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Onnagata: The Art Of Woman In Japanese Kabuki

3481 words - 14 pages

The grace of a swan, subtle graceful movements, beauty, and finesse, these are all aspects of the Japanese Onnagata 1.The Onnagata (male actors portraying women) in Japan is viewed as the ideal women, according to the revered Misaki Isaka, their conduct “offstage is made responsible for artistry onstage, such as singing (ka), dancing (bu), and acting (ki)” 2. This is how Japanese society has come to view them over the years, but in reality, the Onnagata is a repressed individual that is not allowed to express their masculinity in any facet in society. This can be seen in a quote, within a short story, written by Yukio Mishima; “ He must live as a woman in his daily life, he is unlikely to be considered an accomplished Onnagata. When he appears on stage, the more he concentrates on performing this or that essentially feminine action the more masculine he will seem”3. The Onnagata, in Japan, is the ideal perfect woman who surpasses all women, but they are the contradictory, male representation of the male fantasy.
The manner in which, the Onnagata, essentially is in Japanese society has created a new ideal of gender in Japan and a new form of repression. "Kabuki would have died had not increasingly believable, instead of merely pretty, female characters begun to appear in the mature male kabuki that emerged in the 1650s … an open transition from gay theater to Gei Theater, gei being Japanese for art…Only actors past their adolescence could do and they were forced by law to cut their physical attractiveness" 4. The dictatorial members of the government at the time felt women and homosexual men had over stepped their bounds in theater, thus banning them. One reason for this is the essential make up of society for; women in the Tokugawa period are of a lower caliber than men, in a patriarchal society, with which they were living in. Actors at this time, in this particular mode of acting, were not seen as human until the Meiji period. They were seen to be akin to puppets that could be disposed of, if they disobeyed. The actors were seen to have to follow a strict code of rules in order for them to be able to remain in the Kabuki industry in this period, such as not showing any homosexual tendencies and never breaking the illusion of being a woman.
The manner in which the gender of female in Kabuki comes about is through the explicit commodification of the female person, this is seen as, "Denying real women representation in favor of a fictional construct favoring patriarchal values"5. This takes away the voice of real women in Japan at this period along with the Onnagata, for if they do not speak within their realm of allowance they would be punished. Women, in this period, occupied a very low station in Japan; in Kabuki the men are depicted as being more women than woman. For the Onnagata is able to express emotions and act in such a way at all times that the ordinary wife and mother cannot. This leaves the woman in Japan with no place in...

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