The Wonders of Takarazuka
I just reserved a ticket to see the Takarazuka Revue in Tokyo a couple of days before I blow this popsicle stand. The Takarazuka is an all-female musical theatre group; I studied it in college as an interesting example of sexuality in Japan. There are six troupes (“Flower”, “Moon”, “Snow”, “Star”, “Cosmos”, and “Superior Members”) which have over 80 members each and perform predominantly at their home stages in Osaka and Tokyo. In order to join, girls between the ages of 15 and 18 must go through a highly competitive audition to get into the Takarazuka Ongaku Gakkou, one of the best performing arts academies in Japan. Over 1,000 girls audition each year, but only 40-50 are accepted. After passing, girls take classes in singing, acting, dancing (Japanese, ballet, tap, and modern), music history, theatre theory, etiquette and more from 9-5 each day.
After one year at the school, each student becomes either an otokoyaku (player of men’s roles) or musumeyaku (player of women’s roles). The starring otokoyaku are by far the most popular of the actresses in the Revue, so there are never enough spaces for all of the girls who would like to be otokoyaku. The decision is based on height, physique, voice, etc. Otokoyaku study how to act like, talk like, and move like men, while the musumeyaku train in being a strong and graceful feminine counter to the male roles (the 1914 rationale was that the musumeyaku would learn to be the ideal women, while the otokoyaku would learn to empathize with men and thus become better wives). The students learn techniques that signify gender, including stylized movements, gestures, and speech patterns. After their training is complete the students will join one of the troupes.
Nearly all of the fans of Takarazuka are schoolgirls and middle-aged women. A lot of them enjoy the portrayal of pure romance, rather than a physical attraction between a man and woman. Many of the fans adore the Takarasiennes and will stand outside of the theatre after a show, waiting to get a glimpse of their favorite stars on their way home, and maybe a photo or autograph. There are fan clubs, three official magazines, and of course, a plethora of collectibles.
So, the show I’m seeing is a rock opera called “Rome at Dawn”, based on Julius Caesar. *Awesome*. A totally bizarre, totally Japanese way to end my year-long sojourn here.