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Kabuki for BeginnersKabuki for Beginners

Female RolesIn Kabuki, female roles (excluding those of children) are played by men. These female roles, and the male actors that play them, are known as onnagata.

What is onnagata performance?

“Honcho Nijushiko”
Act III: Nagao Kenshin Yakata Okuniwa Kitsunebi scene
Yaegakihime: Nakamura Tokizo V

National Theatre
March 2005 Kabuki Performance

Men playing female roles is not limited to traditional Japanese performance arts; it also happened overseas. It has not been all that long since female actors first appeared in European theatre. Before the 17th century there were barely any female actors, and it is said that young men played female roles even in Shakespeare’s plays. Men also played female roles in traditional Chinese performing arts.
Male actors wear masks and cover their faces with cloth to play female roles in Noh and Kyogen, which are more than 200 years older than Kabuki, but the use of the voice is no different to that of the male roles. However, Kabuki onnagata show their faces and create a unique image of a woman by using ingenious gestures and vocal tricks, as well as wearing makeup, costumes, and wigs.

“Honcho Nijushiko”
Act III: Nagao Kenshin Yakata Okuniwa Kitsunebi scene
Yaegakihime: Nakamura Tokizo V

National Theatre
March 2005 Kabuki Performance

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