Japanese Literature about Gender: Torikaebaya Monogatari (とりかへばや物語)
About a year ago I started to read some of the classic Japanese literature, and that's how I learned about the story of Torikaebaya Monogatari.
It´s very difficult to find Japanese classical literature in Spanish, and the majority in English are not the exact translation. Also, it´s almost impossible to get them in books in Argentina because the poor economy, so yeah I have many problems to read Japanese literature.
Whatever, today I want to introduce you to a very particular story that discusses the theme of gender that it´s also mixed with culture and tradition of the ancient Japan.
I´m not an expert in Japanese language, but on Internet it´s said that the translation of the title とりかへばや物語 literally means ´If only I could exchange them!´ oe ´(I) wish to switch them´ (then I'll explain why) and in English it´s traslated as ´The Changelings.´
Remember that Monogatari (物語) means Story/Tale
This tale is related to the Heian period (平安時代: 794 - 1185) in the 12th century, so yeah, it's pretty classic. This period is considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court and it´s noted for its art, especially poetry and literature. So it´s no surprise that this story takes place in the Japanese court.
This Classical Japanese Court Tale was written by an unknown author or possibly more than one unknown author since it consists of 4 volumes. The story has been adapted as a novel, as two different manga series and also it has been adaptated to a play by Takarazuka Revue. It was translated into English in 1983.
The summary of Torikaebaya Monogatari is that once there was a minister who had two children with his two different wives: a boy called Wakagimi and a girl. called Himegimi. As I mentioned before ´Torikaebaya´means ´(I) wish to switch them´ like a desperate scream of the father. But why? simple, the two siblings whose mannerisms are those of the opposite sex and of the standard gender attitudes.
The brother was very shy and he tenders to play with dolls, while the sister was rather outgoing, playing kickball and shooting arrows with the other boys outside. She´s active and clever ´like a boy´and she has been dressed like a boy since childhood. She also becomes a courtier as the emperor's favorite. Like Viola (of the play Twelfth Night written by William Shakespeare), this female protagonist has a lookalike brother who has been dressed like a girl (This has absolutely nothing to do with his sexuality, as a matter of fact he likes women and he impregnates someone who is supposed to stay virgin.)
The Sadaijin (the father) plans to have them join religious orders, but the news of the talents of the 'son' (the female protagonist) spreads to the court. Although they´re siblings of different mothers, they´re similar in appearance so the children go through the coming of age ceremonies for the opposite sex, and the Sadaijin presents his daughter as a man to the court, and his son as a woman.
This is when the story really begins.
The man disguised as a woman becomes the sheltered princess's confidante, whereas the woman disguised as a man becomes a Chūnagon (mid-ranking courtier). The siblings are constantly worried that they will be exposed because the brother is even shyer than most ladies of the court, and the sister is more aloof than is seemly.
Then the romances and problems begin: The sister has platonic affairs with a princess and a Lady, and the brother is always pursued by men, but then the Crown Prince falls in love with him. Even the sister´s best friend, Saishō, attempts to seduce the brother.
The daughter marries a woman, Shi no Kimi (Fourth Daughter) that is sexually innocent until her affair with Saishō (the sister´s best friend.) The problem here is that Saishō is a
Then we have the brother that avoids the pursuit of the Crown Prince
Now the surprising thing is that the story ends happy.
The brother decided to dress as a man and he also decided to look for his sister.
After the sister gives birth, the siblings swap places and they live happily ever after and have many children with their new spouses.
You can read it in japanese (sorry guys) here: http://www.geocities.jp/yassakasyota/koten/koten.html and with the original text (and not in modern japanese traslation)
Due to the reputation of this tale, it had been censored until the mid 20th century because of the infidelity issues, as during the period such issues were considered very grave and the results of bad karma in a former life.
The characters are lively...Yes, everyone is good-looking, which might sound unreal, but their personalities are very individual and real.
The themes are very modern: gender roles, fate vs free will, fidelity vs the changing nature of romance, unwanted pregnancy and motherhood, etc.
I also firmly believe that this tale has its feminist touch because the character of the daughter is focused on in the story much more so than the character of the son. She´s like a modern successful career woman, whose talents are "frustrated" by her unexpected pregnancy but even after she returns to living as a woman, she uses her experience as a man to control her emotions, unlike other ladies of the court, who easily give into despair. Also after the sister gives birth, she is conflicted between escaping Saishō or her love for the baby: characterising the conflict between ´being herself´ and ´being a mother´... in the end she chooses independence. Although her desire for independence is ´normal´ today and to a modern Western audience, in Heian Japan it was an extremely difficult decision because being a mother and a good wife was a priority for a woman.
As you know, I really like to write about issues of gender identity, gender roles, crossdressing, sexuality and so on... so maybe next time I´ll write about another classic tale or myth related with these themes.