature a father and daughter whose bodies get swapped. This paper will discuss the common themes of these stories and briefly describe the gender-exclusive features of the Japanese language (Ide, 1979; Shibamoto, 1985; Endo, 2006; Nakamura, 2014). It will then argue that the gender-exclusive features of Japanese make it easier to follow the twists and turns of such gender-swapping plots. While such plotlines may seem strange to non-Japanese, they reflect more flexible Japanese attitudes towards gender while allowing exploration of the nature of gender, sexuality, embodiment and identity—all important themes for the age groups at which these stories are aimed.

Keywords: Language, Gender, Japan, Bodies, Media