19 the earliest recorded practitioners of puppetry in

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Unformatted text preview: ere as much of a social nuisance as the female kabuki performers since they aroused the homosexual passions that had been widespread in Japan (particularly among samurai and Buddhist priests) from the medieval age on. Finally, in 1652, after a number of unseemly incidents including public brawls in the midst of performances over the affections of the actors on stage, the shogunate also banned young men’s kabuki. Henceforth, only adult males (or youths who had shaved their forelocks to give the appearance that they were adults) were allowed to perform on the kabuki stage. Throughout the Tokugawa period, kabuki was subjected to a greater or lesser degree of official suppression, and this suppression had an extremely important influence on the way in which it developed. Shogunate officials hesitated to ban kabuki entirely for at least two reasons. First, they regarded kabuki, like the floating world of which it became an integral part, as a necessary outlet for the more elemental drives of the masses, even though these grossly offended their Confucian sensibilities. 188 The Flourishing of a Bourgeois Culture And second, they no doubt realized that, like prostitution itself (both male and female), it could never be completely eradicated and might just as well be held to some kind of formal account. The banning of women from kabuki gave rise to the unique personage of the onnagata, or male performer of female roles. So special are the acting qualities cultivated over the centuries by the onnagata that, even if women were permitted to perform in kabuki today, they would have little or no advantage over men in learning the onnagata art. One of the reasons why young men’s kabuki was not prohibited until as late as 1652 was that the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu (1604–51), had a great fondness for the youthful actors. In finally taking the step after his death, shogunate authorities made clear that, although they could hardly hope to convert the kabuki actors and their patrons into puritans, they intended to restrict the extreme promiscuity that had been so blatantly apparent on the kabuki stage. At the same time that they banished young men from the...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.

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