Friday, February 2, 2018

男の娘, Otokonoko - Meaning in Japanese

In Japanese, the word otokonoko 男の子 means "boy," literally "male child." This post, however, is about the anime-related slang otokonoko 男の娘, a homonym written with a different kanji, which is a slang that basically means "boy that looks like a girl," or, as the western fandom calls it: "trap."

Phrase daga otoko da だが男だ, "but he is a guy" from Steins;Gate used about Ruka Urushibara and boku, otoko nanda kedo na 僕、男なんだけどな, "but I'm a guy," used by Saika Totsuka from Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. やはり俺の青春ラブコメはまちがっている。


In Japanese, an otokonoko 男の娘 is a "boy who looks like a girl," that is, it's the word for "trap" in Japanese. Note that, normally, the word otokonoko 男の子 means any "boy," and it only means "boy who looks like a girl" when written with the kanji for the word "daughter," musume 娘.

The word otokonoko 男の娘, "traps," as shown in the anime Outbreak Company, in the classroom

Generally speaking, an otokonoko character looks like a girl because of his mannerisms, voice and androgynous physiognomy, not because of anything else.

An otokonoko doesn't necessarily crossdress. The term for wearing "female clothes" in Japanese is josou 女装, and while some otokonoko characters may do it, not all of them are crossdressers, or end up crossdressing at some point of the series.

On the other hand, some characters who do crossdress are not considered otokonoko. In particular, a middle-aged crossdresser probably is not an otokonoko purely due to his age. (otokonoko 男の子 means "boy," not "old man.")


An otokonoko doesn't necessarily identify as a girl, or is transgender. In fact, two phrases commonly associated with otokonoko characters are: "but he is a guy," and: "but I'm a boy."

In English, some people say for a "trap" to be a "trap" the "trap" must actively try to pass as the opposite gender. Clearly, this isn't the case with the word otokonoko in Japanese, as such characters will actively deny being the opposite gender. In which case the meaning of otokonoko is closer to "femboy" than "trap."

Despite all of this, it's a trope for an otokonoko character to be regarded as more feminine than the average female character. He just naturally becomes the most girly character around because, well, because anime.
  • onna yori onna-rashii bishoujo 女より女らしい美少女
    A bishoujo more woman-like than a woman.
  • daga otoko da だが男だ
    But he is a guy.

"Trap" Offensiveness

Some transgender people and supporters don't like the English term "trap" because of what it insinuates: that they're trying to deceive, "trap" somebody by presenting as female. This isn't the case with otokonoko: the term doesn't insinuate any "trapping" is happening.

So you may want to call the characters otokonoko instead of "trap" if you want to sound like a weeb avoid offending people.

Personally, although I agree that calling a transgender person a "trap" is normally offensive and you shouldn't do that, I don't think there's any problem with calling otokonoko characters "traps." There's a clear distinction between reality and fiction here: fiction is made up by somebody: the author.

Most manga artists, light novel writers, etc. aren't adding transgender characters to their works. They're adding the "trap" trope to their works. They're like "I'm going to draw a girl, but say it's a guy," knowing fully well that somebody out there will fall for the "trap" they so cleverly designed. And when people fall for it, they'll call it what it is: a "trap."

You're really into those anime girls, huh? Girls? Eh...? A comic about traps by Paxiti.
Character on phone is Astolfo, from the Fate franchise
Source: @paxiti on Twitter.

In other words: usually, when authors, readers, watchers, etc. talk about traps in anime, the concept of transgender people in real life doesn't even cross their minds. They don't associate one thing with the other. Whatever they say about traps won't necessarily reflect their opinion on LGBT, because all they're thinking about is an anime trope, not real people.

