Photos by Mary King
Mary King goes stage left to Hyogo-ken to
check out the Takarazuka review.
"She' the most gorgeous
man I've ever seen. I love her and only ever think and dream of her," a young woman
swooned as she clutched a photograph of a Takarazuka star to her breast while we stood in
the lobby of the Grand Theater in Takarazuka. "Don't you think she's lovely,
too?" she asked. Undoubtedly, the picture of Makoto Tsubasa decked out in a silvery
gray shirt, tie and navy blue suit was that of a stunningly beautiful woman who could
easily have been a model, but I was more in awe of this young woman's lack of
embarrassment when it came to sharing with me passions that many Westerners would
immediately construe as a Sapphic-like adoration.
But here, in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, talk of being madly in love with a woman who
dresses, sings and dances like a man is considered quite the norm by the cult-like
worshipers of the Takarazuka Revue - the world's only theater troupe made up entirely of
unmarried women. There are thousands of female devotees, young and old alike.
The two women are typical Takarazuka fans, regularly visiting the theater to enjoy a show
by any one of the five troupes that make up Takarazuka Revue. "Star Troupe, Snow
Troupe, Flower Troupe and Cosmos Troupe make up the theater here, and we've seen them all
perform over the years," Michiko Sato explained to me, saying that her "dream in
life" was realized after she became one of the first fans to cross the threshold of
the new Takarazuka 1000 Days Theater in Tokyo when it opened a few years ago.
For now Michiko's lesser dreams are answered whenever she hops on a Takarazuka-bound train
and heads for the Grand Theater or the smaller Bow Hall theater in the grounds of
Takarazuka Family Land - the principal magnet drawing tourists to this small onsen town
midway between Osaka and Kobe. Here, fans enjoy browsing around the many souvenir stores
packed with mementos of their favorite performers as well as strolling along Hana no Michi
(Flower Avenue), famed for its cherry blossoms in springtime.
|Mari Hanafusa and Asato Shizuki in Citrus
Courtesy of Wowow
The camera-toting fans revel in snapping their heartthrobs when they are not sharing with
like-minded spirits their passions for the revue's top otokoyaku (actress
specializing in male roles). "I also love Aika Mire: She makes my heart go boom,
boom, boom," giggled another middle-aged woman as she pounded her chest with all the
lustful vigor of a pubescent schoolgirl. I didn't know whether to laugh or just confess to
similar palpitations. Not having the foggiest idea who Aika Mire might be, I simply fanned
myself and the other women with my theater program and hoped we could all cool off
somewhat. "How I wish my husband was like Yu Todoroki! Real men are so awful,
especially after you marry them," Kumiko Watanabe said.
"That's why we all come here. We come looking for men who give us a dream, who make
us feel happy. My husband can't make me feel that way. He also doesn't know I come here...
It's a secret," Watanabe added before trotting off to the auditorium to take her
prized seat, where for JY7500 she would be spirited away to a harlequinade. Takarazuka
Revue stages everything from tailored-for-Japan versions of such Broadway musicals as West
Side Story, The Sound of Music and Oklahoma to original works based
on Japanese legends and cartoons.
|Inside the Takarazuka theater
Although nobody could ever call it highbrow entertainment, it is a delight to take in a
performance of what the Takarazuka School of Music and the theater's management bill as a
"world of dreams."
Intriguingly, the way most Westerners interpret the Takarazuka Revue, whose leading lights
will devote as much as a decade to refining their craft in the role of otokoyaku -
learning to sing, dance and act like men - is often the complete opposite of that of many
Japanese. When Takarazuka Revue hit the London stage in 1994, the British capital's
notoriously difficult theater critics did not spare one ounce of vitriol in dismissing the
troupe's performance as little more than a kitsch drag show.
|Costumes of the top performers on
Whereas many Westerners
regard women who play men as "camp," Japanese fans generally perceive a world of
complete innocence, where love conquers all and the otokoyaku epitomize nothing more than
the "perfect male" by being beautiful, brave and as sweet as a bean-paste bun.
To most fans, the revue is where manga meets the stage, where they can relish song, dance
and drama, wild techno-wizardry, lavish costumes and stage sets in productions renowned
for their Japanese interpretation of Western-style passion and romance. A kiss and
canoodle on stage, a hand brushing a breast or gently sweeping up the inside of the
slender thigh of the sequined femme fatale may be show-stoppers for Takarazuka's Japanese
fans, but Westerners are perhaps captivated less by the finely tuned choreography than by
the spectacle of a 1000-odd starry-eyed women in their midst.
"In many of the arts (in Japan), an innocent girl performs the part of a man, or an
innocent boy performs the woman. One sex acting both sexes is not unnatural to us at
all," one of the revue's directors, Shuichiro Koike, told New Yorker
|Souvenir shops provide mementos for
That may be, but the
ambiguity of Takarazuka Revue is not lost on members of Japan's gay and lesbian community
either. A lesbian visiting from Osaka told me: "Takarazuka Revue has a strong
following among lesbians and gays in Japan. Obviously there is also speculation about the
true sexuality of some otokoyaku, but ultimately Takarazuka is just a fantasy world for
those who love camp entertainment."
The journey from JR Tokyo Station to JR Shin Osaka Station by Hikari shinkansen takes just
under three hours. From there, the JR Fukuchiyama Line takes about 40 minutes to reach JR
Where to stay
Takarazuka Hotel (Tel: 0797-87-1151); Takarazuka Grand Hotel (Tel: 0797-87-1111)
Takarazuka Grand Theater (Tel: 0797-86-7777)
Tourist Information (Tel: 0797-81-5344)
Takarazuka Revue offcial website: www.takarazuka.co.jp (Japanese only)
Takarazuka city page: www.city.takarazuka.hyogo.jp
Tickets are available from
ticket offices (Pia, Ticket Saison, etc.) or directly from the theater.
Takarazuka Gekidan Hoshi-gumi will be in Tokyo to perform the Rose of Versailles until May
6 at Tokyo Takarazuka Gekijo.
Shows at 1:30 and 6:30pm.