Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 16, March 2008

Beyond the Gender Dichotomy:
The Cross-dressing Tradition in Japanese Theatre

Junko Saeki

    Cross-dressing in the theatre of Japan from ancient times to the Middle Ages
  1. In ancient Japan and at the beginning of the middle ages,[1] there were female dancers called shirabyōshi (the term literally means 'a simple rhythm') who dressed as men on the stage.

    Their stage costume, which included male hats (eboshi) and swords, signified that they were disguised as males. In ancient times, there were female dancers who were not only secular entertainers, but also priestesses who served the gods at Shinto shrines,[2] for in Japan, dancing and singing formed the main part of ancient rituals, as they did in other Asian countries.[3] Female dancers were sometimes even praised as divinities of singing and dancing (kabu no bosatsu) because they were thought to be able to communicate with the gods through their performance. Images of such holy dancers of Buddhism, typically represented by the twelfth century sculptures of Unchū kuyō Bosatsu (Dancing Deities Floating in the Clouds) in Byōdōin Temple, help us to understand the sacred characteristics of shirabyōshi dancers. The androgynous appearance of the temple sculptures reminds us of the cross-dressing of the shirabyōshi dancers.

    Figure 1. Shirabyōshi. Source. Izutsu Gafu, Genshoku Nihon fukushoku-shi, Kyoto: Kōrinsha Shuppan, 1989, p. 130.

  2. Even after the introduction of Buddhism from China, the ancient dancing priestesses retained their religious functions as Buddhist and indigenous Japanese religious beliefs intermingled. By dressing as males, female dancers gained extra supernatural spiritual power that was associated with
    androgyny. Unlike the all powerful Father God of Christianity who is unambiguously identified as a male, the gender identities of deities in Japanese Buddhism are fluid and ambiguous. In ancient Japanese religion, as indicated by the myth of the marriage of Izanami and Izanagi, (the progenitive god and goddess of the Japanese), the unity of male and female is believed to be the source of supernatural power.[4] This religious background gave importance to cross-dressing in Japanese performances that were descended from sacred rituals. Even today some festivals which include cross-dressing performances still survive in Japan.[5]

    Figure 2. Unchū kuyō Bosatsu. Source: Byodōin, Kyoto, online:, accessed 25 February 2008.

  3. Pictures of aristocrats in ancient Japan tell us that at that time there was no clear differentiation between male and female beauty. This can be seen in illustrations from the classical novel The Tale of Genji written by Lady Murasaki around the year 1008.[6] This way of seeing human beings might
    also have had a bearing on the popularity of cross-dressing in Japanese performance. Compared to Western dress, traditional Japanese clothes also facilitate cross-dressing. Clothes for nobles of both sexes hid the shape of the human body, and this enabled their wearers to easily transgress the masculine/feminine boundary, at least when clothed, because the long sleeves and skirts masked whether the body inside was that of a male or female.[7] The stiff, heavy costumes of the Noh theatre are especially effective in hiding the performer's biological sex. Even though Noh performers are mainly male, their costumes make it rather easy for them to play female roles.[8] Masks also hide the performer's real faces. Izutsu, which is considered one of the best plays written by Zeami, is a representative example of cross-dressing in Noh performance.[9] In the play, the heroine puts on the clothes of her old lover, Ariwara-no-Narihira, as she fondly remembers her days with him.

    Figure 3. Izutsu. Performer: Kaneda Tadamasa at Kanze Noh Theatre, Tokyo, 2002. Photographed by Maejima Yoshihiro.

