Modern Formations of Gender and Performance

  • Ayako Kano


In the final years of the reign of Meiji emperor (1868–1912), a new kind of woman appeared in the pages of Engei gahō (Theater graphic), a theater magazine featuring many photographs and sketches as well as performance reviews and essays. First published in 1907, the magazine had been including in almost every issue a page or two of photographs of the most popular geisha of the day. Dressed in Japanese kimono or Western dress, these women had shared the same space with male actors. But in the last years of the Meiji era, a new breed of women started appearing on these pages, arrayed in composite photographs, symbolically announcing that henceforth actresses, not geisha, were to be featured and contraposed with male actors. These photos thus announced the beginning of a new era, the era of the actress as modern woman and modern performer.


Posit Stake Shoe Geted Zine 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Muta Kazue, Senryaku to shite no kazoku: kindai Nihon no kokumin kokka keisei to josei (Family as strategy: Women and the formation of the modern Japanese nation-state) (Tokyo: Shin’yōsha, 1996), 181–2.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For an alternate view, see Gregory M. Pflugfelder, Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600–1950 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Such efforts are described in the secret treatises on the onnagata’s art, for example, in the famous “Ayamegusa,” but were also known to the general public: “One who performs a woman on stage [butaijō no onnagata] was supposed to maintain womanly behavior even in daily life” according to Iizuka Tomoichirō, Kabuki gairon (Overview of kabuki) (Tokyo: Hakubunkan, 1928), 280–81. For “Ayamegusa,” see Charles J. Dunn and Torigoe Bunzō, ed. and trans., The Actors’ Analects (Yakusha Rongo) (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), 49–66.Google Scholar
  4. 20.
    This novelist had caused a major scandal several years earlier (1908) by attempting a double suicide with Hiratsuka Aki, a woman who was later to take on the name of Raichō and found the feminist literary magazine Seitō (Blue stockings). After the failed suicide attempt, Morita wrote a serialized novel about the incident, called Baien (Smoke) (1909), using Hiratsuka’s letters to him. For an interesting analysis of this novel, see Egusa Mitsuko, “Watashi no shintai, watashi no kotoba: Baien, Futon no shūhen” (My body, my words: On Smoke and The Quilt), Kindai 1, vol. 5 of Nihon bungaku shi o yomu (Reading Japanese literary history), Yūseido Henshūbu ed., 6 vols. (Tokyo: Yūseido, 1990), 177–208.Google Scholar
  5. 27.
    The complex histories of the increasingly strict legal sanctions against theatrical sexuality (first banning women, then young men, from the stage), of the various fashions successively developed in response to these sanctions (forelocks, shaved foreheads, purple headcloths, wigs), and of the sexual fascination each of these “survival tactics” inspired in turn seem to best illustrate Judith Butler’s point that “the law is not only that which represses sexuality, but a prohibition that generates sexuality or, at least, compels its directionality.” Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (New York: Routledge, 1993), 95. For a discussion of the social context of kabuki theater, see Donald H. Shively, “The Social Environment of Tokugawa Kabuki,” in Studies in Kabuki: Its Acting, Music, and Historical Context, James R. Brandon, William P. Malm, and Donald H. Shively, eds. (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1978), 1–61.Google Scholar
  6. 29.
    Unthinkable, that is, except in the context of discussing the tradition of onnagata as “sexual perversion.” This is a theme that becomes the dominant paradigm in the 1910s. See Furukawa Makoto, “Dōseiaisha no shakai shi” (The social history of homosexuals) in Wakaritai anata no tame no shakaigaku nyū-mon (An introduction to sociology for those of you who want to know) (Tokyo: Takarajimasha, 1993), 218–222.Google Scholar
  7. 31.
