Performative Gender Role Types

Wonder Boys and Their Metaphysical Bodies,Transcendent Acts, and Supernatural Genders
  • Katherine Mezur


An analysis of onnagata gender performance would not be complete without an explanation of onnagata yakugara (role types). The contemporary onnagata yakugara is a system of multiple and variable genders based on and articulated by the male body beneath. Gender role types were part of the policing regime of the Edo period bakufu. In its early stages, wakashu were required to register as onnagata. These early wonder boys already knew the power of fashion and transformation. While playwrights are often credited for the creation of more complex narratives and characters, the flamboyant wakashu appear to have combined their need to attract patrons, develop their range of roles, and maintain their cutting-edge fashion prestige. Successive generations of onnagata took advantage of role types in order to devise their particular celebrity profile and still preserve their beautiful boy alchemy. The onnagata yakugara are critical to their extraordinary protean female-likeness and they further mutate and complicate the reading of the role and the body beneath.


Gender Role Young Girl Male Body Role Type Female Gender Role 
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  1. 5.
    Toita Yasuji, Onnagata no Subet 165–171, 177–182, 189–193. Note that Toita’s yūj role type takes up seventeen pages compared to the other role types of three to four pages.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Mizuochi Kiyoshi, Edo no KyariaUman:Kabuki Shukujorok (Tokyo:Kamakura Shobo, 1989) 8–9. The “Kyaria Uman” in Mizuochi’s tide is the loan word made from “career woman,” which is Mizuochi’s contemporary title for the courtesan role type, which was the first major onnagata role of early kabuki.Google Scholar
  3. 34.
    Gunji Masakatsu, interview. Hattori Yukio, interview. Hattori Yukio, Hengeron:Kabuki no Seishinsh (Tokyo:Heibonsha, 1975) 55–60, 61–96. See Hattori’s discussion of transformation dance aesthetics, techniques, and spiritual connections in early kabuki history.Google Scholar
  4. 37.
    Gunji Masakatsu, Odori no Bigak 90–92. Gunji explains the connections between the ghost dances, transformation dances, and onnagata. See “The Hengemono Period” section, pp. 106–112 for further explanation of transformation dances.Google Scholar
  5. 40.
    Gunji Masakatsu, Odori no Bigak 275–281. “Hengemono,” and “Masakado,” Gunji Masakatsu, Nihon Buya Jite (Tokyo:Tokyodo Shuppan, 1977)366–367,381–382.Google Scholar
  6. 50.
    Tsuda Noritake, Handbook of Japanese Ar (Tokyo:Tuttle, 1976) 410–411. See pp. 451–452 for pictures of Kannon, a goddess-like figure whose crown of rays is similar to the bodhisattv style spoken of here.Google Scholar

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© Katherine Mezur 2005

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  • Katherine Mezur

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