Japan from the inside out

Cross-dressing a long show business tradition in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, February 15, 2007

JAPANESE WOMEN just love performers cross-dressing on stage.

They recently packed the Women’s Center in Fujisawa to see afternoon and evening kabuki shows featuring up-and-coming actors.


The Asahi Shimbun reports the audience was especially thrilled by a special presentation at the afternoon show. In kabuki drama, men play the female roles in elaborate costumes and makeup. For their presentation, the men came out on stage partially made up and showed the fascinated women their techniques for applying makeup, fitting wigs, and wearing kimono while other actors provided witty commentary.

Some audience members were given the opportunity to wear the stage costumes. The Asahi relates that their struggles to walk on stage in the cumbersome outfits caused laughter throughout the hall.

Women here also have a taste for the reverse, as they make up an estimated 90% of the audience for the Takarazuka revue. This troupe consists entirely of women, who of course play the male roles. Takarazuka stages performances in theaters throughout the country. Their dramas are based on sources ranging from Japanese and Chinese classics to Broadway musicals, operas, and chanson, and their forte is extravagant production numbers. As one might guess from their audience demographics, most dramas have old-fashioned story lines with a heavy dose of romance. Here are their English and Japanese websites.

Mr. Mikawa

Mr. Mikawa

If they can’t afford to a ticket to kabuki or Takarazuka, the women watch cross-dressers on TV all the time. More than a few male Japanese celebrities perform in drag, and they are frequent guests on television, both performing and ad-libbing on the many Japanese talk shows. The most well known is singer Mikawa Ken’ichi. Going drag is Mikawa’s moneymaker, because his croaky and nasally singing voice is exposed in the ballads he prefers. His catty banter on the talk shows, though, gives the impression that what he says is “just between us girls”.

He’s usually invited to perform on NHK’s blockbuster New Year’s Eve program, the Kohaku Uta Gassen, now more than 50 years old. The show’s premise is a contest between the male and female singers.

Mikawa sings with the boys.

In fact, here he is singing on Kohaku last New Year’s Eve, courtesy of YouTube. He’s singing, “I’m a Scorpio woman.”

I don’t like to use the world “surreal” unless it really applies, but this seems as good a time as any…

2 Responses to “Cross-dressing a long show business tradition in Japan”

  1. […] blogs about the tradition of cross-dressing show business in japan. Oiwan […]

  2. Hi, I’m from Canada, Province of Quebec, city of Joliette, 55km north-east of Montreal. I never heard or saw Japanese cross-dressing from your country before I stumbled by pure hazard on some Japanese cross-dressing
    show on youtube, I was searching for nice pictures of beautiful japanese girls when I was suggested by youtube some videos of guys cross-dressing
    into girls.

    You write that it is a long show business tradition in your country, frankly I never saw these shows, I was flabbergasted when I saw guys becoming such beautiful girls that it really troubled me, and I wanted more so I wrote to the Tokyo Broadcasting station in Tokyo to know if there would be a suite to the 2008 competition where a little japanese fella named Kodama Kentarou won the first prize for his performance along with four others in the same category.
    I never had a response since.

    I know that it is not a kind of kabuki theatrical performance but the fact remains that they were transvestites the same way that in the kabuki tradition if I am not mistaken. So here it is, my comment on your crossdressing tradition and by the way, if you reply to me in some future, can you inform me if they are still doing this kind of show, the josou paradise show??? it would be nice to know where I could get it and see it.

    Thank you for taking time to read this comment and utmost regards.
    Thanks for the note.

    I did a search at the TBS website for the name of the program and saw nothing after 2008, so I suspect it’s not on the air anymore. One blog with a YouTube link had the notation that TBS made YouTube remove it.

    – A.

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