And kanji with manga
Saturday, February 17, 2018

okama オカマ

Since the term okama オカマ shows up sometimes in anime, here's a post explaining its meaning and sibling words.


The word okama オカマ is a rather vague term used to refer to men who have the "heart of a woman," onna no kokoro 女の心, to men who act effeminately, to flamboyant gays, to transvestites, and to transgender women. In other words: okama means "gayyyyyyyyy!!!" And no, I don't mean "gay," that would be gei ゲイ, I mean "gayyyyyyy!!!"

Okama in Anime

In anime and manga, okama characters normally feature the following attributes:
  • Female or effeminate speech.
  • Effeminate or flamboyant mannerisms.

Plus a mix of these:
  • Lipstick and makeup.
  • Dressing as a woman, or having an outfit featuring pink or something of the kind.
  • At times, passing as a woman, at times, having breast implants, at times, looking like a bearded drag-queen.
  • Claiming being delicate, pure as a maiden, etc.
  • Tendency to give romantic advice to men.
  • Sexually harassing basically every man they approach.

Which attributes the character features exactly varies, but the general concept stays the same.

Examples of okama characters from anime Ouran Koukou Host Club, Kuroshitsuji / Black Butler, One Punch Man, Tiger & Bunny, Gatchaman Crowds, Tokyo Godfathers, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and Fushigi Yuugi

Age Requirements

One thing that's consistent with okama charactera is that they're generally adults or older teenagers. That is, despite the fact that most anime features middle and high school children, there are probably no okama children, so no shota okama characters.

Even male child characters who act effeminately, look like girls, or, in some cases, "more feminine than girls," are labelled as otokonoko 男の娘 instead of okama, which is a different type of character entirely.

Fantasy vs. Reality

Some people claim okama characters make fun of gay and trans people, that it makes them look stupid, ridiculous, like clowns, etc. However, the cause of this isn't that manga and anime authors have an homophobic and transphobic agenda, it's just that they want to make money and okama characters sell.

Think of it for a moment: there's usually no gain in having a character being an okama, as far as the plot goes. All it does is making interactions between characters more interesting. So nobody adds an okama to represent gay people, they add it to make the story more fun. They would never make a character gay just for the sake of having a gay character. Of course it's going to be a ridiculous character.

This is just like how smart characters keep adjusting their glasses, and tomboy characters are violent man-haters, and tsundere characters are absolute trash. Anime is built on stereotypes, it's not gonna give okama characters any preferential treatment.

By the way, it seems okama characters are particularly popular with the female audience for some reason.


Sometimes, honorifics such as san may be added to the word okama is used toward a person who's an okama rather than to okama in general. Then it becomes okamasan おかまさん, okamachan おかまちゃん, etc.

This is similar to how okyaku お客 usually refers to "customers" in general, but when talking to one directly, you'd use okyakusan お客さん instead.

Okama as Slur

To some people, the term okama is offensive, and it's also used as a slur by some. In this case, you could translate okama to English as "faggot" or "tranny" or something of the sort. The fact that okama was historically a way to refer to gay prostitutes certainly doesn't help.

As with all things, there are okama which do not think the word is offensive, but some people try to avoid using it if possible. Sometimes calling okama by the term newhalf, instead, which is considered more politically correct, but some people think okama and newhalf are not the same thing, so there's that.

Okama on TV

On TV, there are a number of personalities that call themselves okama. In Youtube, etc. too. This is, clearly, a pain in the ass to deal with. (no joke intended). Because I've literally just said some people consider okama to be offensive, now I'm saying people call themselves okama, so which one is it? Do these people have some sort of sick self-deprecating fetish or something? What's up with that?

This sounds like some sort of vocabulary gate-keeping. "You can't use the o word, it's our word." I'm sure there's something similar in English, too. Anyway, because there are many places screaming "look at me! I am an okama!" in order to promote themselves to an audience, it's hard to say the word is a taboo word or something like that.

Okama Bar

An okama bar, or okama baa オカマバー, (baa is just the katakanization of "bar"), is an example of a kind of place that labels itself okama. These bars feature transvestites, men dressed as women, most of which, I assume, are gay or bisexual. They dance, sing, drink, etc. to, for, and with other men.

