Even today Noh-theatre is still perceived to be an exclusively male genre in the field of performing arts. This was neither true of the past nor is it true today. At least since the turn of the twentieth century women have challenged that notion and enjoy success as professional actresses in this male domain. Nonetheless their existence remains largely unknown and rarely credits mention in academic publications.
Since the second half of the Meiji Period with modernisation and reforms in traditional theatre, the issue of actresses on the Noh-stage has caused a certain degree of controversy. The main points at issue then, persist in contemporary debate.
Women received official recognition as professional Noh-performers in 1948 and yet they still face gender-related obstacles to this day. Besides the fact that Noh-performance aesthetics are based on the potentials of the male physique, even now women are generally held to be performers of a minor genre known as ”Women-Noh” (“joryu-no”). Only time will tell whether the designation of the first twenty-two female Noh-performers as “Important Intangible Cultural Properties” (Juyo mukei bunkazai sogonintei hojisha) in July 2004 contributes to change in this field.
This paper will deal with female Noh-performers in contemporary Japan as well as providing a brief historical outline for a background to discussion.
Barbara Geilhorn graduated in Japanese Studies from the Master Programme at the Free University of Berlin. She is currently a PhD Candidate in the “Graduiertenkolleg” “IDENTITY AND DIFFERENCE. Gender Constructions and Interculturality (18th – 21st Century)” at Trier University.