Kusunoki Yukimura 楠幸村 wearing a maid uniform from anime Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai 僕は友達が少ない
Anime: Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai 僕は友達が少ない (episode 4)
  • Yukimura wanted to stop being so feminine and become a "true man."
  • Somehow, training to become a "true man" involves wearing a maid uniform.
  • After all, a true man is a true man even if he wears a maid uniform.
  • That makes total sense.
  • I'm not even joking.
  • That's the plot of the anime. Someone wrote this.
  • If this isn't the author blatantly adding the "trap" trope to the work then I don't know what is.

Are Traps Gay?

One of the greatest and most philosophical questions of all anime is: "are traps gay?"

Countless theories have been formulated to determine this truth of the universe. Some say traps are definitely not gay, some say they are. But it's 2018, so let's not over-generalize sexuality based on somebody's looks. Why not just ask the trap himself? "Are you gay?"

Proof traps are not gay: "Unlike you, I'm not gay" - Lin Xianming, crossdresser, from Hataka Tonkotsu Ramens 博多豚骨ラーメンズ, episode 11, has said this himself.

Okay, that didn't work.

There's also the question about whether liking traps makes you gay, but, again, let's not over-generalize.

なっ なんだろう この胸のときめきは… 相手は男なのに目が離せない よかった…ときめているのは僕だけじゃなかった よし着替え終ったぞい quote from manga Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu バカとテストと召喚獣
Manga: Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu バカとテストと召喚獣
  • Context: Hideyoshi is changing clothes.
  • na' nandarou
    kono mune no tokimeki wa...

    なっ なんだろう
    W-what is it
    this throbbing in my chest...
  • aite wa otoko nanoni
    me ga hanasenai...!!

    Even though [the one I'm looking at] is a guy
    [I can't take my eyes off him]
  • yokatta...
    [That's a relief...]
  • tokimeiteiru nowa
    boku dake janakatta

    [It] was not just me [whose chest was] throbbing.
  • yoshi kigae-owatta zoi
    Okay, I finished changing [clothes].

Anyway, to seriously answer the question "are traps gay?" I'll say they're very likely not. At least not the otokonoko 男の娘 characters in anime. (real-life people who call themselves "traps" in English, or otokonoko in Japanese, are a different matter, though, you can just go ask them their sexuality yourself.)

The reason I say traps are not gay is because they're characters in manga and anime airing on TV.

With the exception of shounen-ai and shoujo-ai anime, where homosexuality is the point of the story, there are hardly any gay characters in anime as a whole. If gay characters are rare, then gay traps are rare too. So we can safely assume that, in general, traps are not gay.

I mean, even if there's a gay character how would we know? Are you just going to ASSUME it? What awkward circumstance must happen for a character to proclaim "actually, I'm gay." It's not gonna happen. Or what? He'll just show up with a boyfriend? Don't be ridiculous.

If you've seen anime you should know it's already hard enough for a straight couple to happen. Main characters spend 3 years in high-school without getting a girlfriend. Some spent 30 years of their life virgin and end up becoming wizards. They're so unbelievably dense their thick skull can't be penetrated no matter how many girls your shoot at it, or how much ammunition (harem) you got. The only thing rarer than a girlfriend in anime is a parent.

So yeah, traps are not gay.

However, if the trap in an yaoi / BL doujinshi or fanfic made by a fujoshi then he's gay. Definitely gay. Like 120% gay. A fish would be a gay fish if it were featured in one of those, it could even turn the frogs gay.

But He Dresses Up Like a Girl!

Although it's easy to assume so, a crossdresser isn't automatically gay.

In anime there are many situations where an otokonoko 男の娘 ends up crossdressing for some queer reason (i.e. fanservice), but you can't decide someone else's sexuality on some coincidence, specially given so many times they'll be complaining like "why on Earth do I have to dress up like a girl" or something like that.

Daimon Kaito crossdressing.
Anime: Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle ファイ・ブレイン 神のパズル
  • In anime, sometimes during a school culture festival male characters end up having to crossdress against their will for an event like a crossdressing maid cafe, or crossdressing beauty contest, or something like that.
  • Needless to say, that doesn't make them gay.