Some of these bars do not even let women or straight men go inside. Sure, this isn't always the case, there are okama bars that anybody can go in, but I'm trying to illustrate these are basically gay bars with crossdressers inside.

Of course, they exist in manga and anime too. In Tokyo Godfathers, Hana was an entertainer in one okama bar. In Shangri-La, two self-labelled newhalf characters worked in an okama bar that was destroyed, and had plans of rebuilding it. In Ouran High School Host Club, Haruhi's father, Ryouji, works in an okama bar by the stage name of Ranka, and there are mentions of his "lovers," aijin 愛人, giving him presents and stuff.

Okama bar from the anime Tokyo Godfathers

Okama vs. Gay

Given the usage of the word okama explained so far, I'd like to draw attention to whether okama are gay or not.

First off, okama doesn't mean "gay." The term for "gay" in Japanese is gei ゲイ. The most correct word would be "homosexual," douseiaisha 同性愛者. One word that's considered a bit offensive is homo ホモ.

The point is that not all gays are okama, they become okama by acting effeminately and flamboyantly. Which brings us to two problems:

First, if it looks like an okama, it is an okama. Sure, you can "look" gay, but looking gay doesn't make you actually gay. There are even cases of gay porn actors who are actually straight, against all odds. I mean, you'd think that a guy who fucks other guys is as gay as it gets, but turns out that, hah! Acting! He was just an actor pretending to be gay all along!

Likewise, because of how the okama aspect is used for promotion in entertainment, it's very possible that some of the self-labelled okama are not actually gay, they're just playing the part.

Since there is no way to just telepathically find out who is actually gay or not: if it looks that an okama, it's an okama. People keep it simple, and that's the way the word ends up being used.

Second, on the other side, there's no rule that says you have to be flamboyant in order to be gay, even though that mentality exists for some weird reason.

Some people, okama, think that gays should act like okama. That not speaking using feminine speech on the internet, on Twitter, etc. for example, is pretending to be a well-behaved straight guy when in person they're an wrist-flailing okama. There are also those that think that because they're gay they have to express themselves that way. It all sounds very forced.

Onee-kotoba オネエ言葉

The term onee-kotoba オネエ言葉 refers to the language used by okama. This kind of overlaps with feminine speech in Japanese; some words in Japanese are used mostly by women. However, the average woman wouldn't use them as frequently and deliberately as okama use them.

The following are examples of onee-kotoba found at the end of sentences:
  • nanoyo なのよ
  • wayo わよ
  • dawayo だわよ
  • desuwayo ですわよ
  • wane わね
  • desuwane ですわね
  • kashira かしら

On top of these, there are also words like yada やだ, mou もう, tara たら, chau ちゃう, and desho でしょ which aren't exactly feminine, but end up being used by okama characters.

On top of that, okama avoid using the first person pronouns ore 俺 and boku, and go for the neutral watashi 私, or the more feminine atashi あたし and uchi うち instead.

えっ やだ それじゃあ パニックでオネェ言葉
Manga: Handa-kun はんだくん (Chapter 3, 半田くんと委員長)
  • Context: a guy panicked so hard he started speaking in onee-kotoba.
  • panikku de onee kotoba
    [Using] onee-kotoba due to panic.
  • e' yada sore jaa
    えっ やだ それじゃあ
    [Eh, no way, then that means...]

Hogeru ホゲる

The term hogeru ホゲる refers to speak using onee-kotoba, or to act effeminately (like an okama). For example, some okama may hogeru among friends, socially, but not hogeru in other situations, like among straight people, in formal events, etc.

Also note that in Kyuushuu the word hogeru means "to open" (example: a hole), and it probably has nothing to do with the gay hogeru.

Onee オネエ

The term onee オネエ refers to someone who uses onee-kotoba. Sometimes it's written with a small kana for the e instead: onee オネェ.

In general, there's a big overlap between okama and onee, since okama use onee-kotoba, too. However, the term okama is generally associated with transvestites, etc. while onee also refers to gay men who look like men but use onee-kotoba, or even straight men who use onee-kotoba.