    A women-only theater was actually to be realized soon after, in the form of the Takarazuka Revue. For a comprehensive and illuminating discussion of Takarazuka, see Jennifer Robertson’s book Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998) as well as her articles: “Gender-Bending in Paradise: Doing ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ in Japan,” Genders 5 (July 89): 50–69; “The ‘Magic If: Conflicting Performances of Gender in the Takarazuka Revue of Japan,” in Laurence Senelick ed., Gender in Performance: The Presentation of Difference in the Performing Arts (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1992), 46–67. In my view, the founding of the all-female Takarazuka as well as the persistent popularity of the all-male kabuki do not contradict with the formation of the modern essentialist and expressive definitions of gender. Any view of Japan as a Utopia of polymorphously performative gender must be carefully qualified in light of the fundamentally conservative gender ideology of the Takarazuka management, as well as the state support responsible for the survival of the all-male kabuki theater as “Japanese national theater” sanitized and stripped of all hints of homosexuality.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 33.
    Kuwano Tōka, Joyū ron (On actresses) (Tokyo: Sampōdō Shoten, 1913).Google Scholar
  9. 34.
    Ibid., 124.Google Scholar
  10. 35.
    Ibid., 142–43.Google Scholar
  11. 42.
    Jennifer Robertson, “The Shingaku Woman: Straight from the Heart,” in Recreating Japanese Women, 1600–1945, ed. Gail Bernstein (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 88–107; quote from 90. For information about the lives of women in pre-modern Japan see also parts of Robert J. Smith and Ella Lury Wiswell, The Women of Suye Mura (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982); Richard Varner, “The Organized Peasant: The Wakamonogumi in the Edo Period,” Monumenta Nipponica 32, no. 4 (Winter 1977): 459–83; Anne Walthall, “Devoted Wives/Unruly Women: Invisible Presence in the History of Japanese Social Protest,” Signs 20, no. 1 (Autumn 1994): 106–36.Google Scholar
  12. 43.
    See Ueno Chizuko, “Kaisetsu” in Fūzoku, sei (Folk customs and sexuality), ed. Ogi Shinzō, Kumakura Isao, and Ueno Chizuko, vol. 23 of Nihon kindai shisō taikei (Collected Japanese modern thought), 23+1 vols. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1990), 505–50.Google Scholar
  13. 44.
    Ibid., 519–21.Google Scholar
  14. 48.
    Kameda Atsuko, “Shūzoku ni miru josei kan: sekushizumu no shintō to shūzoku no hen’yō” (Views of women in folk customs: The permeation of sexism and the transformation of folk customs), Josei no imeji (Women’s images), vol. 1 of Kōza joseigaku (Lectures in women’s studies), ed. Joseigaku Kenkyūkai (Women’s studies study group), 4 vols. (Tokyo: Keisō Shobō, 1984), 162–83; quote from 180–81.Google Scholar
  15. 49.
    Gail Bernstein, “Introduction,” Recreating Japanese Women, 1600–1945, ed. Gail Bernstein (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 1–14; quote from 6–9. Sharon H. Nolte and Sally Ann Hastings “The Meiji State’s Policy Toward Women, 1890–1910,” in Bernstein, Recreating, 151–74. Sharon Sievers, Flowers in Salt: The Beginnings of Feminist Consciousness in Modern Japan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983), 10–25.Google Scholar
  16. 51.
    Vera Mackie, Creating Socialist Women in Japan: Gender, Labour and Activism, 1900–1937 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 31–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 52.
    Tachi Kaoru, “Ryōsai kenbo” (Good wife, wise mother), in Josei no imeji (Women’s images), vol. 1 of Kōza joseigaku (Lectures in women’s studies), ed. Joseigaku Kenkyūkai (Women’s studies study group), 4 vols. (Tokyo: Keisō Shobō, 1984), 184–209; quote from 192.Google Scholar
  18. 53.
