Katsukawa Terushige 勝川輝重 (active late 1710s-1720s)
Actors Sanogawa Mangiku and Ichikawa Danjūrō II

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), early 1730s
Woodblock print; ink on paper with hand-coloring
Gift of James A. Michener, 1991

A young maiden, played by wakashū actor Sanogawa Mangiku (1690-1747), turns and waves goodbye to her young lover, played by Ichikawa Danjūrō II (1688-1758), in a 1705 Kabuki production in Edo. According to legend, Kabuki theater originated in the early 17th century when a shrine dancing girl named Okuni performed dramatic routines in the dry riverbed of the Kamo River in Kyoto. As these performances gained popularity within the following years, the actors and actresses became increasingly involved in prostitution, and rivalries for the affections of particular actresses led to social disruption.

In 1629, the Tokugawa authorities decided to ban women from the Kabuki stage, and thereafter, wakashū actors assumed the female roles. Ironically, these wakashū celebrities came to be seen as more sexually desirable than the actresses they replaced. Even the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651) was reputed to indulge in relationships with wakashū actors. Within only a few months after Iemitsu’s death in 1651, wakashū were banned from the Kabuki stage as well, and young actors who wished to perform were required to assume the guise of adult men (yarō), but as this portrait demonstrates, by the early 18th century, the ban was no longer strictly enforced.

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