Anime Archetype

As far as anime is concerned, this is a kind of important point.

Because until there's canonical proof a character is gay, he might as well not be gay, no matter how gay he looks. So calling a may-be-gay character okama, when okama is generally associated gays, invites controversy. It's sure to spawn a lot of people saying the character is not actually gay, so it doesn't count as okama, and so on.

However, with the term onee we're only referring to the fact the character uses onee-kotoba, it doesn't make assumptions about the sexual orientation of the character. So, for example, if there's a male character that talks like a woman but doesn't have a boyfriend (because in anime nobody does) then you can be certain the term onee fits even if the term okama does not.


In Real Life™ the state of the word is a mess.

That's because some people aren't even sure of the difference between okama, onee, gay, and a crossdresser. (yes, really.) Because there are people who call themselves onee on TV, the audience ends up thinking all gays speak like onee, and onee means gay, and this leads to unavoidable confusion.

Onee-kei オネエ系

The word onee-kei オネエ系 means literally "onee-type," and is another way to refer to onee people. This works the same way as people who're masochists are of the "M-type," emu-kei M系.

Note that the onee-kei オネエ系 that uses onee-kotoba is always written with katakana. The word onee-kei お姉系 written with the kanji for "sister," oneesan お姉さん, refers to fashion, a "sister-type" style, and has nothing to do with the onee-kotoba onee-kei.

Kocchi こっち

If you know the slightest bit of Japanese, you know that kocchi こっち means "to this side," and its part of the kosoado kotoba pronouns, specifically, the kocchi, socchi, acchi, docchi group.

But what the fuck is this word doing here of all places?!

Well, it happens that, sometimes, people make a gesture with their hands by moving them to one side or the other of their faces, and talk about "this side," kocchi, or sometimes "that side," socchi, implying, well, that someone isn't hetero, that someone is homosexual.

Sometimes kore これ, "this," also works to refer to the gay gesture.

Japanese gay gesture from anime Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!

This is like a similar idiom in English where one says someone "plays for the other team" to mean they're gay.

Origin of Okama

According to NicoNico (オカマ), the origin of the word okama is a rather long one.

Apparently, kiku 菊, "chrysanthemum," was once used to refer to homosexuals. This term could also refer to "anus." (you know, when two guys love each other very much...)

In the Edo period, this term, kiku きく, was transformed into kakema かけま. It became kakema because, in the gojuon ordering of the Japanese kana, the K-row of syllables would become:
  • ka-ki-ku-ke-ko かきくけこ

As you can see above, kiku きく is between ka か and ke け. The term kakema かけ間 refers to the "space," ma 間, between ka か and ke け, which is equal to kiku きく. (who even came up with this?!)

When written with kanji, kakema かけま would become kakema 陰間. Because the reading of this kanji, 陰, is usually kage かげ, not kake かけ, with a dakuten 濁点, some people ended up reading it as kagema instead of kakema.

Then, the honorific prefix o お was added, okakema おかけま, and it eventually morphed into the word okama おかま, probably.

Note that this term was also used toward male prostitutes. To the point that there were places were homose--, *ahem*, "men who liked men" gathered called kagemachaya 陰間茶屋, meaning something like an "okama tea-house."

Okama Pot

Some people say that okama オカマ comes from the word okama お釜 instead, which is a kind of pot. This contradicts the chrysanthemum theory above. Although it's true that today people do think the two words are related, it's entirely possible that the pot and the gay word just coincidentally sound alike and then people started mixing up the two. The Japanese language if full of homonyms, you see.

Okama Man Butt

To make matters worse, the term okama is also used to refer to a man's ass. Why? Probably because the bottom of an okama pot is round like a guy's ass or something.

Okama wo Horu

To worsen the matters further, the phrase okama wo horu オカマを掘る, literally "to dig an okama," now, whether it's literally "to dig a pot," "to dig a man's ass," or "to dig a gay man," I have no fucking idea, became an innuendo for "having gay (anal) sex."

Horu 掘る

Since nowadays the term for "gay" is gei ゲイ, not okama オカマ, the phrase okama wo horu doesn't make much sense for the non-okama gay people of Japan. Which is probably why the verb horu 掘る, "to dig," alone started to mean "to have gay (anal) sex," whether an okama is involved or not.