  4. Based on old Japanese beliefs mentioned above, Ariwara-no-Narihira, one of the most famous poets of ancient Japan, was worshipped as Inyo-no-kami, that is, the deity who symbolises the unity of male and female in his own person. The heroine of Izutsu manifests his/her androgynous holiness by cross-dressing at the climax of the performance.
  5. Unlike the image of the patriarchal Christian 'Father God,' Japanese deities do not exclude females. In fact, at least until the age of patriarchy, which, in Japan, is said to have developed with the beginning of the ascendancy of the samurai clan in the Kamakura-period from 1192 CE, women were believed to possess certain spiritual powers. Himiko, the first Empress of Japan, is said to have had such powers. The myth of Yamato-Takeru in Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters, the oldest historical book in Japan dating from 712 CE)[10] presupposes such powers too, for Yamato-Takeru puts on his aunt's clothes when he defeats the barbarians in the West. In other words, in order to conquer the enemy he borrows female spiritual power, and he does this through becoming androgynous by cross-dressing. Yamato-Takeru's cross-dressing is certainly reflected in Noh performance, which itself has a religious origin.
  6. Until quite recently, Western psychiatrists used to consider cross-dressing to be a mental disorder. In the 1950s, transvestism was defined within psychoanalytical discourse as 'the persistent desire to dress in those garments which in a given culture belong to the opposite sex, and to feel uncomfortable when dressed in the garments of one's own sex; or a persistent association of sexual excitement with dressing in the clothes of the other sex.'[11] According to recent psychoanalytic theory, however, transvestism is 'merely one of a larger class of sexual behaviors, whose common feature is a man's erotic arousal at the thought or image of himself as a woman'[12] As these explanations indicate, cross-dressing tends to be associated with male sexual desire, and is related to gender identity disorder. As Kazdin suggests, adults with gender identity disorder 'usually adopt the behavior, dress, and mannerisms of the other gender.'[13]
  7. However, according to Japanese folk belief, androgyny, (relating to a person who does not fit precisely into the typical masculine and feminine gender roles of their society), is not a mental disease, but a privilege of the sacred.[14] Like shirabyōshi dancers, Noh performers are not only secular entertainers, but once played a religious role—as in the ritualistic ceremony of Okina, the old male god. Set apart from ordinary people, these performers were once believed to have extraordinary religious power, as the historian Amino Yoshihiko has shown.[15]

    Cross-dressing in Kabuki performance
  8. The tradition of cross-dressing in Japanese theatre continued in early modern Japan, as can be seen in the performance of Okuni, the founder of Kabuki performance. On stage, Okuni dressed as a man, and her 'kabuki'[16] performance charmed her audiences. She first performed in Kyoto, and then in the capital in 1603, and is said to have been a priestess from the old religious town of Izumo in the western part of Honshu. It is hard to verify her background due to the lack of detailed historical documents, but the old memory of shirabyōshi dancers may have contributed to her great success. At that time, the sacred connotations of cross-dressing had largely been lost and it had degenerated into secular entertainment, but Okuni's religious background suggests that her cross-dressing was a purposeful recalling of a past time.
  9. Unfortunately, the Tokugawa-shogunate prohibited female Kabuki performance in 1629 because the dancers often engaged in prostitution. From then until the Meiji period, female performers were excluded from Japanese public theatres. But this brought about the development of the unique style of acting of Kabuki, due to the necessity for male performers to impersonate all kinds of characters from young girls to old men and women. In this way, the art of female impersonation achieved a high degree of sophistication and flourished in the Edo period, especially among boy performers. Boy female impersonators gained such great popularity that some enthusiastic fans lost their lives due to hopeless love for their idols.[17] In the directories of actors at the time, boy female impersonators were often identified with Buddhist deities such as Kannnon or Bosatsu, because of their heavenly beauty. As with the performers of ancient times and the middle ages, audiences perceived their fascinating androgyny as a sacred embodiment of ideal beauty. In this way, androgynous beauty was still idealised in early modern Japanese theatre as it had been in the past.[18]
  10. The appearance of the boy performer was not very different from that of the female. In pictures from the Edo period the biological difference between male and female is no clearer than it was in the pictures from the ancient period discussed above (see figures 1 and 2). Even in a picture of heterosexual lovers, it is hard to tell which is the male and which is the female.[19] Furthermore, even pictures of the naked body do not make the person's biological sex completely clear.[20] Unlike Western depictions of the human body, Japanese pictures do not show clearly the difference between male and female. Such an ambiguous perception of human bodies certainly made cross-dressing more likely to be acceptable to the public.

