The Takarazuka Revue and the Depiction of Gender Stereotypes since 1914

By Yuna Sakai

Introduction

This exhibit analyzes the Takarazuka Revue, the most famous all-female musical theater company in Japan founded in 1914,[1] and seeks to understand how Takarazuka reflects gender issues and challenges the gender norms in Japan. Takarazuka depicts the stereotypical images of masculinity and femininity in Japanese society through their performances. Investigating Takarazuka’s history, the performers’ actions on and off stage, and its female fan base enables us to learn more about gender issues in contemporary Japan, as well as understand how this theater reinforced and challenged the gender norms of Japanese society. At the same time, its performance was developed actively by the influence of political, economic, social, and geographical conditions. This claim will be proven by examining three frameworks: the history of Takarazuka, gender depicted performances, and the relationships with the fans to analyze the importance of gender.


Birth of Takarazuka and the Impact of the War

The impact of kabuki

Takarazuka Revue’s roots lie in the popular culture of the urban bourgeoisie in Osaka during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). Kabuki was initially established in 1603 by a woman named Izumo no Okuni in Kyoto, Japan. However, the military edicts that were issued in 1629 banned female stage performances, and female roles in kabuki consequently began to be played by men who impersonated women on stage, also known as onnagata. The onnagata portrayed the female characters by exaggerating femininity which created an unnatural representation of females through their performances. From 1890, mixed-gender performances became legal and women were able to return to the stage.[2]

Birth of Takarazuka

April 1913, Takarazuka Revue: an all-female school was born with sixteen teenage girls hired by Kobayashi Ichizo. Kobayashi Ichizo was the chief executive of the Hankyu Railways in Takarazuka and initiated the girls to debut on stage as the “Takarazuka Girls’ Opera Training Association”. Since Kobayashi wanted to boost the sale of train tickets for his company by creating an attraction spot to draw business, the girls performed operetta, dances, and songs to entertain the visitors of the hot spring resort in Takarazuka, Hyōgo, a famous tourist destination for people from Osaka. During this era, Western songs were popular among Japanese, which inspired Kobayashi to create a theatre that performs traditional Japanese tales and famous Western musicals to reach a wider audience. Kobayashi created Takarazuka Revue based on the model of kabuki, however, he wanted to differentiate Takarazuka from kabuki by changing the target audience to make it more unique. Thus, Kobayashi wanted to create a theater that would be loved by the general public regardless of class and age and introduced Western music in its performances, while kabuki’s main audiences were the elites and the elderly.[3]

The First Performance

Girls between the ages of thirteen and fifteen were given nine months of preparation for their debut on stage. The current Takarazuka Revue writer, Ota Tetsunori, claimed that the training Kobayashi provided to performers instilled morals that were to raise them as good and wise wives and mothers. Ota observed that the training was based on amateurism with the aim of raising the level of general knowledge and education of girls who would become the mothers of the sons who could lead and carry the responsibility for the future of Japan.[4]

The Takarazuka Revue’s first performance was in 1914. A weeding themed musical performance was held in April in the Paradise Theater, which was a swimming pool that was converted into a building. The audience was able to enjoy the show while relaxing in the hot bath when the girls performed. In this performance, female performers played male characters, which was the start of the Takarazuka Revue. Gradually, Takarazuka Revue gained in popularity. After ten years of performances, they were able to obtain its theater in Takarazuka called Dai Gekijo, meaning Grand Theater in English.[5]

Please click here for Figure 1: When The Takarazuka Girls Revue Gave Its Performance In The Paradise Theater, A Converted Indoor Pool, Takarazuka Revue Official Website.


