The Onnagata
"Geisha Dolls"
Oiran and Onnagata
Musume Dojoji
Dancing with the Spring Horse
Fuji Musume
Shiokumi: Legend, Play, Doll

Musume Dojoji

This kabuki drama, "The maiden at Dojoji temple," is based on a very dramatic legend. A young girl falls in love with a priest, but he resists her charms and hides under a bell; she, however, is so enraged that she turns into a demonic serpent whose breath melts the bell and burns up her lover. As the play opens, some years have passed, and the temple has a new bell. A young girl comes to the temple and the priests agree to let her dance in honor of the bell. As she whirls in a dance with hats, they become scales and she reveals herself as the demonic serpent-woman!
(Woodblock print by Ogata Gekko, late 19th c.)
The doll based on this play is often described as a "hat-seller," and sometimes, as here, she seems much too cheerful to be about to transform into a demon of jealousy. 
Another common doll representing this play, which involves changes of clothing, is the doll beating a small taiko drum. This is how the maiden begins her dance.
For a collection of images of the story (including Noh as well as Kabuki versions, and prints), see A Maiden at Dojoji.
A DVD of Tamasaburo Bando's performance of this play is available.

Dancing with the Spring Horse

This elegant figure is the Spring Horse dancer. Again, this is a popular subject for dolls representing little boys with the toy horse as well as adult kabuki-style dancers. The white horse (said to be the offspring of a mare and a a dragon) is an especially potent symbol of power and fertility.
This print by Toyokuni I shows the dance as performed by an onnagata in the early 1800s. Note the similarities to the modern doll: the headscarf, the striped garment. The purple cap covering the dancer's shaved forehead is evident. The dance itself is very vigorous, with elbows out and knees up; the doll version is, oddly enough, standing more like an onnagata, decorously leaning back with elbows in and knees together.
Thanks to The Floating World Gallery of Chicago for permission to use the image above.

Fuji Musume

This is a two-dimensional "oshie-ningyo" or padded ningyo, made of segments of padded silk fitted together, mounted on a background painted with wisteria (fuji). With her big black hat and branch of fuji, the figure is unmistakably Fuji Musume, the Wisteria Maiden, heroine of an old dance. Fuji Musume (at Matt's Kabuki for Everyone site) provides a history of this dance and a video as well as photographs.
Tamasaburo Bando as Fuji Musume, the Wisteria Maiden. Again we see the black hat; note also the kimono in which the outer garment's right sleeve has been pulled down to expose the red, emotional "heart" of the undersleeve.The wisteria "set" is obviously fabulous.
Finally, a three-dimensional ningyo, of a type that might be classified as oyama or isho-ningyo (she has a gofun "skin"). Her hat is missing, but she still has her bit of wisteria pinned to her hair and her branch of long-dried flowers. Though her delicate face and tiny hands evoke the women immortalized by such woodblock artists as Haronobu, her stance--elbows in, knees together, exquisite swaying balance--is the one the onnagata defined as feminine.