    Figure 4. Ukiyoe. A courtesan, right (National Museum of Tokyo), and a boy actor, left (The Suntory Museum of Art), by a painter of Kaigetsudō School, early 18th century.[21]

  11. For the same reason, same-sex relationships were also acceptable to Edo citizens. It did not matter whether the object of one's desire was biologically male or female, as long as he or she was attractive. Kabuki actors at that time were erotic objects for both female and male audiences, because of the tolerance of homo-erotic relationships. Male-male relationships, free from the Christian intolerance of homo-eroticism, were not at all condemned as 'sexual perversion.' Thus, the art of female impersonation developed in early modern Japan with the support of both male and female audiences.
  12. One of the representative examples of the art of Kabuki female impersonation is the boy-hero Benten-kozo in Shiranami gonin otoko (The story of the notorious five thieves), first performed in

    1862. Benten, a member of the notorious five thieves group, goes to the Hamamatsu-ya kimono-dresser with his comrade Nango, in order to swindle the shop. Dressed as a female, he pretends to be a young lady shopping for a kimono for her wedding ceremony. But the shop's owners find out that Benten is no female but is a male thief. At the beginning of the act, Benten appears as the beautiful young lady, but then he suddenly switches his persona from female to male, confessing that he is really a male in disguise. When he is half naked, we see both his male chest and feminine disguise at the same time. His appearance, both feminine and masculine, shows us his mysterious androgynous fascination. The contrast between his feminine disguise and strong masculine eloquence also has a great theatrical effect.

    Figure 5. Benten from Toyokuni manga zue, by Toyokuni III (Kunisada I), late 19th century. Source: Suzuki Jūzo, Genshoku Ukiyoe daihyakka jiten, vol. 4, Tokyo: Taishukan, 1981, p. 129.

  13. The fact that Benten has previously worked as a boy prostitute makes his cross-dressing persuasive. His female disguise suggests his sexual passivity and vulnerability, which was shared by boy actors themselves. In contrast to the great applause they received on stage, boy actors often led miserable lives as prostitutes off stage. Their bodies were commoditised by more powerful males, and thus were 'feminised' both on stage and in real life. In this way, the cross-dressing of boy performers was not only a positive embodiment of ideal human beauty, but also a negative sign of the commercialisation of their bodies. This is the reason why theatre performance by boy actors was prohibited by the Tokugawa-shogunate in 1652, for the same reason given for the prohibition of Kabuki by female performers-because they often engaged in prostitution.

    The modernised style of cross-dressing in Japanese theatre after the Meiji Restoration
  14. Despite the spread of Western cultural influence in the Meiji Period and Japan's rapid modernisation, the art of female impersonation continued to survive. After the long absence of

    female performers from Japanese public theatre, modern actresses appeared on stage in the Meiji period, but female impersonators continued to appear alongside actresses in the new theatrical genre Shinpa,[22] which literally means 'the new wave.' Modern Japanese audiences continued to enjoy the traditional style of female impersonators, as well as the new realistic way of acting by modern actresses. In comparison with the Kabuki style of performance, however, Shinpa's female impersonation became more realistic under the influence of the Western style of acting. In addition, as Western ideas of sexual perversion spread, the male to male prostitution of female impersonators gradually diminished.

    Figure 6. Hanayagi Shōtarō (1894–1965), a representative female impersonator of Shinpa. Source: Hanagyagi Shotatrō from Yume no Onna, 1960, Hagii Kozō, Shinpa no gei, Tokyo: Tokyōshoseki, frontispiece.

