Kabuki is a performing art that originated in Japan and this art is probably best known for being performed exclusively by males. Despite the fact that this perception of the kabuki is prevalent in not only mainstream sources but also academia, it is simply not an accurate reflection of the history of kabuki. Thus, before diving into the actual contents of this paper, it would first be helpful to understand the research that currently exists in the field of kabuki in relation to women’s involvement. To begin, an already existing literature review by Frank Episale called “Gender, Tradition, and Culture in Translation: Reading the ‘Onnagata’ in English” had the goal of analyzing the last 50 years of English-written kabuki research in relation to gender and culture.1 In this literature review, it cites that Earle Ernst, Faubion Bowers, and A. C. Scott are three authors who were critical to the establishment of kabuki studies within the post World War II United States.2 Episale then goes on to exemplify how these three highly-influential authors made many unreferenced claims and debated historical assumptions with a specific relation to how women are unable to perform kabuki.3 It is likely because of these widely-cited texts that it is also quite common for articles to utilize phrases such as “kabuki, the all-male theater” or “women’s participation in kabuki ended in 1629” to further the point that women are uninvolved in kabuki. Even articles that do not focus on women’s involvement in kabuki tend to dismiss women’s involvement with these quick phrases. These sorts of phrases and/or arguments are seen in the works of Donald H. Shively, Faith Bach, Andrew T. Tsubaki, Mette Laderrière, Yoshinobu Inoura, and Toshio Kawatake just to name a few.4 By no means am I trying to claim that all of these scholars actively attempted to exclude women’s involvement in kabuki, but rather that they simply utilized rhetoric that did so. Additionally to these authors, there are those such as Katherine Mezur and Laurence Senelick who recognize that kabuki is an art that plays with gender, but still reinforce the ideas that being male is necessary to kabuki.5 Nevertheless, in some recent scholarship over the last 20 years, cases of women’s involvement in kabuki has been getting fleshed out as exemplified in the works of Maki Isaka, Satō Katsura, Loren Edelson, Galia Todorova Gabrovska, Barbara E. Thornbury, Hideaki Fujiki, and Ayako Kano.5 With this being said, let me share how this very paper will fit into this existing research. One of the main motivations behind this paper is to help contribute to the existing research by specifically tackling these discourses that exclude women and portray kabuki as being “all-male.” More specifically however, this paper aims to answer the following questions: How has women’s involvement in kabuki shaped the art as a whole? What is the frequency of women’s involvement? How have women been discriminated against in kabuki? How have conceptualizations of sex/gender contributed to the discrimination of women in kabuki? How have these dialogues sought to exclude women from kabuki change over time? These are the main questions I aim to discuss in this paper.
With this being said, this paper has two goals: (1) The first goal of this paper is to exemplify that women have been involved in kabuki since its origin and this will be accomplished by presenting a timeline of events of women’s involvements starting from the Edo Period (1603-1868) to the modern periods of Meiji (1868-1912), Taishō (1912-1926), and a little after. This timeline section of this paper will be divided into three parts: one part dedicated to women’s involvement in the Edo Period, a second part will be dedicated to women’s involvement the early Meiji period, and the third part will focus on women’s participation in what I call “kabuki-blended spaces. Although women’s involvement in kabuki does not end after these moments, the scope of this paper will be limited to these points. Next, (2) the second goal of this paper will be to analyze how varying conceptualizations of sex/gender have influenced the discrimination of women’s involvement in kabuki. This second section will be divided into three sections with each section focusing on a major idea that have contributed to the discrimination of women in kabuki. The first related conception that will be analyzed is cultivation, the second related idea will be that of sexology, and the third will be that of naturalism. While I am not claiming these are the three sole ideas that contributed to the discrimination, they are nonetheless three that will prove to have been influential. Now, with the paper now being briefly outlined, let us examine how women were involved in kabuki during the Edo period.