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Japan's centuries-old game of fantasy

Tokyo exhibition shines light on the power of clothing

"The Power of Clothing: History of Cross-dressing in Japan" looks back several centuries, drawing a line between gender-boundary-crossing characters in some of Japan's oldest myths to the sequined stars of today's drag-entertainment scene. (Nikkei montage; Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum, top, Diamonds Are Forever, middle, and Yayoi Museum) 

TOKYO -- When it comes to society's expectations of gender-related appearances and behavior, sometimes, a little transgression can go a long way.

In the early 20th century, the Hollywood star Mae West courted controversy with a mannish walk and on-screen characters who dared to express an interest in sex. In the 1950s, the black rock 'n' roll pioneer Little Richard wore makeup and eyeliner, while the over-the-top showman Liberace, whose piano-playing was as flamboyant as his costumes, fooled no one with his comments to gossip-magazine reporters about his ideal, would-be wife.

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