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(käbo͞o`kē): see Asian dramaAsian drama,
dramatic works produced in the East. Of the three major Asian dramas—Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese—the oldest is Sanskrit, although the dates of its origin are uncertain.
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a form of classical Japanese theater, originally consisting of folk songs and dances performed by wandering actors. O-Kuni, who is considered the founder of Kabuki, organized a troupe of women in 1603. Although love songs and dances were the main features of the scenes in which O-Kuni appeared, there were also elements of dramaturgic composition. These elements subsequently became more prevalent. In 1629 the women’s troupe was banned on the pretext of having violated the laws of morality. Since 1652 only men have appeared in Kabuki performances (yaro- Kabuki). As a result, a specific role involving the impersonation of women was established (onnagata, or oyama).

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Kabuki theater reached the height of its development, with the rise of an urban culture during the Genroku period (1688–1703). At this time, Kabuki made a major step forward from imitation (mono-mane) to a more natural manner of acting. Stage movements and speech acquired greater significance; they were influenced by the masterful work of the actor Sakata Tojuro and the playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon.

The crisis of the feudal order brought about strict regimentation in all areas of Japanese life. This regimentation was reflected in Kabuki plays by the use of conventions, such as dance plays, ritualistic plays (sho’sagoto), and pantomime. The musical accompaniment, the stage design, the traditional poses (mie), the canons of acting (kata), the wigs, and the kumadori makeup (red symbolized justice, passion, and bravery; blue represented sangfroid, evil, and immorality) became extremely conventional. The tradition of the succession of stage names was established, and actors’ dynasties with hereditary roles were formed.

During the first half of the 18th century, Ichikawa Danjuro II and Savamura Sojuro were two of the most highly praised Kabuki actors. In 1758 the dramatist Namiki Shozo introduced the revolving stage. This stage and the “flower path,” or the hanamiti (a platform extending from the stage to the rear of the audience), were important achievements in the development of the Kabuki theater.

Toward the end of the 18th century, the center of the Kabuki arts moved from Kyoto and Osaka to Edo (now Tokyo). In addition to the performances of the traditional historical drama (jidaimono), a domestic play devoted to urban life (sevamono) was introduced in Edo. This new genre was established in Kabuki theater by the work of the well-known dramatist Tsu-ruya Namboku and by the realistic performances of Matsumoto Koshiro V.

After the bourgeois revolution of 1867–68 (the Meiji revolution), Japan embarked upon the path of capitalist development. This development was expressed in Kabuki dramaturgy. Plays reflected the new morality, and historical dramas (kat-surekimono) were staged. Among the most famous Kabuki actors of the late 19th century were Ichikawa Danjuro IX, Onoe Kikugoro V, and Ichikawa Sadanji I. New Kabuki plays appeared that revived traditional stage devices.

In 1966 the state theater Kokuritsu gekijo was opened in Tokyo with the aim of preserving classical Kabuki theater. Kabuki actors are also affiliated with the Setiku and Toho, two prominent film companies, as well as with the only independent theatrical troupe, the Zenshinza.

During its tours in the USSR in 1928 and 1961, the Kabuki theater acquainted Soviet audiences with its popular actors Ichikawa Sadanji II, Ichikawa Ennosuke II, and Utaemon VI.


Konrad, N. I. “Teatr Kabuki.” In the collection Teatral’nyi Oktiabr’ Leningrad-Moscow, 1926.
Konrad, N. I. Teatr Kabuki. Leningrad-Moscow, 1928.
Kabuki. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from English.)
Teatr i dramaturgiia Iaponii: Sb. Moscow, 1965.
Gunji, Masakatsu. Iaponskii teatr Kabuki. Moscow, 1969. (Translated
from Japanese.)


References in periodicals archive ?
Nor can theorists definitively assign to one gender or another dramatic characters such as Shakespeare's cross-dressers, Greek heroines, Chikamatsu's onnagata, the heroes of the Takarazuka Kagekidan, or the characters of Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett and Tennessee Williams.
The concept of "Onnagata," however, was there right from the beginning.
The question seems to be, as [a leading onnagata actor] expressed it, one of "ideal" and transcendent womanhood, an abstraction politically inflected so that it can only be conceptualized and embodied by men.(14)
Charles de Beaumont, has inspired the collaborators to explore the overlap between soldier and courtesan, drawing from the kabuki cross-dressing techniques of "Onnagata." As if this trio blending the dance and theatre worlds weren't an intriguing enough collaboration, there's fashion in the mix: Reportedly, Alexander McQueen has designed costumes telegraphing the fabulousness of the French court.
Heterosexual Japanese women could become intense fans of the male-part players of the Takarazuka Review--even though they understand that, in real life, these parts are played by women (in a reverse parallel to the onnagata [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of Kabuki theater, where men play the roles of both women and men).
When Japanese Kabuki was being performed in New York during the 1980s, the most celebrated performer turned out to be the onnagata (female impersonator) Tomasaburo Bando V, a disciplined and dedicated actor performing in a tradition that is centuries old.
Yoko Takakuwa develops the comparison in a more interesting direction when she notes that both the male actor playing Cleopatra and the onnagata playing a keisei (the most refined of courtesans) are impersonating a woman who is herself an impersonation.
Perhaps inspired by the Kabuki onnagata (player of female roles), Lauren uses immense vocal range, rising to falsetto and plunging forcefully into the chest.
We can begin with geisha masquerades in Japan performed by kabuki onnagata [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (performers of women's roles, generally male).15 Following theater historian and critic Maki Isaka's work (2006), we observe the close friendships among kabuki actors and geisha, and we attend to the ways that notions of ideal femininity circulated among onnagata, geisha, and audience members; we recall how an onnagata had trained Dalby in how a woman uses a fan (1983, 274-75).
Commissioned by Spoleto Festival USA, with a $35,000 grant from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, the intriguing piece stars the acclaimed kabuki theatre performer Gojo Masanosuke, an onnagata specializing in women's roles, the African-American actor Karen Kandel (as narrator) and two musicians, one playing traditional Asian instruments, the other better known for his work as a DJ and electronic artist.
Similarly, Yoshizawa Ayame I (1673-1719), the great kabuki onnagata (female-role player), discusses the necessity for male players of the onnagata to study "real" women and to perform them as "realistically" as possible, lust as David Garrick's "realism" on the eighteenth-century English stage would appear rather stylized to an audience today, so too would the realism advocated by Zeami and Ayame.
Nowadays cross-cultural exchanges fly around the world, achieving varying degrees of success--but rarely has Shakespeare been better served than in an all-male Hamlet that dared to cut across a broad range of Japanese theatre styles, starring two of Tokyo's most famous female impersonators, or onnagata.