A Conversation for Taikomochi or Houkan, the Male Counterpart to the Geisha

Drag Queens, modern days western geishas ?...

Post 1

Connie L

I always thought that Drag-Queens are the modern western equivallent of geishas : like them, they stretch the female ideal image to its limits ; like them, they have to master a few performing arts, are supposed to be able to maintain a witted and clever conversation, and like them they are often associated to erotically charged humour and performance, even though they normally don't provide sexual services...

Any thoughts ?

I hope I am not shocking anyone with the comparison...

smiley - divaCOnnie L.

Drag Queens, modern days western geishas ?...

Post 2


I don't really agree, mainly because Japan has a long history of 'drag queens', who were around at the time of the geisha, and still are around today!

But they are indeed linked, because they are all in the entertainment field.

"Kabuki is one of the representative traditional theater forms of Japan. It is said to have begun around 1603 when Okuni, a female attendant of the Izumo Shrine, performed Nenbutsu folk dances in Kyoto. They were very popular, but all-female Kabuki came to be outlawed as it was seen as corrupting public morals. Subsequently Kabuki performances came to be enacted by males only ... Even the female roles are played by male actors (onna-gata) in conformity with kabuki's long standing tradition of banning women from the stage. Tamasaburo Bando, for example, the most popular onna-gata in kabuki today, has also been successful overseas."

-- http://japanese.about.com/blhiraculture6.htm

"The Geisha's earliest ancestor is the Kawaramono (Riverbed Folk). These people populated ghettos and sold their wares in dry riverbeds or along riverbanks.
The predecessor to the Geisha was named Izumo No Okuni. She claimed to be a priestess, but this is doubtful. She assembled a group of dancers and began to perform on a stage in the riverbed. These dancers developed a new style, which was named Kabuki, meaning "to be wild and outrageous". She was a fantastic dancer and soon developed a large following of fans. Her male fans began to fight over the beautiful, talented, dancer and the Shogunate shut down the operation.


The first woman to use the term Geisha was Kikuya. She was a prostitute who had become famous for her dancing and shamisen playing. She decided to become an entertainer. At the same time, it became fashionable to host parties where dancing girls (Odori-Ko) performed. Kikuya was one of these dancers, and along with tea brewing women, and drum players took on the name Geisha."

-- http://www.sofieloafy.net/history.htm

So geisha and the onna-gata come from the same roots - a woman named Izumo no Okuni. Both are the highly idealised image of what a woman is meant to be. But they co-exist in Japan, one is not an equivallent of the other.

Oh, and geisha don't normally provide sexual sevices, either!!

But in the history of Japan, everyone in the entertainment field tended to provide sexual services. Onna-gata or geiko or anyone in between, starting with those who called themselves travelling priestesses or shrine maidens, or even travelling priests. It was how they got money to survive, in the past. Today they don't provide sexual services, because there is no need.

Also note:

"While the Takarazuka revue differs from the Kabuki theater in its content and players, it has many similar themes of artistic expression. The theater is an all-female theater founded in 1914. The Revue, founded by Kobayashi Ichizo, believed to be a compliment to the Kabuki theater ... The otokoyaku, the "male" actor, takes on the role of portraying men as an idealized and erotisized version of real men. Women flock to theaters to see these "beautiful" men who withhold the threat of manliness. "Because women act the male roles, they can create the ideal man that women really want...They give a dream so you can forget about reality" (Dream Girls). The otokoyaku performs a service for women by providing an image of the male psyche for women to follow and internalize. In Japan, it is commonly said that a male star makes the best wife, because she understands male desires. While the otokoyaku practices lowering her voice, putting on men's suits and walking like men, she is never expected to take on the role completely. Small details applied to the otokoyaku, such as the elaborate make-up, accentuate features of her face. In the theatrical world, wearing make-up on stage provides color to counteract the bleaching lights. Applied in such a manner, the make-up intensifies feminine attributes, such as cheek-bones, eyelashes and full lips which cannot be ignored. In fact, after her two year theater life-span ends, the otokoyaku must return to being a woman and "be a daughter to [her] father" (Dream Girls).

Similarly, the onnagata does not attempt to resemble a real woman, yet exaggerates feminine manners in order to create the ideal woman. These portrayals were "as men liked to see them, refined, elegant, courageous, and generous." (Portrait of an Onnagata). The men who brought the onnagata to life on stage presented a stylized woman who was more feminine than a real woman. Onnagatas' fantastical expressions artistically reflected a countries own social expectations of the ideal woman. Every aspect of the onnagata, the wig, the make-up, the gesture portrays the perfect female image. The men use their bodies and costumes to present an image of perfect beauty and grace in an extremely realistic manner. Together, the feminine gestures, refined movements, a high voice, and make-up set them apart from their male contemporaries and help to create the extreme yet beautiful woman. The men who portray the women are no longer expected to remain in their costumes after the performance. No matter how much the onnagata took on the female role, "there was supposed to be a strong line which can only be created by a man" (Ernst, 195)."

-- http://www.emory.edu/COLLEGE/ANTHROPOLOGY/EA/arendt.html

So Japan is a country where geisha, onna-gata and otokoyaku all coexist. They are similar, due to having the same history, but it is not anything to do with the west. Japan has drag queens of its own, and has had for a long, long time. I have a feeling that the Japanese versions are seen as much more acceptable, as well, considering the amount of fans that onna-gata (and otokoyaku) have these days. Japan is very strict with their sexual roles due to Confucianism, yet there is always a place where the Japanese can be free of those strict boundaries.

Drag Queens, modern days western geishas ?...

Post 3

Connie L

Wow ! Thanks, this is a very precise and well documented answer, almost an h2g2 entry on its own !

"Oh, and geisha don't normally provide sexual sevices, either!!"
That's what I meant, but I realise my phrasing was more than ambiguous.
Drag Queens, like the different actors of this branch of entertainment in Japan (Geishas, Onnagata, etc.) seem to enjoy playing on the edge (and are often expected to), being sometimes overly explicit in words and gestures, but somehow drawing a "moral" line between those who "do it" and those who don't... smiley - smiley

Thanks again !

smiley - diva Connie L.

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Drag Queens, modern days western geishas ?...

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