Takarazuka: Sparkles, Glitter, And Women In Drag

Reon Yuzuki and Nene Yumesaki

Almost everyone knows about Japanese anime – you know, that East Asian medium that has been blasting through the West’s youth for the past few decades. You’ve probably also heard your share of Japanese pop and rock, including the visual kei that depicts heavy rocking men in long hair, heavy make-up, and sometimes Victorian dresses. You may have even seen a Japanese movie or drama, even if you didn’t know it at the time.

And let’s not forget the traditional Japanese mediums like kabuki, (which is all male, even in the female roles) and bunraku, the puppet theater. What most people who aren’t lesbians obsessed with Japan haven’t heard of is the world of all-female musical, takarazuka. 

Takarazuka has a long, long history when compared to some other modern Japanese arts. It was established in the early twentieth century by a railroad company to entice tourism to the central Japanese city Takarazuka. The idea was to hire all women to perform both female and male roles, in both classical and modern musicals, as an opposing hook to the all-male kabuki. Over the decades takarazuka musicals because so popular that the original troupe (called Flower) was gradually split into four other troupes: Moon, Snow, Star, and Cosmos, in that order. (There’s also the Supreme Troupe, featuring older actresses who have yet to retire.) Each troupe has their own general niche and “top stars” that attract fans for generations.

Besides indulging in the over-dramatic, crazy singing and dancing skills, and shooting glitter at everyone, takarazuka’s main appeal is the “otokoyaku“, or the “male” performers. Actresses (commonly called siennes) are split into either the otokoyaku or musumeyaku (female) groups early on in their training. Women in the otokoyaku group are instructed to act as manly as possible both in their professional and personal lives. Over the decades this has meant the otokoyaku have become the driving force behind takarazuka, as they offer a gendered escape from reality for both oppressed housewives and dirty-minded lesbians. (Darn, right?)

That said, the bulk of takarazuka’s fans are women: specifically, middle-aged women. It’s becoming more popular with younger women (particularly outside of Japan, thanks to the Internet) but the bread and butter of the business is still with the average everyday housewife. Many experts have tried to understand this phenomenon, but it mostly comes down to gender liberation and, well, come on. It’s hot androgynous women strutting around being fabulous. Do I really need to spell this shit out? I didn’t think so.

I’ve been a casual fan for many years, but it’s only in the past year I got to the point where I was finally learning names and caring beyond “lol they’re hot.” When creating the Ren’Ai Rensai series, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get past two novels without creating a full blown subplot involving these salacious musicals. Finally, “KATAOMOI.” introduces a takarazuka-related subplot focusing on 90’s zuka. (You better memorize the name Miki Maya right now.) It was a blast to write, and I’m kinda sad it’s over. But I can’t force Aiko to be obsessed forever. Well, I could, but it would be pretty obvious.

I will now round off this post with a clip featuring, arguably, the biggest otokoyaku and musumeyaku actresses in recent takarazuka history: Yuu Todoroki and Mari Hanafusa, respectively.