Horareru 掘られる

Grammatically speaking, it's a verb like any other, so horu 掘る, "to dig," is "to fuck," and its passive conjugation, horareru 掘られる, "to be dug," is "to get fucked."

ho...horareru!! panel from manga Mahou Shoujo, Ore

Onabe オナベIn Japanese, the term onabe オナベ is the female counterpart of okama. That is, an onabe is a woman who has the heart of a man, mannerisms of a man, talks like a man, etc.

It seems that the word okama is sometimes used to refer to onabe, too. Probably, someone thought this was confusing and decided to come up with the word onabe.


The origin of onabe is pretty obvious. The gay word okama オカマ is homonym with okama お釜, a kind of pot. And onabe お鍋 is another kind of pot, so it was turned into a slang for okama's counterpart.

As for why onabe specifically and not any other kind of pot, it's probably because of the idiom nabekama 鍋釜, which refers to both kinds of pots together, and, also, to the minimum utensils required for living. (if you don't even have these two pots in your home, what you gonna do?!) It's like "bread and butter" but more like "frying pan and stew pot."

Icon & Anime

Unlike okama, there aren't that many onabe personalities on TV, so people don't really have an icon to serve as example of what an onabe should be like.

In anime, there aren't really any equivalent onabe characters. And believe me, I searched.

Not Onabe

There are dozens of girls who dress up as guys, like a certain character from the Persona series, but that's crossdressing, specifically dansou 男装, the counterpart of josou 女装, not onabe.

There are lesbians, such as Gina Paulklee from GANGSTA, but such people are called bian ビアン, and this sort of genre is called rezu レズ, (don't mix these two words), except in manga and anime, which is then shoujo-ai 少女愛 or yuri 百合, not onabe.

There are girls that physically turn into guys, like Ryuunosuke from Urusei Yatsura, but that's nantaika 男体化, the counterpart of nyotaika 女体化, not onabe.

There are reverse-traps, girls that look like guys, like Ryuunosuke, again, but that's called onnanoko 雄んなの子, the counterpart of otokonoko 男の娘, not onabe.

It's Onabe But It's Not Onabe The Way Okama Are Okama

And there's a very literal onabe which is canonically onabe, like, it literally says onabe in this shit, but that's a post-op onabe. Normally, an okama character isn't post-op, they hardly ever have breast implants, so I don't think this is really "equivalent," but I guess it exists.

Onabe character from anime Gintama

There's also the case of Ariga Makoto from Hourou Musuko, who is literally transgender. But the whole anime is about transgender stuff. Normally, an okama character is a side-character, and their okama-ness is about as important as a glasses-character's glasses. So I don't think that's really equivalent.

Basically, I haven't yet found a character that fits the following criteria:
  1. Dresses up as a guy.
  2. Claims she is a guy.
  3. Harasses girls.

Which is the reverse of what you'd expect from an okama character.

However, there are a few characters recognized as onabe, even if they aren't the ideal counterpart for okama. For example:
  • Yuubei from Gintama
  • Oscar from Rose of The Versailles
  • Utena from Revolutionary Girl Utena

These are female characters that look like "cool guys" or "hot guys" and end up in a romantic relationship of some form or shape with other girls... which is LITERALLY what an okama character never does. (seriously, the only okama character with a boyfriend I'm aware of comes from Tokyo Ghoul, and that was horrible.)

So, for some reason, okama characters are generally portrayed as perverts trying to get laid with every guy they come across, but onabe characters are portrayed as beacons of pure yuri love stopped by evil societal norms against transgender people. I'm not sure what to think of this.

Added to that, although the word okama is sometimes seem to refer to okama characters in-universe, the same doesn't happen with the word onabe, probably because it's a newer word, probably because onabe characters hardly exist in first place.

Internet Okama

Lastly, a guy who pretends to be a girl online, be it on a forum, chat, online game, or MMORPG, is called a nekama ネカマ, which is the combination of "internet," netto ネット, and okama オカマ.

This term is sometimes used to refer to girls who pretend to be guys online, although the term nenabe ネナベ also exists for them.

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