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She's the Ideal Man in Japan

Actresses of the Takarazuka Revue give women audiences the suave, romantic male missing in real life. In return, fans shower them with gifts and devotion.


TOKYO — It's a sweltering Wednesday morning outside a theater in the posh Ginza district. Hundreds of women line the sidewalk holding flowers, cameras and fan letters.

A shorthaired woman in a baseball cap and sunglasses alights from a cab and cuts through the crowd. Instamatics flash, video cameras roll and fans scurry behind her. Schoolgirls, housewives and grandmothers swoon.

"Oh, she's so handsome," sighs one elderly woman, clutching her handkerchief.

The object of all the sensation is Fubuki Takane, the newest star of the visiting Takarazuka Revue. Founded in 1914 in a small town in western Japan, the revue is the country's oldest--and only surviving--female musical-theater troupe. Its shows are a glitzy blend of Liberace, Radio City, Vegas and Broadway, with women playing both male and female roles.

The suave otoko-yaku, or women playing men, with their shiny pompadours, huge painted eyes and perfectly painted lips, are the Takarazuka trademark--a romantic female ideal of the perfect man. In the troupe's sentimental musicals, otoko-yaku treat their women as real men rarely do in Japan: They woo them, tango with them and cradle them in their arms as they sing in manly baritones of their undying love.

Even more spectacular, perhaps, than the 370 women of the revue are the fans--an audience averaging 2.5 million a year, 95% female. The Takarasienne, as the performers are known, have charmed generations.

The obsessed fans often travel from distant provinces to the two revue theaters--in Tokyo and in Takarazuka, about 10 miles north of Osaka--to see shows dozens of times. They wait for hours before and after a performance so they can fawn over the stars.

Some love the androgynous exoticism of the otoko-yaku; others long for real men who are just as romantic. "We think this is the most beautiful thing in the world," gushes Tomomi Ohashi, a 25-year-old office worker, outside the theater in Takarazuka. She awoke at 6 a.m. and traveled two hours by train from Nagoya to greet her favorite star before morning rehearsal--the ninth time in one month.

The troupe, whose name means "treasure mound," was the brainchild of Hankyu Corp. railroad entrepreneur Ichizo Kobayashi. He thought of an all-female opera chorus as an answer to his financial woes; it would compete with his main business rival's all-male chorus and, he hoped, be a commercially viable alternative to Japan's ancient, all-male Kabuki theater.

According to his memoirs, "Takarazuka jottings," Kobayashi conceived of the otoko-yaku as actresses who would be "more suave, more affectionate, more courageous, more charming, more handsome and more fascinating than a real male."

In those days, the theater world was considered risque and slightly immoral, and there was no place to train female thespians, so Kobayashi founded the Takarazuka Music School in western Japan. The town that grew around it and is named for the troupe includes a theater complex, an amusement park, hotels, shops and cafes.

Schooled in Graces

Kobayashi's short-term goal was entertainment; the long-term goal of the school was, in keeping with Japan's turn-of-the-century Meiji Civil Code, to create "good wives and wise mothers." That was 82 years ago, but little has changed.

In the immaculate entrance hall of the ivy-covered school hangs a plaque with the school motto: "Modesty, purity and grace."

Upstairs in his spartan office, Principal Yoshiki Terai, a former hotel manager, articulates the school's philosophy.

"Japan is changing. But the fact remains that the most important thing for a woman is to be a good wife and a wise mother," he says. "That is the purpose of a girls' school, and that is the purpose of Takarazuka."

The administration, staffed almost completely by men, notes with pride that Takarazuka women are considered prize catches, otoko-yaku the best catches of all. (Women must quit if they marry.)

Entrance to the Takarazuka school is highly competitive--only 40 women out of about 1,600 applicants are accepted each spring.

The students take lessons in tap-dancing, ballet, voice and traditional Japanese dancing, as well as in the tea ceremony. They are subjected to a grueling schedule that, for the first year, begins at 6 a.m. daily with two hours of cleaning. Part of the drill is using tape to pick up dust from every square inch of the school's three floors.

The system resembles the military--and the staff is flattered at the comparison, noting that local members of Japan's Self-Defense Forces train the girls and women in discipline, marching and military carriage during their first spring.

Although hierarchy plays some role in most Japanese schools, the differentiation between upperclassmen and newcomers is carried to an extreme at Takarazuka. First-year enrollees endure the kind of bullying imposed on plebes at U.S. military academies. This stratification is considered appropriate training for Japan's group-oriented society.

Stage Training

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