3 Things We Can Learn about Japanese Culture from Onnagata



Japan is a Kata culture and Kata is everything for Japanese dance. Kata expresses characters and you can be anybody if you do the right Kata. Onnagata is one of the Kata in Japanese dance, it means female style dancing. We culturally use this word only for men. It might be difficult for people who are not familiar with Japanese culture but Onnataga is part of traditional arts in Japanese culture. What’s interesting about Onnagata is that if you want to start Japanese dance, even if you’re man,the best first step is to learn Onnagata. Kabuki actors start Japanese dance when they are little and learning how to walk in a Suriashi style which is gliding off the floor in Uchimata,with both feet turned inward. My teacher often tells me that if they start with the men style of dancing first, all the movement’ll be very menly and it will be way difficult to adjust to Onnagata when they have to do both.This idea tells me that to be soft is more difficult once you get hard. Trying to be soft might be a key when you want to do something.


It seems like almost impossible that men act like women. But the audience say that Male actors performing Onnagata are more beautiful than women.How could that be possibly happen? I think because they’re men, they know the attractiveness they think the women have and have an ideal image of women. Most of the women including me never wondered about how I should move to look like a women, because we just behave like that. But for men to act in Onnagata, they’ve been learning how women behave as an art and skill since the Edo period. Takarazuka is another part of  Japanese culture and ideally the opposite of Onnagata. All the artists are female, taking male roles. One of the Takarazuka artist said that they do research how males behave deeply, trying to find her ideal image of men. Takarazuka fans said that they are a lot cooler than real men. Onnagata actors play their ideal image of women and it turns out to be more beautiful than women. Their skills and research which they had built up from the Edo period made that happen.


The beauty of Onnagata is between reality and fantasy which is very ambiguous. Ambiguity means something vague and you can’t tell what it is. Something like Onnagata can’t happen in the real world. It has some fantasy elements in it and these two combinations will make the ambiguous beauty. Ambiguity is a very cultural and traditional part of Japanese culture. We tend to make things ambiguous rather than making things clear and let people sense from that. For example Japanese anime Ghibuli, the way they make the anime is very ambiguous. They don’t use clear colors, characters and story and let the audience feel and get the message as they like.You can tell the difference between Disney anime which has a very clear story. If you want to feel the clear beauty, you may enjoy female performing the female dance. Yet believe it or not Onnagata attracts a larger audience. We have theather companies in japan. Every company has a star actor and the star actor is always a male who can do Onnagata although they have many females in the company.The audience will go to see the Onnagata to be amazed and feel the sense of beauty that can’t be explained. Japanese culture is full of ambiguity. If you look at the ambiguous beauty of Onnagata, it has the element that all the Japanese culture has.


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