Oyama or Onnagata (Actor of female roles) (女形)

Oyama or Onnagata refers to the actor who acts the role of a young woman, the duty of the actor, or the pattern of acting itself, in Kabuki.

In the original meaning, the term, actors who play oyama should not be limited to men, but today, oyama is often recognized as the word which refers to `the man acting a woman.'
Derived from Kabuki (traditional drama performed by male actors), oyama came to refer to the actors of popular drama who play the role of women.

The Chinese character, '方' means one's duty, responsibility, and role, as in shite-gata (方), waki-gata (方) of Noh play, therefore, it should be represented by `onnagata (方)' based on the original meaning.'
In Kabuki, it is commonly read as 'onnagata', and 'oyama' is only used when it specially follows another word such as tate-oyama or waka-oyama. According to one theory, 'oyama' is regarded as the old name of joro or oiran (prostitute). Since the best role of onnagata of Kabuki is oiran, it may have been diverted and used.

In addition, onnagata existed in Beijing opera of China, but nowadays the role of onnaga is acted by actresses.

Onnagata of kabuki
The onnagata of kabuki refers to actors who expertly act the following roles.

Onnagata act the role of a woman before her middle years, including the roles of daughter, princess, and wife.

Since child actors take charge of the role of a young girl, onnagata doesn't act the role.

In terms of an old woman or a nun, actors of kashagata (old female roles) expertly played those roles in the Edo period. Even today, those roles are distinguished from usual onnagata roles, as fuke oyama (the old lady acted by an actor).

It is not onnagata but the actors for enemies who take charge of the role of female enemies (examples; Yashio of "Meibokusendaihagi," Iwafuji of "Kagamiyama Gonichi no Iwafuji"). Today, the category of 'the role of enemies' disappeared and was absorbed by tachiyaku (a leading male-role actor), and tachiyaku act those roles based on the tradition that has been handed down since the Edo period. One of the reasons that those roles are not acted by onnagata actors, who are famous for their beauty, is that it is difficult to convince audience that they are villains, which will make it difficult to produce a drama.

It is not onnagata but dokekata (a clown) (and present tachiyaku [a leading male-role actor] that absorbed dokekata is also included) that take charge of the female clown roles (example; maid servant, rin of "Kanadehon Chushingura" [The Treasury of Loyal Retainers], tofu buyer of "Imose-yama Onna Teikin"), which are rare roles of hayaku (unimportant role).

Onnagata acts the roles of princesses examplified by `three princesses' (Princess Yaegaki, Yukihime, Tokihime), oiran, a young girl, a married woman, or a maid working in the domestic quarters of a shogun or daimyo. However, the roles of beautiful boys, who are dressed as a woman such as kichisa of "Sannin kichisa," Benten Kozo (Benten the Thief) of ""Aotozoshi hanano nishikie" (Shiranami Gonin Otoko (The Five Shiranami Men), are also acted by onnagata.

[Original Japanese]