The Intentional Body

Desire and the “Real” Body
  • Katherine Mezur


The highest standard that contemporary onnagata strive to achieve in all onnagata gender roles is approximating what I call the “intentional body.” This is the consummate corporeal form that onnagata are taught from their early training in onnagata no kihon (onnagata fundamentals). An onnagata strives to mold his flesh, muscle, and bone through specific physical acts to approach this fictional model, the intentional body: a perfect composite of onnagata gender acts. I use “intentional body” here to emphasize how it is never realized, it is always in process and in transformation: an onnagata intends to achieve the ideal image, but knowingly never completely does. Every onnagata re-forms the ideal standards for onnagata gender performance with the reality of his individual body.


Gender Role Hand Gesture Male Body Role Type Shoulder Blade 
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  1. 3.
    See Kagayama Naozo, Kabuki no Kat (Tokyo:Sogensha, 1957) for complete explanation of kat and James R. Brandon, “Form in Kabuki Acting” 63–132.Google Scholar
  2. 16.
    Washida Seiichi, “The Meaning of Costuming:Dance and Fashion,” Buyo Gakkai (Dance Scholars Forum), Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan, 18 May 1996. Washida theorized that the costuming of the body in performance, like designer fashion wear, set up the situation where the costuming made an “inter-body” and the performer had no body; that is, “Karada wa ‘body’ [English] ga nai.” (“As for the performer body, there is no body.”) Gunji Masakatsu responded that the kabuki onnagata might fit into his paradigm.Google Scholar
  3. 36.
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  4. 37.
    Miura HirO, personal interview, Tokyo, 1993. Miura is the tokoyam for the Onoe Kikugoro family line onnagata. During our interviews, he demonstrated the process of combing and dressing several onnagata role type wigs for Baiko VII, Kikugoro VII, and Kikunosuke V (1977– ).Google Scholar
  5. 51.
    Kawatake Toshio, introduction and notes, Kabuki Ehon Juhachiban photo. Iwata Akira, trans. Helen V. Kay (San Francisco:Chronicle Books, 1984) 102–103. Kawatake describes Agemaki’s Five Festival costumes, which were designed by the star onnagata, Iwai Hanshiro V.Google Scholar

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© Katherine Mezur 2005

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  • Katherine Mezur

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