Furthermore, there's a few characters that crossdress as a hobby. Like Kuranosuke, from Kuragehime. And are not gay. So despite dressing up as a girl, they won't necessarily be interested in men.

なじみ!俺と付き合ってく ムリ。ボク、男だし。 quote from manga Komi-san wa, Comyushou desu. 古見さんは、コミュ症です。
Manga: Komi-san wa, Comyushou desu. 古見さんは、コミュ症です。
  • Context: a guy confesses to his skirt-wearing friend.
  • Najimi! なじみ!
    (name of the character.)
  • ore to tsukiatteku
    Will you date wi
  • muri. ムリ。
    [No way.] (literary "impossible.")
  • boku, otoko dashi.
    I'm a guy.

In some cases the character is crossdressing because of some disturbing gender problems going on, and the plot leads up to a scenario where the problems are solved and the crossdressing thing stops (or doesn't.) This is also obviously not gay, it's just the author using gender as fuel as basis for issues to be resolved.

(I'm also adamant that a lot of characters fans like to say are "trans" are not really trans. As a rule, imagine a doctor asking a character if they're trans, can you imagine them saying "yes, I'm trans"? Or, similarly, "yes, I'm gay"? If you can't, then they probably are not, and all the gender/sexuality issues were forced upon them by the author for other reasons.)

Otoko no Musume

The word otokonoko 男の娘 is written with the kanji for the words "man," otoko 男, and "daughter," musume 娘. So one might mistakenly guess it means "man's daughter," otoko no musume 男の娘, when the slang has nothing to do with that.

The word otokonoko 男の子, this time written with the kanji for "child," ko, instead, does not mean a "man's child" either, it means a "boy," an young man, someone's son. Conversely, onnanoko 女の子 means "girl," and not "woman's child."

In some words, like oyako 親子, "parent and child," the kanji for "daughter," musume 娘, may replace the kanji for "child" to indicate it's a female child we're talking about. Since we're only replacing the kanji, the word remains the same, see: oyako, "parent and daughter."

Following this same idea, it's become a naming pattern for anime tropes in Japanese to name terms for girl characters after their moe attributes added to the kanji for "daughter" read as kko っ娘.

For example: megane 眼鏡 means "glasses," so a meganekko 眼鏡っ娘 is a girl that wears glasses. The word futanari ふたなり means "hermaphrodite," so a futanarikko ふたなりっ娘 is a girl who's a futanari.

So an otokonoko 男の娘 is like a "girl" whose attribute is that she's a "boy," otokonoko 男の子. This follows the pattern that in manga, anime, visual novels, etc. the otokonoko characters are usually part of a cast that includes a dozen of girl characters, each with a different moe attribute.

The otokonoko attribute is super-effective on Spider Guildy from the anime Ore, Twintail ni Narimasu.

That is: they're the token trap character. Just like a token tsundere character, there's never more than one of them, but you just know they're going to show up somewhere eventually. So you start doubting the gender of every character that doesn't have boobs. And the worst thing is when they don't clearly state it in the anime or in the manga the gender of the character. Is that character a girl? Or a boy? Is he? Or is she?! The doubt lingers on forever. You never know the truth. The author never tells. The fanbase discusses, argues and eventually start killing each-other in a cannibalistic rampage over this simple question. The world as we know it collapses, reality is bent and banished. It's chaos! CHAOS!!!



By the way, since "trap" otokonoko 男の娘 is literally pronounced the same way as "boy" otokonoko 男の子, it can be confusing to use it in a conversation, so sometimes people pronounce it (out loud) as otokonomusume 男の娘 instead to disambiguate. In writing the kanji is different so it doesn't matter if you read them the same.

Reverse-Trap in Japanese

The word for reverse-trap in Japanese is onnanoko 雄んなの子. A reverse-trap would be a "girl who looks like a boy" instead of a "boy who looks like a girl."

