Author: Hisashi YAMANAKA (山中恒)
Published by Kadokawa (角川文庫)
This book was first serialised in the magazine 『小6時代』 in 1979. It has been adapted into drama, film and manga since then.
It is now available as a regular bunko format (Kadokawa) or in the Tsubasa collection. I chose the Tsubasa version because it has complete furigana and illustrations by Ikura Sugimoto (杉基イクラ). You can read the first pages on the publisher’s website.
Sixth year of primary school. Kazuo Saito and Kazumi Saito meet again (they used to go to the same kindergarten), but Kazuo is far from happy to see Kazumi beeing transferred to his school. And things get much worse when he wakes up in Kazumi’s body…
I was very surprised by how good this book was! I mainly bought it to widen the range of easy books I could recommend to Japanese learners, but I was engrossed in the story from beginning to end.
First of all, the story is very funny with a lot of comical scenes and dialogues. Not only do Kazuo and Kazumi have to adapt to a new body and identity, they have to somehow fit in a new family, which is of course impossible to do smoothly. This leads to funny moments involving other members of their family, schoolmates and professors.
One of the most challenging thing for our two protagonists is to change the way they talk. I found the parts on language very interesting and part of the reason why I find this book perfect for language learners. Kazuo and Kazumi constantly have to adjust how they end their sentences. It is particularly funny to see Kazuo navigating between his rough but natural language to the more refined way of speaking that is expected from Kazumi.
While being funny, this book has also a more profound impact. By exchanging places, Kazuo and Kazumi realise that what they took for granted, that girls should behave like girls and boys like boys, is in fact putting a lot of pressure on them. The story is focused on Kazuo, which is our main character, and we see him realising that girls are supposed to help in the kitchen and are constantly lectured on how to behave, how to talk, how to eat.
I find that this book shows in a clever and entertaining way how difficult it is to be yourself in a society where parents, teachers and even your classmates want you to behave according to your sex. The new Kazuo and Kazumi are not accepted anymore because they don’t fit. This also leads to the characters getting closer to each other, the book constantly switching from funny to emotional moments.
Finally, this book is also very easy to read in Japanese and makes for a perfect read for Japanese learners. While I find that this book can be read by children and adults alike, it was initially written for young readers, so the author never uses difficult words and the whole book does not contain many kanji words. The story is also very engrossing, which is not always the case when adults read children’s books. Highly recommended!