During the War Years, 1935-1945

Starting from 1935

After the first revue in Japan, Takarazuka became a nationwide phenomenon.  In 1938, Takarazuka Revue introduced its first film called Gunkoku jogakusei, meaning “girl students of a martial nation.” Later on, it started to create more all-female dramatic films with nationalist themes, which were performed by the Takarazuka performers playing female and male roles in the production. However, in the 1940s, the Takarazuka Revue performers were only cast for female roles. This was because male roles played by female performers seemed “unnatural” and were criticized while otokoyaku were accepted and celebrated in the live theater.[6]

In 1939, Takarazuka Revue went on its first overseas tour and performed in places like Italy, Poland, Germany, Hawaii, and the mainland U.S. After the Takarazuka performance, many audiences did not realize that women played the male roles.[7]

In 1945, the Occupation force took over the Takarazuka Grand Theater and Tokyo Takarazuka Theater. Interestingly, while the Occupation force occupied the theaters, they still allowed considerable freedom in the Takarazuka Revue’s performances. It allowed the performers to perform Western-themed repertoires and have male role characters. Meanwhile, the occupation force banned the performances of kabuki and other traditional Japanese performances that included subject matter related to “suicide,” “revenge,” and “feudalism.”[8] The Takarazuka Theater was allowed to remain in operation since their performances were already based on Euro-American inspired repertoires and did not feature any “feudal” themes that glorified the Japanese military government. Thus, from the Occupation force’s perspective, the performances were seen as an ancient and beautiful Japanese work with a small mix of modern music and Western dance.[9] While the Takarazuka performers performed otokoyaku and musumeyaku, many Americans mentioned that the performers were cute and beautiful. From this description, it is clear that the Occupation force was captivated by the performers’ beauty. [10] However, during the early 1940s, the Takarazuka performers received criticism from the Japanese citizens. Many were called “un-Japanese” or “delinquents” for their singing and dancing and also for their colorful clothes. This was because their dancing and singing performances seemed frivolous among the Japanese citizens who were mobilized for the war effort and had to undertake dangerous jobs.[11]

Post-war

After the demoralizing war, in April 1946, Takarazuka Grand Theater in Hyōgo was returned to the Takarazuka Revue to become the performance stage once again. Several performers were interviewed after the Occupation. One Takarazuka performer stated, “In my hometown Kyoto, we could see the Occupation forces’ cool jeeps passing on Shijō Street and listen to swing jazz everywhere. Kyoto suddenly became a modern city.”[12] Contrarily, another Takarazuka performer Chikage Awashima answered in an interview stating, “I am not sure whether imitating ‘America’ truly leads to building a ‘New Japan.’ But during the war, we could not even emulate America. Now, we have to make a new start by selecting what we need to revive ‘New Japan.”[13] Thus, every performer had a different view of the Occupation.

Please click here for Figure 2: The Footsteps Of War Approached. The Takarazuka Revue Bravely Staged Performances During This Dark Era. Takarazuka Review Official Website.


Gender Depicted Performances

The current entrance examinations for Takarazuka Revue

Takarazuka Revue company is comprised of 5 leading troupes and each troupe specializes in a particular style. The troupes are: “Flower (花, Hana), Moon (月, Tsuki), Snow (雪, Yuki), Star (星, Hoshi), and Cosmos (宙, Sora).”[14]To become a member of the troupe and be on the Takarazuka Revue’s show, the girls must first enroll in Takarazuka Music School. They need to pass their highly competitive entrance exam, which is not an easy task. Every year thousands of girls audition for this school but only forty to fifty of those are accepted. This small door of opportunity is only open for students between the ages of fifteen and nineteen. Most applicants go through various preparation and training to apply for the school. The applicants acquire training in choir, vocals, tap dance, modern dance, ballet, and interview skills, etc. to get into the Takarazuka Music School. As such, the preparation fee is not cheap and many families help their daughters prepare for the exam since applicants only have four chances to apply.[15]

Once the students enrol in the school, they follow the academy’s strict regulations inside and outside of the school. The school motto is “purity, honesty, beauty” with endless rules that students need to follow with a strict hierarchical system ingrained. After entering the school, the girls start their two years of training in the Takarazuka Music School. In the first year, all of the students are divided into otokoyaku, male characters played by female performers, and musumeyaku, female characters played by female performers.[16] They learn to acquire techniques that are necessary to portray a certain gender on stage.