  15. In 1914, at the beginning of the Taisho era, the Takarazuka musical troupe, which was founded under the influence of the Western review, revived the old Japanese tradition of female to male impersonation. Since then, Takarazuka, which consists entirely of female performers, has grown to be a big theatrical troupe, dependent for its popularity primarily on male impersonators called otokoyaku. One of the first advertisements for the Takarazuka troupe at the time of its founding emphasised that it was good family entertainment because of the wholesomeness of an all-female performance, in contrast to a male-female one. Contrary to Western societies whose Christian intolerance of homosexuality made some people homophobic, Asian societies with Confucian morality tended to see the heterosexual relationship as more immoral and subversive than the homosexual one. Although there was a movement among Meiji intellectuals to liberate love between men and women under the influence of Western culture,[23] the old Confucian morality which oppresses heterosexual relationships was never entirely rooted out. Ironically, the Confucian oppression of heterosexual love brought about the development of the female homosocial musical troupe, and thus the unique style of modern Japanese male impersonation developed to a high level.
  16. Takarazuka created new opportunities for women to be professional performers, but they could be on the stage only when they were young and unmarried. Once they married, they were meant to retire from the troupe and were encouraged to return to their home, which was considered the proper place for women. No matter how successful they had become on the stage, retirement at the time of marriage was considered to be the best future for them.[24] The policy of the Takarazuka troupe itself is based on the 'good wife and wise mother ideal' of the modern Japanese woman.[25] The aim of the troupe, together with its music school, is not only to educate good female performers, but also to educate young women to be ideal housewives. In fact, for a long time the young women of the Takarazuka troupe, the so-called Takarasienne (a term drawn from the analogy with Paris-Parisienne), used to be considered the perfect future housewife. The troop's motto: Be Pure, Be Virtuous, Be Beautiful (Kiyoku, Tadashiku, Utsukushiku), exhorts its members to keep their sexuality 'pure and virtuous' until the time of their marriage. Given the stereotypical masculine/feminine gender ideal that underlay the troupe, acting on stage was itself considered a masculine role, only acceptable to the public because it was a temporary job prior to their true jobs as housewives. In this sense, it is not only the male impersonators (otoko-yaku) of the Takarazuka who are trans-gender; the actresses who play women (musume-yaku) are as well.
  17. The stereotypical masculine/feminine gender ideal that underlies Takarazuka is embodied in one of the troupe's most popular repertory pieces, Berusaiyu no bara (The Rose of Versailles). The play, which is based on a popular manga of the same name written by the famous female manga artist Ikeda Riyoko, was first performed in 1978.[26] The heroine, Oscar, was raised as a male so that she could become a member of the guards, this being her family's hereditary occupation. Though she was biologically female, she usually dressed as a male, both in public and private. Her gender identity was masculine, and her comrades were all male. She herself enjoyed her career and felt very content with her life, especially since she was able to work in public which was impossible for an ordinary female at that time. However, she lost a Russian man who was her great love, and died fighting in the French revolution while still young.
  18. Oscar's tragic love and early death suggest that the 'violation' of masculine gender by a female must be punished in the end. Just like the members of Takarazuka in reality, Oscar is allowed to work and be equal to males only when she is young and unmarried. The fact that her death comes just after the day she finds a new love with her subordinate Andre suggests that women cannot have a job and love at the same time. According to the patriarchal binary of male/female which equates to masculine/feminine gender roles, women can choose either marriage or a job, but not both. Female to female bonds among Takarazuka members can be interpreted as lesbianism,[27] but in fact, it is not the homosexual but the heterosexual social system which governs Takarazuka performers, both in their repertoires and their real lives.
  19. Oscar's cross-dressing reminds us of that of Portia in The Merchant of Venice, in terms of gender roles. In the courtroom scene, the most exciting part of the drama, Portia disguises herself as a lawyer in order to save her fiancé. She shows her great intelligence during the difficult trial, expressing her opinion freely in public, and thus plays a masculine gender-role. Unlike Oscar in The Rose of Versailles, however, Portia's cross-dressing is temporary; in the end she returns to being female and reaffirms her love for her fiancé. Portia avoids 'punishment' and gains a happy private life by returning to being an ordinary female. Thus we see that a woman's temporary 'violation' of masculine gender is allowed, but if it becomes permanent, it must be punished as in the case of Oscar in The Rose of Versailles.
  20. The cross-dressings of Oscar and Portia are slightly different from each other in terms of sex/gender layers. In the age of Shakespeare, female characters were played by boy performers. Thus, Portia's cross-dressing has triple sex/gender layers: male for the performer's sex, female for the character's sex, and masculine disguise for the character's cross-dressing. In the case of Oscar, on the other hand, the gender layer is double: female for the performer's sex, and masculine for the character's cross-dressing. On the other hand, in terms of their special theatrical effect, the cross-dressings are alike, since both confuse our ordinary sense of a male/female dichotomy. Both also tell us that the patriarchal system's binary of gender and sexuality is invalid, since they demonstrate that gender roles are interchangeable. And yet they simultaneously and ironically underline the strong masculine/feminine dichotomy, since they show that in order to go outside the gender role of one's own sex it is necessary to disguise oneself as the opposite sex. This is why Oscar and Portia cannot express themselves in public without cross-dressing. In both Eastern and Western theatre, cross-dressing ironically shows the simultaneous possibility and impossibility of transgressing the masciline/feminine boundary. Paradoxically, the theatrical effect of cross-dressing is dependent on the stereotype of femininity and masculinity, though it tries to go beyond it.[28]

