Takarazuka, the famous professional theatrical group made up of unmarried young women, thrilled Taiwanese audiences with spectacular performances during their recent tour of Taiwan.
Although it was the third time Takarazuka’s troupes had performed in Taiwan, it was their first time to dazzle fans in the southern city of Kaohsiung.
The Secretary-General to the President of Taiwan, Chen Chu, who made it to the November 2 show in Kaohsiung where she was a mayor, showered Takarazuka with praise. She likened the group to “a national treasure,” and expressed her hope that its shows would provide opportunities for deepening cultural exchange between Taiwan and Japan.
Takarazuka’s debut performance was in 1914. It started when Ichizo Kobayashi, the founder of Hankyu, a private Kansai region railway company, created an all-girls choir. He is said to have been inspired by an all-boys choir performing in a department store.
Takarazuka became popular for its flamboyant costumes, vibrant performances of songs and dance, and actresses who play all roles, including both male and female characters.
Its members are called Takaragenne, and many of them go on to become successful actresses after leaving the group.
One of their many fans at the Taiwan performance, Eriko Watanabe, 34, said: “Takarazuka’s history goes back over a century, and should be called a Japanese traditional art. Even kabuki and bunraku were merely forms of public entertainment when they first began. It was only a matter of time before people started calling them traditional arts.”
Many of Takarazuka’s most ardent fans are women. Takarazuka fans in general are renowned for their decorous behavior.
The theater group first performed overseas in Taipei, Taiwan, in 2013. Its second Taiwan tour also performed in Taipei, in 2015. The success of the two tours led to an increase of Taiwanese fans at the Takarazuka Grand Theater near Osaka and the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater in Hibiya, the theaters where the main Takarazuka performances are held.
The recent show was the third Taiwan tour. It began on October 20 in Taipei with nine days of performances, followed by four days in Kaohsiung beginning November 2. Audiences totaling 30,000 people were entranced by the song and dance filled performances.
Thirty-nine actresses, roughly half of the Takarazuka Star Troupe (Hoshi Gumi) members, performed in the show. There are a total of five troupes, the others being Flower (Hana), Moon (Tsuki), Snow (Yuki), and Cosmos (Sora). The Star Troupe also performed the 2013 show in Taiwan.
Nine of the 39 actresses in the 2018 tour, including the top star Yuzuru Kurenai, were part of the group performing in Taiwan in that first show.
Takarazuka rarely repeats the same content in their performances. This time, there were two pieces in the program, including a musical reproduction of a puppet show, which in turn was a modern, anime-like arrangement of the traditional Taiwanese glove puppetry, Potehi.
In preparing for the show, the actresses took lessons for two months from a Taiwanese singer living in Kobe.
They sang two songs in Mandarin. They also sang the classic Taiwanese song, “Bāng Chhun-hong,” in the Taiwanese language, Hokkien. The lyrics of Japanese songs were displayed in Mandarin on screens off to the side of the stage.
During the intermission, Yuzuru Kurenai, the top otokoyaku (male-role actress) and star of the group, interacted with the crowd by hosting a quiz in Mandarin, while acting as a female fan called Beniko.
In Japan, cheering is prohibited, and applauding is restricted during Takarazuka performances. However, those rules don’t apply to the shows in Taiwan. This allowed local and Japanese fans to cheer and clap to their hearts’ content.
Asked how she felt about the audience’s reaction, Yuzuru Kurenai said: “Hearing the audience’s response so directly is a new experience for me. It feels like the audience is part of the show, rather than simply watching us act.”
The group’s first performance in Taiwan in 2013 was intended in part to convey gratitude for the large donations Taiwan sent to Japan as aid to help recovery from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
On November 2, the first day of their show in Kaohsiung, Chen Chu, the Secretary-General to President and the former mayor of the city, visited the theater and presented a bouquet to Yuzuru Kurenai and the top musumeyaku (female-role actress) Airi Kisaki.
Recognizing that the show was supported by the Japanese government, Chen declared: “Takarazuka is an important part of Japanese culture, just like a national treasure, and it is rare to see their shows overseas. I hope there will be more cultural exchanges between Taiwan and Japan from now on.”
Author: Yasuto Tanaka