This is a photo of Tamasaburo Bando, a Kabuki actor who specializes in onnagata (women's roles). He is known in the West as well as in Japan, and has worked with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Yo-Yo Ma (dancing "Struggle for Hope" in the Inspired by Bach video series). This photo, and others of Tamasaburo on these pages, are scanned from a 1995 book published by the Nissay Theatre; the book is entirely in Japanese, so I cannot offer any of its printed contents (see Tamasaburo Goods for an all-Japanese site that sells posters, videos etc.). However, the pictures of Tamasaburo are virtually an anthology of the Kabuki themes popular in the sakura and oyama dolls. The pose in this photo is particularly suggestive of the twisted, backward-leaning stance of a typical silk-faced doll. The book has given me a greater appreciation of the combination of elegance, richness, and allusive narrative such dolls offer.

John Fiorillo has an essay online explaining briefly the history and role of the onnagata, specifically with relation to woodblock prints. In an essay, "The Keisei as a Meeting Point of Different Worlds: Courtesan and the Kabuki Onnagata" (keisei means "castle-toppler" and refers generally to beautiful public women), Mark Oshima describes the onnagata's art: "Today's onnagata still employ these physical techniques to reshape the male body to suggest a female one. For example, they use the muscles around the shoulder blade to pull the shoulders back and create a sloping line, which they emphasize by wearing robes slung low over the shoulders.... The softness and delicacy of the actor's movements are counterbalanced by the extreme muscular tension that is necessary to maintain these positions." (The Women of the Pleasure Quarter: Japanese Paintings and Prints of the Floating World, ed. Elizabeth de Sabato Swinton, 1996, pp. 92-93).

There are dance traditions in which women perform the kabuki dances, of course!  Japanese Traditional Dance is a site which gives a biography of Tomino Bandoh and pictures of her dances, including the dance of the chained parasols or "seven hats" so often depicted in ningyo, Meoto-Dohjohji.

For more photos of Tamasaburo, woodblocks, and dolls:
The Onnagata
Kagamijishi (below)
"Geisha Dolls"
Oiran and Onnagata
Musume Dojoji
Dancing with the Spring Horse
Fuji Musume
Shiokumi: Legend, Play, Doll


In the first act of the Kabuki play Kagamijishi, a young palace maid dances with a lion mask as part of the New Year's festivities. She becomes possessed by the mask as she dances. 
Tamasaburo as the girl with the lion puppet. I think this picture suggests the strange combination of masculine power and delicate grace which can be both enchanting and disturbing in the onnagata--and the "geisha doll."
Notice the heavy makeup, including the dramatic red paint at the outside corners of the eyes. Most silk-faced dolls have eyes painted this way, suggesting that they represent not a woman but a stage performer in the Kabuki tradition.
In the second part of Kagamijishi, a lion spirit appears and dances in a garden full of peonies. A handsome modern doll (with plastic surfaces) of the "White Lion" dancer holds a peony.
Tamasaburo Bando posed as the White Lion. Traditionally the same actor plays the young maiden and the lion spirit.
To the left: a hagoita or battledore (paddle for a badminton-type game played especially at New Year's) decorated with the White Lion. Note the peony! Hagoita are usually decorated with a two-dimensional silk face, but in this case the doll is almost full-length and very three-dimensional.
Thanks to Sherry for use of this photo.

Two more lion-dancers, kimekomi ningyos made with gofun faces and clothing glued to wood-composition bodies.
The girl is simply a transformation of the lion-dance story into a childish dress-up.

Another kabuki play, Renjishi,  shows a white lion dancing with its red-maned cub, and the white-haired doll here may have been one of a pair dancing together.