, a male actor
playing a female
part. (It means roughly 'woman-role
'.) All female parts have been performed by older men since a decree of the Shogun
in 1652, banning young boys. Before this, real women had acted, but they had been banned in 1629 for licentiousness
. The style played entirely by grown men is called yaroo
The onnagata's performance could be so refined and careful that geishas would go to the kabuki to pick up tips. S/he wears oshiroi, white make-up made from rice powder, to indicate delicate skin. Some people say that an onnagata's style is made more subtle and deeper when s/he has taken a male lover.
Modern attempts to introduce female actors have not met with success. The onnagata is also known as an oyama, though this name is not usual within kabuki. A male role is called tachiyaku.
One of the best onnagata of recent times was the late Nakamura Utaemon VI. Another very popular actor is Bando Tamasaburo.
Onnagata is also the name of a dance work by Lindsay Kemp.