Otokoyaku and Musumeyaku

The Revue’s performers are called “Takarasienne,” after the word “Parisienne,” which was influenced by the French revue. Performances at the Takarazaku Revue include otokoyaku and musumeyaku. When the performers are still in Takarazuka Music School, they are assigned with their secondary gender. Unlike their primary gender, which is based on their biological gender, the secondary gender is assigned by their looks and by socio-psychological criteria. For example, they look at features like facial shape, physique, height, personality, voice, and personal preference. However, when they are assigned to their secondary gender, they contrast the gender stereotypes. For example, otokoyaku should be taller than musumeyaku. Plus, it is better for otokoyaku to have a rectangular face shape, a higher nose, thick eyebrows, straight shoulders, dark skin, narrow hips, and low voice tone. As such, Takarazuka regards gender as inherent and could be represented by women alone.[17]

During training, the performers learn gendered expression by learning gendered speech patterns, gestures, intonations, and movements. Otokoyaku actors must first learn how to “stride forthrightly across the stage, her arms held stiffly away from her body, her fingers curled around her thumb.”[18] On the other hand, musumeyaku “pivots her forearms from the elbows, which are kept pinned against her side, constraining her freedom of movement”[19] to appear to be more feminine. Interestingly, as a reflection the patriarchal values in Takarazuka Revue, musumeyaku represented fictional women with a far connection to females’ experiences. As for otokoyaku, the performers were encouraged to study male actions and behaviors on and off-stage and to portray ideal men on stage effectively by mimicking samurai and cowboys’ actions.[20] Thus, the performances of musumeyaku and otokoyaku are both products of imagination by the masculist.

The reason why the founder, Kobayashi, started the otokoyaku was to cultivate the performers into “perfect wives” for their husbands. Kobayashi thought that teaching the performers how to portray an ideal masculine figure would enable the women to understand the qualities of men, and also become more appreciative towards men. Thus, the reason why Kobayashi added otokoyaku was to glorify masculinity.

Also, one of the reasons Takarazuka has gained popularity is otokoyaku, the male roles played by women who appear astonishingly androgynous. This role leaves a mysterious image of Takarazuka Revue, which caught fans’ attention. The performers have received criticism for being “abnormal” due to female performers dressing and behaving masculine. However, this masculine behavior and appearance caught the fans’ attention and created a fan base called “Zuka-fan.”[21]

Please click here for Figure 3: Otokoyaku. Takarazuka Review Official Website.

Please click here for Figure 3: Musumeyaku. Takarazuka Review Official Website.


Relationship with the Fans

The popularity of Takarazuka’s otokoyaku indicates that manipulation of gender through theater significantly impacts audiences. Thus, Takarazuka encourages two-dimensional gender actors to act in their assigned gender role, even off-stage, to appeal to their supporting fans. However, this led the public to criticize the performers and the fans as “abnormal” since the 1920s.[22]

The fans play an essential role in the Takarazuka Revue. Millions of people have attended performances, bought merchandise, and subscribed to its publication, all of which have enabled Takarazuka Revue to keep performing. The remarkable popularity of otokoyaku indicates that fans engage more with the otokoyaku‘s deliberate reproduction of exaggeration towards orthodox gender. The stereotypical fans of Takarazuka today portrayed by the media are mostly female, ranging from girls in their early teens to middle-aged women. In addition, fans wear t-shirts that have the names of their favorite performers, attend various performances, and wait outside of the stage to greet their favorite performers.[23] Interestingly, such an actor-fan relationship in Takarazuka creates an “asexual and agendered fantasy space,” which means that both female and male fans can surpass their gender expectations and roles regardless of their sexual orientation.[24]


Conclusion

Examining Takarazuka Revue’s history and how they portray gender enables readers to think about Japanese women’s and men’s stereotypes and seek more knowledge about the complicated relationship between sexuality, sex, and gender in Japan. At times, Takarazuka performances were criticized for being “homosexual” and “abnormal.” Over time, however,  they gained a strong fan base and are loved nationwide and abroad. Analyzing the Takarazuka history enables us to learn how Takarazuka taught Japanese society that gender could be inherited. It allowed the fans to create an asexual and agendered fantasy space that surpasses the expectation of gender roles in the community.


[1] Yamanashi, “A History of the Takarazuka Revue since 1914,” p. 1.

[2] Robertson, ” The Politics of Androgyny in Japan: Sexuality and Subversion in the Theater and Beyond,” p. 422.

[3] Robertson, ” The Politics of Androgyny in Japan: Sexuality and Subversion in the Theater and Beyond pp. 422-423.

[4] Ota, “Takarazuka ongaku gakkō no sōritsu to hensen,” p. 112.

[5] Stickland, “Gender Gymnastics,” pp. 65-71.

[6] Stickland, “Gender Gymnastics,” pp. 76-77.

[7] Stickland, “Gender Gymnastics,” p. 77.

[8] Irie, “Takarazuka under Occupation: Transnational Female Performers and Femininity in Japan, 1956-1952,” p. 109.

[9] Irie, “Takarazuka under Occupation: Transnational Female Performers and Femininity in Japan, 1956-1952,” p. 110.

[10]Irie, “Takarazuka under Occupation: Transnational Female Performers and Femininity in Japan, 1956-1952,” p. 114.

[11] Stickland, “Gender Gymnastics,” p. 79.

[12] Irie, “Takarazuka under Occupation: Transnational Female Performers and Femininity in Japan, 1956-1952,” p. 105.

[13] Irie, “Takarazuka under Occupation: Transnational Female Performers and Femininity in Japan, 1956-1952,” p. 105.

[14] Stickland, “Gender Gymnastics,” p. 101.

[15] Stickland, “Gender Gymnastics,” pp. 148-158.

[16] Stickland, “Gender Gymnastics,” p. 184.

[17] Robinson, “The Politics of Androgyny in Japan,” p. 422.

[18] Robinson, “The Politics of Androgyny in Japan,” p. 423.

[19] Robinson, “The Politics of Androgyny in Japan,” p. 423.

[20] Robinson, “The Politics of Androgyny in Japan,” p. 422.

[21] Robertson, ” Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan,” p. 476.

[22] Stickland, “Gender Gymnastics,” p. 222.

[23] Robinson, “The Politics of Androgyny in Japan,” pp. 419-420.

[24] Nakamura and Matsuo, “Female Masculinity and Fantasy Spaces: Transcending Genders in the Takarazuka Theatre and Japanese Popular Culture,” p. 59.


References

Irie Toshiko. “Takarazuka under Occupation: Transnational Female Performers and Femininity in Japan, 1956-1952.” Doshisha Global Studies 10 (2019), pp. 105–119.

Nakamura, Karen and Matsuo Hisako. “Female Masculinity and Fantasy Spaces: Transcending Genders in the Takarazuka Theatre and Japanese Popular Culture.”  In Men and masculinities in contemporary Japan: dislocating the salaryman doxa, ed. James Roberson and Nobue Suzuki, pp. 59–76. RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

Ōta Tetsunori 太田哲則. “Takarazuka ongaku gakkō no sōritsu to hensen” 宝塚音楽学校の創立と変遷. In Takaraduka beruepokku II タカラヅカ・ベルエポックII, ed. Tsuganesawa Toshihiro 津金澤聡廣 and Natori Chisato 名取千里, pp. 111–17. Kōbe shinbun sōgō shuppan sentā, 2001.

Robertson, Jennifer. “Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan.” The Journal of Japanese Studies 25:3 (Summer 1999), pp. 473–478.

Robertson, Jennifer. “The Politics of Androgyny in Japan: Sexuality and Subversion in the Theater and Beyond.” American Ethnologist 19:3 (1992), pp. 419–42.

Stickland, Leonie R. “Gender Gymnastics: Performers, Fans and Gender Issues in the Takarazuka Revue of Contemporary Japan.” PhD Dissertation, University of Michigan, 2004.

Yamanashi Makiko. A history of the Takarazuka Revue since 1914: modernity, girls’ Culture, Japan Pop. Global Oriental, 2012.