Modernity, Nation, and Eros: Boys Versus Women

Surviving Westernization and Realism
  • Katherine Mezur


It is well documented that the end of the Edo period through the Meiji (1868–1912) and Taishō (1912–1926) and early Shōwa (1926–1930) eras were times of great upheaval and radical transformation for all of Japanese culture. Kabuki was elevated from its popular entertainment status to an official form of classical theatre, and kabuki performers were finally recognized as citizens. However, in the rush toward modernization, onnagata were among the elements of Edo period kabuki that were singled out for elimination. The art of the onnagata was scrutinized by public officials. Under pressure from the outside and within kabuki itself, onnagata modified their gender acts and art. In general, onnagata curbed their more flamboyant and extreme gender acts. By suppressing overt displays of sensuality and restricting acts of physical violence, onnagata subdued and refined their erotic allure. The initial Meiji period modifications of the Edo period onnagata gender acts deeply influenced the overall stylization practices of contemporary onnagata. During the first period of “Western” emulation, the onnagata irrevocably changed. Even the radical changes of the postwar and then “economic-boom” Japan, did not so acutely mutate the onnagata’s stylized gender acts as did this transformative era.


Gender Role Male Body Female Role Role Type Female Gender Role 
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© Katherine Mezur 2005

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  • Katherine Mezur

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