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Romantic Love and the 'Housewife Trap': A Gendered Reading of The Cat Returns

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Andrea Germer, Dr Shiro YoshiokaORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Gender, particularly the figure of the shōjo, plays a crucial role in the creation of heroes and the development of plots in Japanese popular texts. This paper focuses on The Cat Returns (Neko no ongaeshi) (2002, Dir. Morita Hiroyuki), one of the lesser-known films produced by Studio Ghibli. A socio-political reading and gender-sensitive analysis reveals that this film offers a deep and critical commentary on the gender order in contemporary Japan. Moreover, with its teenage girl protagonist Haru, it presents an exceptional case of a shōjo-centred anime that does not fit conventional genre characteristics. Through Haru’s refusal to become a wife in the Cat Kingdom the film criticises the expectation for young women to prioritise the pursuit of romantic relationships (ren’ai), and it rejects the ideal of the Japanese housewife (shufu) as an existence of dependence in a semi-feudal social gender order. This paper views Haru’s coming-of-age story through major gender theories, and interprets the plot as a critique of what Ueno Chizuko and Nobuta Sayoko (2004) called the ‘Marriage Empire’ in Japan. We argue that the anime reflects shifting ideas on gender and at the same time presents an exceptional treatment of the need for young women to confront the social changes and gender role expectations of contemporary Japanese society.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Germer A, Yoshioka S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Japanese Studies

Year: 2017

Volume: 37

Issue: 2

Pages: 247-263

Online publication date: 03/07/2017

Acceptance date: 27/01/2017

Date deposited: 25/05/2017

ISSN (print): 1037-1397

ISSN (electronic): 1469-9338

Publisher: Taylor & Francis


DOI: 10.1080/10371397.2017.1333886


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