This term, onnanoko, was created as an antonym for otokonoko. Another term, onnanomusuko 女の息子, literally "woman's son," was also created to be "reverse-trap," but it's less used.

Like a common trap, a reverse-trap doesn't need to crossdress, or, in this case, to wear "male clothes," dansou 男装. She doesn't necessarily identify as a man, etc. either. And just naturally has more masculinity than the average male character.

Reverse-Trap vs. Transgender

It's important to note that, in anime, reverse-traps that deliberately try to pass as a guy are often not transgender in the normal sense.

It's a recurring theme that society doesn't respect women, so a female character has to pretend to be a guy to be respected, and will stop pretending after they find someone that respects them in spite of being female. That is, they don't try to look male because they identify with the male gender, they do it because the environment forces them to.

So unless you think being transgender when it's convenient for you makes sense, and you can just un-transgender when it's not convenient anymore, you must agree that N**** is actually cisgender, despite what the fanbase may say.


The word onnanoko 雄んなの子, "reverse-trap," was created in similar fashion as otokonoko 男の娘, "trap." Normally, otokonoko 男の子 means "boy," and onnanoko 女の子 means "girl." But the kanji were changed to create slangs.

In the case of onnanoko, the okanji is usually found in the word osu, which normally refers to "male" animals. (dogs, cats, etc. not a person's gender).


The term booisshu ボーイッシュ, a katakanization of the English word "boyish," means basically "tomboy" in Japanese. It's used toward female characters that, literally, are boy-ish. They look and act a bit like boys.

The term booisshu ボーイッシュ is more popular than onnanoko 雄んなの子. That is, there are more characters in anime that are tomboy girls than characters that are reverse-traps.

Generally, both types of characters have short hair, flatter chest, or don't wear girls' clothing (skirts, etc.), which is why they look boys.

The difference between these two terms is pretty simple:
  • An onnanoko is pretty much "draw a guy, say it's a girl." If she wore a skirt, you'd probably think it's a guy crossdressing.
  • A booisshu character can be "boy-ish" for a number of reasons: clothes, hairstyle, attitude, hobbies, etc. However, it isn't necessarily the case she looks so "boy-ish" you'd end up mistaking her for a boy like you'd with onnanoko.
A boy-ish, but clearly girl, girl.

A boy wearing a sk—girl. It's a girl.

Since onnanoko and otokonoko characters tend to be "naturals"—they're designed to look like the other gender whether they want it or not—onnanoko characters may avoid using male pronouns just like an usual girl-looking girl would, whereas booisshu characters may deliberately use male pronouns because being a "tomboy" is more of a personality thing.

Because of this, the booisshu trait often overlaps with the bokukko ボクっ娘 and orekko 俺っ娘 traits (girls who use the male pronouns boku and ore respectively.) Note that there are tomboys who use watashi 私 or other pronouns girls would use. Conversely, merely using the male pronouns doesn't make a girl a tomboy. These things just happen to overlap a lot.

There's also no rule against an onnanoko character being also a tomboy. That is, on top of looking just like a guy, they also deliberately try to act just like a guy, using male pronouns, etc.

Souseiseki is a girl who uses boku.

Wriggle Nightbug is a girl who uses watashi.


The term manisshu マニッシュ, "man-ish" also exists, but it's not really common at all. It would refer to a woman who's man-like. That is, "draw a woman like she's a man" or something along those lines.

1 comment:

Leave your komento コメント in this posuto ポスト of this burogu ブログ with your questions about Japanese, doubts or whatever!

Comments made in bad faith or containing spoilers or language inappropriate for the post will be removed.

  1. Okabe is insensitive and everyone knows it. Okabe is the one who said "daga otoko da" when referring to Luka. Mayuri always calls Luka Lukako. always. Okabe deserved the book smacking he got from Kurisu.