Takarazuka City, located in Hyogo Prefecture, is primarily considered a “bedroom community,” which means that its residents typically work in nearby Osaka. The city is famous for its hot springs and a cultural phenomenon, the all-female Takarazuka Revue.
The Takarazuka Revue was founded in 1913 by Kobayashi Ichizo, the president of Hankyu Railways, in an effort boost both travel and business in the city. There was a growing interest in Western-style song and dance shows, which led to the popularity of the troupe. The Dai Gekijo (Grand Theater) located at 1-1-57 Sakaemachi, Takarazuka-shi, Hyogo has served as the home for the Takarazuka Revue ever since 1924 and it still managed by the Hankyu Group.
There is also a theater in Tokyo known as the Tokyo Takarazuka Gekijo (Tokyo Takarazuka Theater) located at 1-1-3 Yuraku-cho, Chiyoda-ku, which serves as the second round performing theater for the revue’s performing cycle. It was originally built in 1934 and demolished in 1998. The current theater was constructed in 2001 and seats 2,069 theatergoers.
The theater troupe is made up of hundreds of members that perform across the country and overseas year-round. The women who play male parts are referred to as otokoyaku and those who play female parts are called musumeyaku. The costumes, set designs and lighting are lavish and the performances often melodramatic. Although Takarazuka incorporates many elements of Western theater, it still manages to retain strong Japanese elements as well.
Thousands of teenage girls apply to join the theater group every year but the Takarazuka Music School accepts only 40 to 50 new students per year. Those fortunate enough to get accepted face two years of strict discipline and rigorous training. Their daily routine includes classes in acting, singing, dancing, music and theater history along with cleaning the dorms and classrooms. Cleaning is done by hand, with mops, scrubbing brushes and even toothbrushes and keenly checked by the senpai (seniors). After their first year of training, students choose whether they want to be an otokoyaku or musumeyaku. Competition is fierce, with factors like height, build and voice playing a large role. Once training is complete, students graduate and join one of the troupes.
Until 1998, the company had five groups: the Hana (Flower), Tsuki (Moon), Hoshi (Star), Yuki (Snow), and Senka (Special Course). In 1998 the Sora (Cosmos) troupe was added. Each troupe has over 80 members or Takarasiennes, with a male and a female lead. The Senka troupe was originally created for members who had reached age 40 but later became a place for actresses who could move between the other troupes. Every year, each group performs one run in the company’s home theater in Takarazuka. The remainder of the year, they play other theaters around the country or tour abroad.
In 1946, the Takarazuka employed male performers who were trained separately from the female members. Ultimately, however, the female members opposed these new male counterparts and the department was dissolved. The last remaining male department was terminated in 1954.
While the cast is all-female, the staff (writers, directors, choreographers, designers, etc.) and orchestra musicians may be male or female. It is not uncommon in Takarazuka for a predominantly male orchestra to be led by a female conductor.
Women make up the primary audience of Takarazuka, in fact, some estimates say that the audience is 90 percent female and under the age of 25. The stars these women seem to adulate the most are the otokoyaku, the actresses who play the male parts. The otokoyaku represent romance, the pure, old-fashioned, fairy-tale variety, which seems to draw these women almost to a cult like frenzy.
The Takarazuka performs for 2.5 million people each year and their popularity is nowhere close to waning. So, if you happen to be in Takarazuka or Tokyo, why not catch a performance and see what the fascination is for yourself.