Torikaebaya Monogatari (The Changelings) (とりかへばや物語)

"Torikaebaya Monogatari" is a narrative that was completed in the late Heian period. The author is unknown.
Torikaebaya' is an archaic word whose meaning is 'I wish I could change something.'


Kanpaku Sadaijin (Imperial Regent and Minister of the Left) has two children. One is a boy who is diffident and feminine, while the other is a cheerful girl who is like a boy.
The father feels sad, saying, 'I wish I could exchange their personalities,' and because of their inborn characters the boy is brought up as a 'princess' and the girl is treated as a 'young prince.'

As soon as the girl wearing male clothes enters the Imperial Court as 'a young prince,' she shows her ability and takes the high road to success, while she is still young.
The boy in female clothes also enters the service of a consort of the Emperor as a 'princess.'

Subsequently, the 'young prince' marries a daughter of the Minister of the Right. However, the wife, who is unaware of the truth, becomes intimate with her husband's best friend, Saisho no Chujo (Consultant Captain), and consequently their marriage collapses. Meanwhile, the 'princess' falls in love with his master, a consort of the Emperor, and has relations with her, and both of them begin to agonize over their innate characteristics. At last, Saisho no Chujo reveals what the 'young prince' really is, which changes the situation noticeably.

The 'young prince,' who is pregnant by Saisho no Chujo and in a dilemma, comes to wear female dress again, and eventually gives birth to a baby, being sheltered by Saisho no Chujo. Having begun to wear male clothes again, the 'princess' finds the lost 'young prince' and helps 'him' to escape from Saisho no Chujo. They secretly exchange their positions.

After they get their original gender identities back, they carve out their future and attain their highest social positions respectively: He became Kanpaku (chief adviser to the Emperor), while she became Chugu (the second consort of the Emperor).

The writing process

It is considered that the original story of Torikaebaya Monogatari was created before 1180 but that it was ultimately rewritten through posterity, having been passed down to the present day. It is possible to assume the process of writing by the descriptions of both Mumyozoshi (critique of tales), which was completed at the beginning of the 13th century, and Fuyo Wakashu (collection of Japanese poems based on fictional stories), which was compiled at the end of the same century. Hiromichi SUZUKI and others have studied the historical evidence.

The significance of the work

The setting for this story in which a man and woman exchange their roles is not realistic, but the portrayal of the characters, particularly these two people, is realistic and multilayered, so it's truly worth reading even today.
The scene in which Saisho no Chujo reveals the truth about a lady in the male clothes, or 'young prince,' and has a relationship with her is one of the climactics in this work, but it's also one of the reasons why this work is considered 'decadent.'
At this point, the work has left a strong impression on people, and therefore survived among the many stories that had been written in those days, even though the story belongs to a genre that hasn't survived well.

Though people have read the story since old days, it was treated critically for a certain period of time in the modern times. In the history of Japanese literature in the Meiji period, Sakutaro FUJIOKA criticized the story saying 'bizarre,' 'something that betrays readers,' 'it is not even a novel' and 'it makes people feel sick,' but now the work is revalued from the perspective of gender. Though it contains a conventional and banal plot that was often seen in those days, the work is said to have an important element that makes the story more like a modern novel beyond the matter of gender, exposing the difference between a human's innate nature and his or her social role.

Modern translations and adaptations

The modern translations of Torikaebaya Monogatari that are available today are Chikuma Library edition translated by Shinichiro NAKAMURA, and the Kodansha Japanese Classics for Boys and Girls edition translated by Seiko TANABE. The Academic Paperback Library (Kodansha Ltd.) edition contains a modern translation together with the original text. "The Change!," a novel written by Saeko HIMURO, is an adaptation of Torikaebaya Monogatari for young girls; it was also adapted as a comic book by Naomi YAMAUCHI. Juro KARA adapted Torikaebaya Monogatari for a novel called "The Day We Switched Our Roles" (Shufu To Seikatsu Sha Co., Ltd.), and published it in 1998.

[Original Japanese]