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Modesty, Fairness, and Grace: The Takarazuka Revue

Updated on October 27, 2019
Hilary Yokoya profile image

Hilary is an enthusiastic writer Canadian living in Japan. She is interested in Japanese language, culture, history, and everything kawaii.

The Takarazuka Revue

Early spring outside The Takarazuka Grand Theater
Early spring outside The Takarazuka Grand Theater

Modesty, Fairness, and Grace: The Takarazuka Revue

Nestled beneath the blooming pink and white cherry blossoms of the appropriately named Hana Dori – Flower Street – is a gated white building with a red roof. Several groups of women and girls, dressed in their Sunday Best, flood the entrance into the The Takrazuka Grand Theater. Although women and girls can be seen in every square inch of the Grand Theater – from the ballroom, to the giftshop, to the café - a few men are also present, waiting for the show to start. Known country-wide for its grace, elegance, elaborate costumes, singing and stories, The Takarazuka Revue commands a huge following of fans, most of whom dream of someday visiting the theater and seeing a performance live.

Founded in 1913 by railway businessman Ichizo Kyobayashi, The Takarazuka Revue held its first performance in a converted swimming pool. Ages ranging from 12 to 17, the small group of highly trained young women danced and sang for a small group of locals. Quickly gaining popularity, Paradise Theater, as the converted swimming pool was named, offered locals family entertainment. In 1927, the company offered its first Revue `Mon Paris` and The Takarazuka Revue was born.

Although the Revue enjoyed continuous success throughout the Thirties and into the war years, it was the groundbreaking performance of `The Rose of Versailles` that earned the Revue international recognition. Based on a Japanese comic intended for young women of the same name, `The Rose of Versailles` was first performed in 1974 and since then, over 30 re-makes and re-imaginings have been produced by the Revue. Enjoying continued success, The Takarazuka Revue put its mark on the history of theater in Japan.

Japan has had a long history of unique theater. Noh drama, kabuki theater, and bunraku puppeteering have all made their way to the West in the forms of YouTube clips and scholarly articles. The men who work on these performances and productions are often trained from a young age. The Takarazuka Revue is no different – except where gender is concerned. Although men usually play the women`s parts too in more traditional theater, it is the women who take the men`s roles in the Revue. The entire cast at The Takarazuka Revue are female.

Much scholarly material has been written about why The Takarazuka Revue are all women and what that means for the legion of female fans that follow the Revue. This is not to say that men don`t enjoy watching the Revue`s performances. The phrase `geared towards women` applies to The Takarazuka Revue, but the phrase can turn some men away at the door. However, that doesn`t mean men shouldn`t attend. `Geared towards women` just means the Revue is by women for women, but men: you`re more than welcome any time, so come and enjoy! Foreigners shouldn`t worry either – the Revue provides translation headsets, available at the door.

Although tickets can be purchased at the door, it`s a better idea to buy them well in advance. Tickets have been known to sellout in a matter of minutes. Luckily the Revue`s website is also in English, allowing non-Japanese speaking people to purchase tickets before they arrive in Japan! The Revue does have performances throughout the year by some of its troupes in Tokyo, but most of the fans flock to Takarazuka to see the original theater, take in the sights and sounds of the small city, and of course, the that day`s preforming troupe.

The Takarazuka Revue has six troupes – Flower Troupe, Moon Troupe, Snow Troupe, Star Troupe, Cosmos Troupe, and The Senka, or superior members. Each performance is conducted by one of these troupes, although, Snow Troupe and Cosmos Troupe do the bulk of their performances in Tokyo. The other troupes perform in Takarazuka. The Senka members do not belong to any one troupe. The members of The Senka are floaters - specialists who add a bit of dazzle to that day`s performance. Each troupe has a leading lady who plays the men`s roles, and one who plays the women`s roles. Together, they star in and create a unique musical theater experience that dazzles audiences from all over Japan and the world.

Entertainment is absolutely one of the goals of The Takarazuka Revue. There`s nothing quite like the spectacle of theater to excite and thrill an audience, but the Revue has deeper goals than just entertainment. It`s founder Ichizo Kobayashi instilled a sense of lady-like propriety in all his performers. This is especially taught at The Takarazuka Music School. Each pupil is expected to develop a good sense of manners, dignity as women, and that reflects in their position in society. Modesty, fairness, and grace are said to be Kobayashi`s last words, and each performer embodies that phrase as she takes to the stage and dazzles the crowd at The Takarazua Revue.

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© 2019 Hilary Yokoya


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