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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Annamarie Parker
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I am an English, Writing major with a double minor in German and journalism. I'm also pursuing my TESOL certificate while working for Housing and Residence Life. I love to travel and meet new people.

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Kabuki expert to speak on cross-gender acting in Japan

On Tuesday, Nov. 18, NMU will host a guest speaker from the University of Minnesota to discuss the Japanese Kabuki theater and its actors.

Maki Isaka is a professor of Japanese theater and pre-modern literature at the University of Minnesota.

Isaka will talk about onnagata actors, traditionally male actors who historically performed the roles of females in the Kabuki theater.

She said one of the most intriguing phenomena related to onnagata is the existence of female onnagata.

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“While Kabuki has long been established as an all-male theater, women Kabuki actors did exist in the past, and when they played women’s roles, the female actors engaged in the performance of femininity using the same methodology and techniques as would male onnagata. In a sense, it is an explicitly visible form of cross-gender performance,” she said.

Isaka explained the Kabuki theater as an all-male theater of song (ka), dance (bu), and acting (ki) – which came into being in the 17th century in Japan, and remains popular today.

“This talk will be about women onnagata who faithfully mastered onnagata technique and thus gained the reputation that ‘once she is on stage, it is impossible to tell that she is not a man,” Isaka said.

The talk will address how onnagata actors became popular in Japanese culture, what types of techniques the actors used and why the actors eventually disappeared, Isaka said.

“The significance of onnagata does not remain (only) within the realm of theater, because, during the history of onnagata, this theatrical gender practice even affected how women manifested femininity in society,” she said.

In addition to studying Japanese theater, Isaka has also written a book on martial arts.

She authored the book “Secrecy in Japanese Arts: ‘Secret Transmission’ as a Mode of Knowledge” in 1995. The book examines esoteric gei.

“Gei, or ‘acquired technique,’ is a blanket concept that covers almost any technique, be it martial, literary or musical. Gei esotericism refers to ‘secret transmission’ by which dancers and swordsmen transmitted their expertise about their arts. This book studies gei esotericism as a readable logic in its own right, not as a mysterious feature of Japanese culture,” she said.

Isaka said her book relates to her speech’s topic because the female onnagata actresses require great poise and technique to make the audience think that they are men acting as women and not women acting as themselves.

Bill Mihalopoulos, a history professor at NMU, invited Isaka to speak to encourage students to experience other cultures.

“I thought that a speaker who spoke of Kabuki theater, something that students could see on stage, would be more appealing to students than a speaker who spoke of something abstract,” Mihalopoulos said.

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