    The postmodern style of cross-dressing in contemporary Japanese theatrical performances
  21. The tradition of cross-dressing in Japanese theatrical performance is so strong that it is often employed by contemporary troupes, such as Hanagumi-shibai (The Troupe Flowers), which was founded in 1987. The troupe calls its theatrical style Neo-Kabuki, expressing its quest for a post-modern style of Kabuki performance. Their performance is characterised by a mixture of the traditional Kabuki style and a modern realist style of acting. Their costumes are also a mixture of Japanese and Western styles.

    Figure 7. A picture from Hanagumi Shibai's Okujochū tachi (an adaptation of Jean Genet's The Maids), 1947. Photo by Miyauchi Masaru, 1999.

  22. The performers are all male, and the female impersonators often adopt comical appearances and attitudes that one seldom finds in traditional Kabuki. Their repertoire ranges from traditional Kabuki dramas to modern plays by Izumi Kyoka (1873–1939), a writer of Japanese gothic novels.
  23. Among Kabuki actors, Bando Tamasaburo (b. 1950), one of the most popular Kabuki female impersonators, often shows new possibilities for female impersonation, challenging himself by playing the roles of Western heroines such as Queen Elizabeth in Elizabeth.[29] Bando Tamasaburo seems to cultivate a Westernised style of female impersonation and not rely on the help of the kimono costume to hide the shape of his body. Independent actors, such as Miwa Akihiro (b. 1935), Ikehata Shinnosuke (b. 1952), and Sasai Eisuke (b. 1958), a former member of Hanagumi-shibai, also use a Westernised style of female impersonation.[30] Their performances are so realistic that they sometimes seem as if they are real women. Recently, the collaboration of female impersonators and actresses has also emerged in commercialised theatrical performances.[31]
  24. The most remarkable example of a modernised style of female impersonation is probably that of Studio Life, founded in 1985. This company, which consists solely of male performers, is especially popular among young female audiences. The performances of young men seem to give female audiences visual pleasure, as if they were the subject of their own gaze. Today contemporary young Japanese women need not be the object of the male gaze, but can be the subject of their own gaze. Traditional Kabuki performance was mainly for male visual pleasure, but with the development of female power in society, Japanese contemporary theatre is now mainly targeted at a female audience.[32]
  25. The popularity of cross-dressing in Japanese theatre does not mean that Japanese society is a gender-free paradise. Rather, cross-dressing in Japanese theatre is, in a sense, a reflection of the strong gender stereotypes in Japanese society itself. It can also be seen as a reflection of the homo-social characteristics of the society, which other Asian countries dominated by Confucian ethics might share.[33] However, at the same time, cross-dressing could be a challenge, a deliberate transgression of the male/female and masculine/feminine boundaries, and thus shows the flexibility of Japanese gender and sexuality in comparison with the Christian intolerance towards cross-dressing and homo-eroticism. Cross-dressing in Japanese theatre has continuously presented a challenge to go beyond a masculine/feminine dichotomy, and shown new possibilities for Japanese theatrical performances.


    [1] The Japanese 'middle ages' usually refers to the time of the Kamakura, Nanboku-chō, and Muromachi periods (from 1192–1573), but the beginning of the middle ages is considered to be in the tenth century (late Heian period).

