Technical term for a female impersonator in the kabuki theater. Typical onnagata roles include the maiden, the attractive young woman, the aged woman, the lady of high samurai rank, and the high-class courtesan. The government-induced need to develop the female impersonator's skills permanently affected the formulation of aesthetic principles and acting styles. Dance, for example, became central to the accomplishments of the impersonators. Early female impersonators dressed and behaved like women in public and private life, but the social ferment following the Meiji Restoration of 1868 induced deep change in the kabuki world. Since that time, impersonators live, dress, and act like ordinary citizens when they are not working. The female impersonator's craft has become such an essential part of kabuki dramatic structure that the onnagata actor will likely remain essential to the kabuki tradition. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)
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