Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Janice C. Brown

Second Advisor

Faye Y. Kleeman

Third Advisor

Robert M. Buffington


This thesis examines the ways that the stage and the onnagata manifest themselves in early modern and modern Japan. In texts like Ihara Saikaku’s Nanshoku ōkagami and Yoshizawa Ayame’s Ayamegusa, it is possible to see a wide range of potentiality in the metaphysical “being” of the onnagata and the stage on which they performed during the early modern period. During the modern period, it is possible to see shifts in this “being” through the analysis of texts such as Osanai Kaoru’s Onnagata ni tsuite. The early modern onnagata and kabuki stage were deeply tied to their audience and the social and gender norms that were produced within this context. For androgynous onnagata, artistic potential was created through productive hybridity at the edges of a gender binary. For Ayame’s “real woman” onnagata, artistic potential was found in the mastery of forces that brought “real women” into being off-stage and through submitting oneself to these same forces. The idea for Ayame’s onnagata was simply to step onto the stage and perform the embodied performatives that one mastered off it. The result of this process created a stage that was deeply porous at the edges and an onnagata that consciously conflated performance and performative. For modern kabuki theatre producers like Osanai Kaoru, the onnagata was necessarily male, keeping with nation-state projects of gender and sexual rigidity, and thus could not avoid the inaccessibility of “womanhood.” As a result, the onnagata within the modern context necessarily produced artistic potential from the act of failing to be a woman. The lines of the stage also became harder, reflecting the rigid binaries that the nation-state was promoting. Ultimately, this thesis hopes to produce new ways of understanding the metaphysics of the onnagata and the kabuki stage and contribute to a broader project of applying new theoretical approaches to early modern Japan.