Takarazuka and Mizu Natsuki
- Retire of a top star from girls' revue troupe

The roles Mizu Natsuki played as top star of Snow Troupe (From her farewell card)

The flyer of her last performance "Roget".
The Takarazuka Revue was established in 1914 as the first girls' performing company in Japan and is the most popular and successful among similar groups. Only unmarried women are members of the troupe and play both male and female roles (*). This particular character of the troupe, together with its founding motto "modesty, fairness and grace", was the target of sneering criticism, when Takarazuka made its second performance in Berlin in the year 2000 (**).
This style is in a way the revival of the female Kabuki which was banned in 1629.
The first overseas performance of Takarazuka in 1938. Takarazuka started its tour in Berlin and visited 26 places in Germany, Poland and Italy. Takarazuka girls had difficult experiences in Berlin including Kristallnacht.
The official web-site of the Takarazuka Revue Company explains its system and activities in detail and the article of Wikipedia makes a comprehensive introduction to the Takarazuka Revue. Therefore, I do not want to try to make here an insufficient sketch of the company, but to explain as a rare male fan of Takarazuka my personal observations of Takarazuka, because the Takarazuka Revue is visited mostly by very enthusiastic female spectators. The Takarazuka Revue is by and large performed by women for women, though the management is patriarchic. Therefore, it is rather awkward and embarrassing for men to go and see the Revue. However, if we look back the history of the Takarazuka Revue, this was not the case at the beginning.

The Takarazuka Revue was established by a private railway company Hankyu as a tool to attract visitors to the newly opened spa resort. An entertainment troupe consisting of only girls in their early teens was created as novelty in contrast to the then popular boys' music groups or Kabuki theatre. There was also a piece of brave idea to create a new Japanese opera as a revolution of the traditional Japanese opera, namely Kabuki.

However, commercial considerations superseded the artistic ambition when Paris style revue show was successfully introduced in the 1920s. Following this change of the character of Takarazuka opera, the particular style of "otoko-yaku" took shape and otoko-yaku's presentation of "ideal guy" started to attract female spectators. The popularity of girls' troupes gradually declined in the 1960s when popular entertainment increased its variety and availability. While other girls' troupes such as SKD lost their supporters and finally broke up, Takarazuka was saved by "The Roses of Versailles" (1974), which was originally written as girls' manga by Riyoko Ikeda. The Takarazuka Revue experienced a new flourishing period.

Fans in front of Tokyo Takarazuka Theatre before the performance begin - Admission fee are reasonable, though they were raised recently . Spectators put on rather ordinary cloths, which, I feel, is in sharp contrast with classical opera performances.

A greeting card from Mizu Natsuki. The text says "I would like to engrave the last summmer on my heart. I wish you a splendid summer experience! "
The management of Hankyu is wise enough to keep the business flourishing. Performers of Takarazuka are all trained in its own school and Hankyu does not have to pay much money even for star performers. It has five performing groups which compete with each other in getting the favor of fans. Programs are planned to feature star actresses and stars are regularly changed with younger ones. The relations between fans and performers are strictly regulated both officially and unofficially, starting from the organization of fan clubs, the order of greeting actresses after performance to the way of applause during the performance. Some odd regulations might keep ordinary people away from Takarazuka, but they have created and nurtured loyal fans.

I am one of the very few male spectators at Takarazuka performances as I mentioned before. I often have to answer questions by friends who suspect why I visit Takarazuka. The answer is simple. I have two reasons. First, I adored Takarazuka since my childhood as a symbol of luxury urban life. Second, Mizu Natsuki, a very popular Snow Troupe top star, happens to have graduated from the same junior high school.

When I was a child, I was taken to a Takarazuka performance by the family of a cousin and fascinated by its lavish stage. From that time, Takarazuka became a sort of symbol of elegant and lavish urban life for me, together with the newly opened Shibuya underground shopping mall, strawberry shortcake of Matterhorn confectionery at Gakugeidaigaku Toyoko line station and a TV show program "Shabondama Holiday" with its stars The Peanuts. My hometown is Chiba and it is nowadays not much different from Tokyo in terms of consumption life. However, shortly after WWII when I was child an unmistakable provincial atmosphere dominated the life in Chiba including the paddy fields which surrounded my parents' house. The urbanity of Tokyo and the glittering stage of Takarazuka existed in a different world.

After many decades, I happened to have my second Takarazuka experience in Berlin in the year 2000. I was again fascinated by the Takarazuka Company, though the program in Berlin spared the usual musical performance and concentrated on the revue in particular in the exotic Japanese style dances. The troupe was warmly accepted by German spectators in Friedrichstadtpalast, though I guess that most of them did not know what they saw, because the majority were package tour guests and the visit of revue was a part of their sightseeing program for Berlin.

Greeting to the spectators at the end of the Berlin performance. Mizu Natsuki is the second from right.

At a party after the first day performance. After 10 years, only Mizu Natsuki remains in the Takrazuka and she will leave the company after the present program.
Some local papers published cynical reports about the young "virgins". They argued that the motto of Takarazuka "Modesty, Fairness and Grace" reminded them a Nazi propaganda. The fact that all performers are unmarried women seemed to have made journalists feel suspicious about the relations among them. The fact that the overwhelming majority of spectators and fans are women made them all the more suspicious, I presume. They might have thought that the subdued Japanese women could not fulfill their dream in this world where men dominant and took refuge in such a sweet and sentimental dream world. I do not think that this critic hit the mark. It seems to me that there is a fundamental difference between the Western, in particular German culture and the Japanese culture concerning the meaning of body and sexuality.

Anyhow, I met Mizu Natsuki-san for the first time in Berlin. A high-school classmate informed me beforehand that I had to see her absolutely. The Berlin performance was done by a selected team and many of its members became later top stars.

Mizu Natsuki became top star of Snow Troup in February 2007 and kept her position till now. She represents a unique type of dandy, which has not existed in Takarazuka before. It was convincing that she chose one of the most popular numbers "Elisabeth" for her debute program as top star and performed "Tod" who symbolizes death and fatal passion. If a color is used to express her characteristic, it should be black. The roles she plays are not such as knight in shining armor, but more realistic man who suffers from the injustice of this world and nevertheless is determined to realize his ideal. Not a simplistic story of sweet love affairs is described. When love is handled, it is always between man and woman who both dedicate themselves to their own ideal.

Her talent for dancing was recognized already when she was young. Her performance well expresses her personal character as I explained before and this fascinated many fans. She then improved her weak point - singing. So, it was no wonder that she could serve for three and half years as top otoko-yaku star. At the ending of her career in Takarazuka I would like to send my applause and appreciation to her and wish her a fruitful second life.