Otoko no ko is a male character cross-dressing as a female. He convincingly looks like and sounds like a female character. He is clearly a male character, but he presents in an exceedingly feminine manner. A common passerby would confuse an otoko no ko for a biological female, but once they discover his real gender, they would often be surprised, disgusted, or even elated. Otoko no ko is different from the western concept of drag queen. The Japanese term for drag queens or actual homosexuals is called okama (オカマお釜).
Some examples of otoko no ko in Japanese media for the past decades are Astolfo from Fate / Apocrypha, Bridget from Guilty Gear XX: The Midnight Carnival, Hideri Kanzaki from Blend S, Hideyoshi Kinoshita from the Baka to Test series, Hime Arikawa from Himegoto, Luka Urushibara from Steins;Gate, Mariya Shidou from Maria†Holic, Jun Watarase from Happiness, and Rui Ninomiya from Gatchaman Crowds.
Otoko no ko (男の娘) is a wordplay. It combines the word) otoko no ko (男の子 or “male child”, and musume/ko （娘）or “girl/daughter”. The literal meaning of otoko no ko is “male daughter”. The alternate reading for otoko no ko is otoko no musume, which is uncommon as it could easily be misinterpreted as “the man’s daughter”.
A Brief History
Japan has a rich history of cross-dressing in the field of arts and culture. Crossdressing in Japanese theater appeared during the 17th Century. A group of adolescent boys in kabuki are called wakashuu (若衆) or “adolescent boys”. The wakashuu can portray the role of onnagata / oyama (女形) or “female kabuki characters”. The government prohibited actual female actors from performing in kabuki to hinder prostitution and squabbling among the actresses’ fans. The law failed to prevent prostitution because wakashuu also sold their bodies to patrons.
Akihiro Maruyama (丸山 明宏), known as Akihiro Miwa(美輪 明宏) , is one of the most recognized theater actors in Japan. He is recognized for his excellent singing voice and effeminate beauty. He also worked as a voice actor in films like Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, and Pokémon: Arceus and the Jewel of Life. Some consider Miwa to be a modern onnagata for his talents and beauty.
One of the earliest manga that featured an otoko no ko protagonist was Stop!! Hibari-kun!; the romance-comedy manga is about the relationship between Kousaku Sakamoto and Hibari Ouzora, the effeminate son of a yakuza. Kousaku has to live with the yakuza boss Ibari Ouzora but ends up having a fondness for Hibari. Everybody was enamored by Hibari’s beauty, intelligence, and athleticism, yet they were left to wonder about his true gender.
Photographer Naoto Tachibana of the magazine Yuri Danshi claimed that otoko no ko gained appeal to the Japanese in 2009. The Japanese beauty industry began selling otoko no ko goods and products in the market.
Adult star Kaoru Oshima gained popularity on Twitter in 2014 after sharing his photos online. He identifies himself as a male, but he likes to crossdress and even worked as an “otoko no ko adult star”. He also never associated himself with any gender roles but he likes both genders.
The western equivalent of otoko no ko is called “trap”. The concept of the term was that crossdressers would be fooling (or “trapping”) a heterosexual male into dating him. Some consider the term trap to be offensive because not all crossdressers have the malicious intent of fooling heterosexual males. They are also not pretending to be somebody they’re not. Crossdressers have personal reasons like wanting to look pretty, wanting to become temporarily female, or just crossdressing as a hobby.
There are also real life otoko no ko who crossplay (a portmanteau of crossdress and cosplay) as fictional female characters. They visit anime conventions or sell photo merchandise. One of them is Haoge, a Chinese cosplayer who gained fame on social media. He is part of a male crossdressing idol group called Alice Weiniang Group. Anyone who met Haoge is surprised by the way he looks and smiles.
Homophobia and traditional gender roles are some factors that intimidate otoko no ko on their aspirations. Some anime fans also question whether otoko no ko are homosexual or not. This raised a lot of questions among fans, butit still depends on the person in the end. Otoko no ko characters like Astolfo still use male pronouns when talking, which still reflects his boyish personality. It’s up to the author to divulge their character’s gender orientation. Fans can still enjoy otoko no ko without questioning their sexuality. Exploring unconventional gender roles meanwhile is not a bad idea. Activities like that will help people to understand the other gender spectrum.
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Fran W, “Retweet if you thought I was a girl”: This beautiful young man, in his own words【Photos】, https://soranews24.com/2014/07/09/retweet-if-you-thought-i-was-a-girl-this-beautiful-young-man-in-his-own-words【photos】, SoraNews24, 9 July, 2014, Retrieved 23 January 2021.
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