- University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Onnagata is a theatrical term that refers to male actors who perform the roles of women in a Japanese theatrical form called kabuki. This type of female impersonation has been an important aspect of the kabuki dramaturgy since its beginning (the seventeenth century) to date. Moreover, during the history of onnagata, this theatrical gender practice affected how women manifested femininity in society. This project examines how this theatrical gender impersonation has shaped both the concept of femininity and the economy of gender construction in Japan. It is a case study of how gender has been constructed, understood, and theorized in a localized context, which makes an interdisciplinary and intercultural contribution to theater studies, gender studies, and Asian studies.
This project examines female gidayû chanters in modern Japan, exploring their performance and its implications for theorizing gender, modernity, and membership. Gidayû, which is the storytelling component of traditional Japanese puppet theater, was traditionally performed by men, but women at times performed under men’s names and in men’s clothing. Around the turn of the twentieth century, when Western knowledge changed Japan’s epistemological milieu dramatically, some women practiced a feminized style of chanting. This chanting style reified the connection between femininity and women’s bodies, a connection that well accorded the new epistemological milieu, and became popular among people who were most likely to be subject to Western influence: elite male college students. Despite the style’s popularity and consistency with contemporary social thought, the success of these women was short-lived, and another type of female chanter who mastered masculinized elocution and performance survived. This project explores the counterintuitive collapse of feminized gidayû chanting and reversion to a masculinized style.