Takarazuka School For Girls Discussion (Mar 1997)


Query From Kriste Lindenmeyer KAL6444@tntech.edu 7 March 1997

I recently saw a documentary on the Takarazuka School for girls in Japan. It is a girls' school established in 1914 that still operates today. Its primary curriculum is theatre, dance and drama and the school runs a very popular theatre. It is especially popular with Japanese women.

The gender roles in this school are very interesting as the girls play both the male and female parts and the fans send "love" letters to the male leads. The girls who play the male parts are apparently even more popular than the girls who play female roles. In addition, the roles are also a part of the general education at the school--which, by the way---seems to otherwise be a very traditional education for Japanese girls. The documentary was called "Dream Girls".

Does anyone know about the history of the school or can you suggest any sources that might provide such information? Thanks.

Responses:

>From Marie Laberge 09980@UDel.edu 07 March 1997

We just viewed the film "Dream Girls" in a five week Women's History Month series, which is also a one credit course for students. As part of the class, I assigned the students an article by Jennifer Robertson, "Doing and Undoing 'Female' and 'Male' in Japan: The Takarazuka Revue", from the book _Japanese Social Organization_, ed. by Takie Sugiyama Lebra (U of Hawaii Press, 1996).

I have no idea if Robertson has written other material on the revue, but the article addresses in great detail the gender dynamics of the female performers as they are assigned a "secondary" gender for the stage, either as one of the male performers or the female performers. It also discusses the roots of the school and the founders intent that the school help train young Japanese women to be "good wives/wise mothers.' The students in my class were a bit overwhelmed by the article, but fascinated by the file, and it generated a lot of discussion, with the help of our Japanese historian, Gerald Fifal, who spoke after the film.

>From Lesley Hall Lesley_Hall@msn.com 07 March 1997

I seem to recall that there is something on this in Ian Buruma's _A Japanese Mirror_ but as I can't lay my hands on the copy of this I'm not sure how much there may be. There were a number of articles in the UK press on the Takarazuka School when the troupe performed in London some while ago (last year? year before?)

>From Candice Dias cdias@emory.edu 07 March 1997

I've seen this documentary as well, and found the gender conceptions in it very interesting. I haven't seen anything else recently related to the school, however, I did recently see a documentary called "Shinjuku Boys" about women who dress and live as men (in Japan). They work in nightclubs as "escorts", meaning they basically spend the evening keeping female customers amused.The customers are heterosexual women, who see the "escorts" as some form of ideal man. The "escorts" listen to and entertain the women--apparently men in Japanese culture fail to do (according to the customers). The "escorts" do not identify as "lesbian" ( although they may have girlfriends), referring to themselves as "onu" (I'm not sure what the English translation is). They seem to more or less resemble stone butches of (predominately) 1950s lesbian culture. I hope that the film is somewhat helpful--I would certainly be interested in further discussing the rigid constructions of gender roles in Japan.

>From Regina Lark lark@scf.usc.edu 10 March 1997

The main woman protagonist in James Michner's _Sayonara_(1954) was a Takarazuka performer named Hana-ofi. It is she whose beauty so captivates Mjr. Gruver that he dumps his caucasian, American-born girlfriend for her, along with his beliefs about "Asian girls' ugly, round-faced" features."

Throughout the book Michener continually draws comparisons between "occidental" and "oriental" images of beauty, first physically by comparing western women (and all "other" Asian women)) to the Takarazuka girls, and then emotionally, when he befriends Katsumi (the "war" bride of Joe Kelly, a private in Gruver's platoon), who shares a secret with all other Japanese women: she knows how to make her man feel important.

I would argue that this Book-Of-The-Month Club best seller did more to keep the stereotype of the pliable and sexualized Asian woman alive that any other contemporary literature written just prior to or after WWII. Going out on a limb, I would further argue that evidence of this can be found in the thriving trade of "picture bride" marriages, taking place today between (mostly) caucasian women and (mostly very young women from places like Thailand and the Philippines.

>From Rebecca L. Copeland (no e-mail address) 11 March 1997

For other sources on the Takarazuka, readers might check:

Robertson, Jennifer "Gender-bending in Paradise: Doing 'Female" and 'Male " in Japan", _Genders_no.5 (Summer 1989):50-69

Also: "The Politics of Androgyny in Japan: Sexuality and Subversion in the Theater and Beyond," _American Ethnologist_, vol.19 no.3 (Aug. 1992): 419-442.

Singer, Jane "The Dream World of the Takarazuka", _Japan Quarterly_ (April-June 1996).

According to Singer, the Takarazuka Theater was "begun in 1914 by railway mogul Kobayashi Ichizo (187301957) in a bid to revive a failing hot-spring resort at the terminus of his train." The bid worked and the Takarazuka is still a raging success.

>From Laura Driussi laura.driussi@ucop.edu 12 March 1997

Next spring, the University of California Press will publish "Takarazuka" by Jennifer Robertson, the author of the essay in the Takie Sugiyama Lebra volume. In a few months, our web site will be available, and you will be able to see more information about the book.