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Women in Japanese Theater

Uploaded by richierich on Oct 26, 2011

This paper examines some of the aspects of women in Japanese theater.

I Introduction

The history of women in Japanese theater is the history of the social changes that swept the country in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Actresses at this time progressed from a point where they were not allowed to perform at all to the point where they were celebrated artists.
Although it would be intriguing to tackle women’s history in the theater across the entire period, the source book, Acting Like a Woman in Modern Japan, is so packed with information on so many aspects of women in the theater that the topic is overbroad. This paper therefore will discuss only selected topics: the role of men in the theater in the absence of women; the advent of actresses into the profession, and what it was like for the first women who broke into acting. With these basic topics as support, we’ll move to the main point: the way in which revealing the physical body on stage, notably in Salome, came to finally define women in the theater in terms of their physicality, and whether this is a breakthrough or further restriction. The paper also defines the vocabulary common to the theater as necessary.

II Theater without Women

The idea that actresses are little better than common prostitutes is common in all cultures that have a theatrical tradition, and in Japan at least, it has some basis in fact. Some prostitutes used their stage appearances to “advertise” themselves in sensational dances that resulted in riots and disorder. Because of this, women were completely banned from appearing on the stage in Japan “from 1629 to 1891. Initially they were replaced by the wakashu, akin to the boy-actors in English theater of the Elizabethan period.” (Kano, p. 5). Unfortunately, it soon became evident that the wakashu incited as man riots as the women did, and they were banned as well. That left only adult males available to act, so they took on all roles, including female roles as well.
“Applying thick white powder and rouge to their faces, donning elaborate costumes and heavy wigs, forcing their shoulders back and walking with bent knees, these actors, called onnagata, or oyama, cultivated a style of acting that represented idealized femininity by concealing one set of somatic [bodily] signs...

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Uploaded by:   richierich

Date:   10/26/2011

Category:   History

Length:   11 pages (2,392 words)

Views:   1799

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