    Owaki Masako, “Hōritsu ni okeru josei kan” (Views of women in law), Josei no Imeji (Women’s images), vol. 1 of Kōza joseigaku (Lectures in women’s studies), ed. Joseigaku Kenkyūkai (Women’s studies study group), 4 vols. (Tokyo: Keisō Shobō, 1984), 102–128. The “Public meeting regulations” (Shūkai jōrei) of 1880, which were passed to suppress the movement for popular rights, had barred the following categories of people from attending political lectures: military personnel, policemen, teachers and students of public and private schools, and apprentices in agriculture or the arts. The 1890 revisions to the regulations added the category of “women” (joshi) to these groups.Google Scholar
  19. 56.
    Saeki Junko, “Hanasaku Edo no bishōnen: ai no zankoku bigaku” (Blooming Edo’s beautiful boys: The cruel aesthetics of love), in Edo no shinjitsu: dare mo idomanakatta kinsei Nihon no wakarikata (Edo’s truth: An unprecedented way of understanding early modern Japan), (Tokyo: JICC, 1991), 218–32; quote from 223–25.Google Scholar
  20. 57.
    See Iwamoto Kenji, “Sekkin to hedatari: Close-up no shisō” (Nearness and distance: The ideology of the close-up), Nihon eiga no tanjō (The birth of Japanese cinema), vol. 1 of Kōza Nihon eiga (Lectures on Japanese cinema), 7 vols. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1985), 250–259. Iwamoto says that around 1914 the lack of close-ups in Japanese cinema began to be criticized in Japanese cinema journals, along with the unnaturalness of using onnagata. See also Satō Tadao, “Nihon eiga no seiritsu shita dodai” (The foundation for Japanese cinema), in Nihon Eiga no tanjō (The birth of Japanese cinema), vol. 1 of Kōza Nihon eiga (Lectures on Japanese cinema) (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1985), 2–52.Google Scholar
  21. 58.
    Ozasa Yoshio, Nihon gendai engeki shi (History of Japanese contemporary theater) 6 vols, to date (Tokyo: Hakusuisha, 1985–1999), 1:61.Google Scholar
  22. 59.
    Hagii Kōzō, Shimpa no gei (The art of shimpa) (Tokyo: Tōkyō Shoseki, 1984), 184. Ichikawa Kumehachi later became an instructor at Kawakami Sadayakko’s Actress Training Institute and seems to have taught mostly kabuki-style dancing. See Matsumoto Shinko, Meiji engeki ron shi (A history of Meiji theater discussions) (Tokyo: Engeki Shuppansha, 1980), 943–44. On the Actress Training Institute, see chapter 4. Also see Angela Kimi Coaldrake, Women’s Gidayū and the Japanese Theatre Tradition (London: Routledge, 1997) for a fascinating discussion of female performers of musical storytelling (gidayū).Google Scholar
  23. 65.
    Enami Shigeyuki and Mitsuhashi Toshiaki, “Modan toshi kaidokudokuhon: ami wa kindai no “chikaku” o ōdan sum “chishiki/kenryoku” no keifugaku (A reader to “decode the modern city:” Or, a genealogy of knowledge/power traversing the “senses” of the modern) (Tokyo: JICC, 1988).Google Scholar
  24. 66.
    Moriya Takeshi, “Geinōshi ni okeru kinsei teki naru mono” (What is early modern in performance history) Kinsei (Early modern period), vol. 4 of Nikon bungaku shinsbi (A new history of Japanese literature), ed. Matsuda Osamu, 6 vols. (Tokyo: Shibundō, 1990), 169–92.Google Scholar
  25. 70.
    The state’s effort to reform theater culminated in, and to a certain extent subsided with, the 1911 opening of the Teikoku Gekijō, the unofficial “imperial theater.” See Mine Takashi, Teikoku Gekijō kaimaku (The opening of the Imperial Theater) (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1996). It is interesting to note that as far as theater reform was concerned, commercial considerations were secondary to political considerations about national prestige: Teikoku Gekijō was not a money-making venture, and the executives serving on its board were barely paid a salary. See Mine, Teikoku, 305.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ayako Kano 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ayako Kano

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations