Re-imagining Japanese Reality with The Takarazuka Revue

Having studied The Takarazuka Revue at Oxford & lived in Japan, this was my first visit
In Japan, thirty years ago, a young woman was expected to marry between 20 and 24, and those still single at 25 were often pitied or disparaged as urenokori (unsold merchandise) or to ga tatsu (overripe fruit). Perhaps the main reason was because the generation of women (now in the fifties), marriage was a must. It was their source of economic power. Men on the other hand, were untrained in domestic arts and needed a person to run their households as well as bear children to carry the family name. There were and still are various preparatory schools made available for these women. These are called ‘women’s colleges’.
Before the show, the all female audience is in pink heaven
 Women that are lured into these colleges that are provided for them are particularly international in outlook.  There is a course on history and international relations. However, there is also a large emphasis on the how to act within this the work place. This is not seen as a preparation for a career it is more in preparation for a interim place to work before they get married. This kind of preparatory work is carried out through a series of role plays, these role plays are all mimicking the attitudes and subordination of women to men and the growth of the role of ‘good wife, wise mother’.
    The role sets out a situation and the girls must respond as if they were in that person. There is a practicing ideology of the body in the sense that proper maintenance of the body shows a conformity of normative principles. Students are taught that internal feelings are reflected on the outside (of bodies), permitting people to really know how they feel.

Sometimes a more European story & style is performed
After all, if your sincerity and empathy are not expressed through appearances (katachi: literally, ‘form’) towards others, they will not get the message’. This kind of bodily appearance is a presentation of self, and may be considered to be a theatrical role rehearsed in class; scripted sociolinguistic patterns are memorized; facial expressions are exercised; pronunciation is practiced; advice on clothes and other personal props are given; and stage directions for choreographing social interactions are taught.      Students are expected to exert efforts to theatricalize their presentation of self. Being cheerful offering a warm smile, and being empathetic are essential elements of the ideal female presentation of self, and to this end, the body is disciplined to be able to put on a performance readily. This is predominantly for their secretarial 'Office Lady' employment, however, this kind of learned experience of presentation of self is so meticulously practiced, that the hope is that this will be carried over into the household, of the subordinate wife to husband. It is important to recognise that this kind of rigorous disciplining of the body is that the women do have agency within this structure, and that there is a possibility to find a self (moi) with in the constructed persona. Whilst this is a study of a small section of Japanese society, study has revealed that in fact other areas of Japanese culture reveal a profound concern for how the body is managed.
All female audience, mostly housewives
Investigating how socio-political and economic forces construct and define bodily management and subjective through attitude and dress, appearance, speech, mien and deportment reveals the intersection of established political interests and the individual. Foucault described this as politicising the body. If indeed the women do go forward in fitting themselves into the ideology of meeting their partner within the workplace and going forward with marriage then the rigorous training set out for them during their time of ‘study’ was seen as being essentially useful for the role of ‘good wife, wise mother’. It was from these socio-historical circumstances and institutions seeking to reinforce the patriarchal dominance in Japanese society that The Takarazuka Revue formed and aimed to continue within these strict parameters.
    Takarazuka is a popular Japanese theatre troupe that is all female, Koybashi Ichizo and Yoshiya Nobuko established the Takarazuka theatre, as a place in which affluent girls were sent not only to be trained in the Japanese and Western Arts, but also to reassure parents and their daughters that they were under the constant supervision of academy officials who took responsibility for preventing young women from falling into a ‘decadent lifestyle’ (Koybashi: 1961).
Pretty pink merchandise
    The theatrical production of Takarazuka is based on Stanislavsky's method of theatre as a pulpit where audiences can be transported by catharsis into another world, however it is important to emphasise that his thesis is that we can LEARN from this magical world. I believe this is the key to understanding why the Takarazuka’s ideological position has organically grown away from its intention.                          
    Stanislavsky recognised that the theatrical conventions include the characters “I” and the inner “you”. This is significant in that the women who enter Takarazuka are assigned their secondary gender, however, their inner “you” can be quite different.
This takes the form of the masculine otokoyaku or feminine musumeyaku. This staging of gender is not arbitrary, each women entering the academy is assigned through their own characteristics. The otokoyaku generally squarer shoulders, a more rectangular jaw and a deeper voice
It´s not uncommon to see a 'tom-boy' and 'feminine' together
mirroring the roles in the performance
       There is a two year curriculum this including not only traditional Japanese arts, music history, lessons in voice, theatre theory particularly Stanislavsky. The women playing male roles are drilled in a proper manner of walking and bowing by an actual local self-defence force personnel, whose presence helps to establish and reinforce the overwhelming martial tenor of everyday life. The Spartan regime that the girls have to participate in find it difficult and often students drop-out midway through this (Robertson, 11). Or those that leave before 25 to get married, have not stayed long enough for their role to seep into their private life.
      Those that continue, can often live a highly independent life. Many do stay in the dormitory, however, some of the Takarazukas who have a large fan basis, manage to fund their own apartment. This kind of independence is seen as being two-fold. They are able to be independent through the roles that they play on the stage but in addition, they are able continue this over to their lives. The boundaries between “I” and “you” begin to blur. Women in Takarazuka find it difficult to switch between the role of the male back to the female.
Ginza is still one of the most exclusive and expensive parts of Tokyo
Japanese Women are attempting to subvert the dominant ideology of inequality that is not only imposed through the founders of the Takarazuka Revue, but also through Japanese society. This exegesis comes in the form of resistance against and freedom from the constraints bound by a woman’s role in Japanese society. However their gender freedom has, like all kinds of freedom, its limitations, they may have freedom of spirit, but they are still working within the confines of their cloistered existence as the so-called ‘office angels of paradise’, where a secondary gender is assigned as they begin their professional life as a Takarazukian. This kind of negation allows a place in which they can explore the role of the woman in relation to men and society in Japan. However in actuality, it is a neutral role in which they form, a role that is neither masculine nor feminine as know in contemporary Japanese society, but either a state of Androgyny, or even more understandably a new role for Japanese women.
(In instruction the women are trained by the older Takarazukian’s on how to be ‘more western’ (Longinotto:1993), however, the contextualization of this within Japan is from the song and narrative. So all the bodily movements are part of a different world, a world that is different from the one outside. However the linguistically structural elements remain in Japan) if anyone asks any questions on this)
    Body is a form of exegesis where one can ultimately be a part, transform their gender, identity and function in the world through a form of mimesis. By mimicking the male gender, the Takarazuka are able to explore how the inequality could be different. From analysis of these roles, the actors that perform them and the fan base that support them, it is evident that these women are exploring how generally Japanese men could take more time to look to their wives, perhaps be more romantic, attentive (such as the Takarazuka performed male role) and to understand how they could be understood as a person, a more fully developed 'self', as oppose to the two dimensional persona of a ‘good wife, wise mother’.

A trailer for Kim Longinotto`s Dream Girls (excellent documentary on Takarazuka) can be found here