World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Handpainted scroll attributed to Hishikawa Morofusa, titled
"Two Actors Combing Hair"; handpainted ukiyo-e scroll attributed to Hishikawa Morofusa, circa 1700. An onnagata wearing a purple headscarf combs the hair of a wakashū-gata (identifiable by his forelocks and partially shaved head).

Handpainted scroll attributed to Hishikawa Morofusa, titled "Two Actors Combing Hair", circa 1700; showing an onnagata (female-role actor) combing the hair of a wakashū-gata (actor specializing in adolescent male roles).

Onnagata or oyama (Japanese: 女形・女方, "woman-role"), are male actors who impersonate women in Japanese kabuki theatre.[1] The modern all-male kabuki was originally known as yarō kabuki (man kabuki) to distinguish it from earlier forms. In the early 17th century, shortly after the emergence of the genre, many kabuki theaters had an all-female cast (onna kabuki), with women playing men's roles as necessary. Wakashū kabuki (adolescent-boy kabuki), with a cast composed entirely of attractive young men playing both male and female roles, and frequently dealing in erotic themes, originated circa 1612.[2](p90)

Both onnagata and wakashū (or wakashū-gata), actors specializing in adolescent male roles (and usually adolescents themselves), were the subject of much appreciation by both male and female patrons, and were often prostitutes. All-male casts became the norm after 1629, when women were banned from appearing in kabuki due to the prevalent prostitution of actresses and violent quarrels among patrons for the actresses' favors.[2](pp90-91) This ban failed to stop the problems, however, since the young male (wakashū) actors were also fervently pursued by patrons.

In 1642, onnagata roles were forbidden, resulting in plays that featured only male characters. These plays continued to have erotic content and generally featured many wakashū roles, often dealing in themes of nanshoku (male homosexuality); officials responded by banning wakashū roles as well.[2](p92) The ban on onnagata was lifted in 1644, and on wakashū in 1652, on the condition that all actors, regardless of role, adopted the adult male hairstyle with shaved pate. Onnagata and wakashū actors soon began wearing a small purple headscarf (murasaki bōshi or katsura) to cover the shaved portion, which became iconic signifiers of their roles and eventually became invested with erotic significance as a result.[2](p132) After authorities rescinded a ban on wig-wearing by onnagata and wakashū actors, the murasaki bōshi was replaced by a wig and now survives in a few older plays and as a ceremonial accessory.[3]

After film was introduced in Japan at the end of the 19th century, the oyama continued to portray females in movies until the early 1920s. At that time, however, using real female actresses was coming into fashion with the introduction of realist shingeki films. The oyama staged a protest at Nikkatsu in 1922 in backlash against the lack of work because of this. Kabuki, however, remains all-male even today.[4]

Oyama continue to appear in Kabuki today, though the term onnagata has come to be used much more commonly.

Notable oyama

See also



  1. ^ "Three Actors".  
  2. ^ a b c d Leupp, Gary P. (1997). Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan. University of California Press.  
  3. ^ Leiter, Samuel L. (2006). Historical dictionary of Japanese traditional theatre. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 251.  
  4. ^ Though there are all-female troupes, they represent a separate tradition, performing at separate theatres and for the most part not really playing a part in the 'core' kabuki world.
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from School eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.