    [2] See Saeki Junko, Yūjo no bunka-shi (A Cultural History of Japanese Courtesans), Tokyo: Chūō Kōron Shinsha, 1987, pp. 11–30.

    [3] In Asian rituals, singing and dancing are often performed in honour of the gods and goddesses. See Miyao Jiryō, 'Dance in Asia: the mirror of gesture,' in Asia Engeki Jinruigaku-no Sekai (The world of Asian theatrical-anthropology), Tokyo: San'ichi Shobō, 1994, pp. 311–15, pp. 314–15. The phenomenon also occurs in Indian rituals, see Saeki Junko, 'Image of women's beauty and eroticism: the idealization of courtesans-East and West,' in Sekai to Nihon, Osaka, Tezukayama Gakuin University, 1992, pp. 92–100.

    [4] See Saeki, Yūjo no bunka-shi, pp. 77–81. In the myth of Izanami and Izanagi, their union produced the islands of Japan.

    [5] A significant number of traditional Japanese festivals for agricultural fertility include rituals conducted by a cross-dressing performer. Examples of festivals which include cross-dressing performances are introduced with pictures in Shimokawa Koishi (ed.), Josō no Minzokugaku, (A Folklore of Japanese Male to Female Cross-dressing), Tokyo: Hihyō Sha, 1994.

    [6] Some of these images can be seen in issue 7 of this journal. Royall Tyler, Marriage, Rank and Rape in The Tale of Genji, in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, issue 7, March 2002, online http:

    [7] For an illustrated description of the clothes of Japanese aristocrats from ancient times to the middle ages, see Izutsu Gafu, Genshoku Nihon fukushoku-shi (An Illustrated History of Japanese Clothes), Kyoto: Kōrinsha Shuppan, 1989.

    [8] Transvestite theatre is not a special Japanese phenomenon, but also popular in many cultures. See for example, Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety, New York: Routledge, 1992, p. 39. It was also popular in performances in Shakespeare's England, see Stephen Orgel, Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare's England, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 1–11. However, that kind of theatre seems to have disappeared from many contemporary cultures. This might be partly because of the differentiation between the clothes of the different sexes in those cultures.

    [9] Zeami (1363–1443), theatre, was a performer and playwright of Noh.

    [10] 'Yamato-Take slays the Kumaso bravoes,' in The Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), section LXXX, part V. A translation can be found at, accessed 4 March 2008.

    [11] See B. Horace and Ava C. English (eds), A Comparative Dictionary of Psychological and Psychoanalytical terms: A Guide to Usage, New York: Longman, 1958, pp. 561–62.

    [12] Kazdin, Encyclopedia of Psychology, vol. 8, p. 118.

    [13] Kazdin, Encyclopedia of Psychology, vol. 7, p. 246.

    [14] On the sacredness of Japanese androgyny, see Shirasu Masako, Ryōsei guyū no bi (The Beauty of Androgyny), Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1997, pp. 18–22.

    [15] Amino Yoshihiko, Chēsei no hinin to yūjo (Untouchables and Courtesans in Middle Ages Japan), Tokyo: Akashi Shoten, 1994, pp.140–42.

    [16] The word kabuku originally meant to do strange performances or to put on weird costumes (nearly equal to queer in English), and was later adopted to express the cross dressing theatrical performance.

    [17] Examples of the fatal relationships between Kabuki actors and their fans are depicted in Ihara Saikaku, Great Mirror of Male Love, (The collection of the episodes of male love couples in early modern Japan ), trans. Paul G. Schalow, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990 [original 1687]. In episode 7:2 (p. 260), a fan dies due to the deep grief at parting from his favorite actor.

    [18] For a detailed discussion of the androgynous beauty of Edo women and men, see Saeki Junko, 'Bijin no jidai' (Androgynous beauty in Early Modern Japan), in Bunmei to shite no Tokugawa Nihon (A Comparative Study of Early Modern Japanese Civilization), ed. Haga Tōru, Tokyo: Chūō Kōron Shinsha, 1993, pp. 416–28.

