Thursday, October 8, 2009


Before I came to Japan, I read (or browsed, it was more of a picture book) "A Year in Japan" which chatted about the sights and impressions of a Western girl living in Kyoto. One of the experiences she mentions is the all-female musical production company, Takarazuka. Upon mentioning this to a friend, I discovered she was a huge fan and we went to two productions together, one in Tokyo and one in their home town ... Takarazuka ... which is just outside Osaka.

The town Takarazuka is the location of the highly competitive associated music school where students above the age of 15 (i.e. after Middle School) attend to train for the company. Although all female, the students are selected for "male" or "female" roles and they keep their assignment through the school and in every professional performance. The only occasional exception to this rule is when a normally-male actress is assigned to a female part for a particularly strong character, such in the recent production, Elisabeth.

The male roles are considered more prestigious than their female counterparts and as such, the lead "male" star is more important than the leading female. The top stars of each troupe of performers have their own official fan clubs who organise events and turn out dedicatedly to see the actresses entre and leave the theatre. These club members all wear a common item of clothing, e.g. a blue scarf or tartan jacket (see photos), to mark out who they are supporting and this changes from one performance to the next. When their actress arrives (wearing hat and sunglasses) and greets them, they all bow down (*cough* it's a little creepy). It is through these fan clubs and the sale of merchandise that the actresses make the majority of their money. 

Rules for Takarazuka actresses are extremely strict. The "male" actresses have to keep their hair short, only wear trousers, not skirts and speak in the Japanese male form. Female actresses must do the reverse and no one is allowed to date.

Takarazuka has five troupes of actors putting on productions around Japan. We saw "Snow Troupe" perform "Russian Blue" in Tokyo and "Flower Troupe" perform a version of "The Rose of Versailles" in Takarazuka. While in Japanese (and so at varying degrees of incomprehension to me), the productions are extremely well done with good music and interesting costumes and set design. It is fun to watch videos of the rehearsals during the intermission and see the actresses without their make-up (I always think they are much prettier without it since their stage face is heavy on lipstick).

At the end of all such performances, I normally walk around for several hours with my head in the clouds imagining what it must be like to attend a professional acting school and be a star performer. Then I come to my senses and remember, in all likelihood, the real answer is "damn awful". 

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