    [19] Saeki, 'Bijin no jidai,' pp. 418–21.

    [20] At a conference about Japanese theatre which was held in England in 1999, the participants, including an Ukiyoe researcher from the British Museum, could not decide on the sex of the naked performer depicted in an early modern Ukiyoe picture.

    [21] For more on this topic see Saeki Junko, 'Bijin no jidai' (Androgynous beauty in Early Modern Japan), in Bunmei to shite no Tokugawa Nihon (A Comparative Study of Early Modern Japanese Civilization), ed. Haga Tōru, Tokyo: Chūō Kōron Shinsha, 1993, pp. 415–41, p. 417.

    [22] The genre'Shinpa was named to contrast with Kabuki theatre as 'the old style.' It started as a form of political agitation by young students, and was then developed as artistic performance by Kawakami Otojiro (1864–1911), the husband of the first modern Japanese actress, Kawakami Sadayakko (1871–1946). Sadayakko's performances gained great popularity among foreign audiences in the early twentieth century, with the great artists Vincent van Gogh and André Gide among her admirers.

    [23] For a detailed discussion of the movement, see Saeki Junko, Iro to ai no hikakubunka-shi (A Comparative Study on Love in East and West), Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1998.

    [24] Nowadays, some talented performers continue their careers even after their retirement from the troupe, and sometimes gain great success as ordinary 'actresses.' They can also stay in the troupe for life if they want to. See Jennifer Robertson, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan, Berkeley: University of Califormia Press, 1998, p. 66. See Leonie Rae Stickland's review of Robertson's book in issue 2 of Intersections.

    [25] With the development of the modern patriarchal system in Japanese society, in 1899, educational policy for young Japanese women was defined as 'to raise good wives and wise mothers' in the Law for Women's High schools (Kōtō -Jogakkō-rei). The law is no longer valid for the contemporary educational system, but its ideal is still maintained in some Japanese schools, especially in women's schools.

    [26] The original manga was first issued in the weekly comic magazine Margaret, Tokyo: Shuei-sha from 1972 to 1973. The popularity of Oscar among schoolgirls of the 1970s is discussed in relation to 'a long line of androgynous Japanese folk heroes,' in Mark Schilling, The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture, Boston: Weatherhill, 1997, pp. 206–07.

    [27] Robertson, Takarazuka, pp. 139-–76, discusses aspects of lesbianism between the stars and fans of the Takarazuka troupe.

    [28] The same kind of strong male/female dichotomy is also seen in the Chinese film Farewell My Concubine (1993). In the film, the male protagonist, a female impersonator, is assigned stereotypical feminine characteristics: weakness, vulnerability and beauty, while his partner's character expresses the masculine stereotype: violent, aggressive and lustful.

    [29] Elizabeth was performed at Ginza Saizon Theatre, Tokyo, in August 1996.

    [30] The representative theatrical work of Miwa Akihiro as a female impersonator is Mishima Yukio's Kuro Tokage (The Black Lizard). He also acts as a heroine in Mishima's Modern Noh Plays. Ikehata performed Jean Gennet's The Maids in 1986, and recently performed the life of famous singer Koshiji Fubuki (in 2003, 2005 and 2006).

    [31] In Kazunomiya-sama Otome (June, 2006 at Tokyo, Shinbashi-enbu-jo), Uemoto Jun (b. 1967), one of the leading female impersonators of Hanagumi-shibai collaborated with Ikehata Shinnosuke.

    [32] A female play writer, Kurata Jun, usually writes plays for Studio Life.

    [33] Martinez points out that 'there remain sharp divisions between the male and female domains in Japan.' See Dolores Martinez, 'Gender, shifting boundaries and global cultures,' in The Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture: Gender, Shifting Boundaries and Global Culture, ed. Martinez, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, 1–18, p. 7.


Intersections acknowledges the assistance of the Gender Relations Centre, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University in the hosting of this site.
© Copyright
Page constructed by Carolyn Brewer.
Last modified: 25 March 2008 1302

This page has been optimised for 1024x768
and is best viewed in either Netscape 2 or above, or Explorer 2 or above.