Takarazuka (lit. "treasure mound") is a Japanese town set against the hills of southeastern Hyogo Prefecture about midway between Osaka and Kobe. A generally upper-middle class suburb of just over 200,000 residents, Takarazuka is best known for its cross-dressing, all-female musical theatre troupe, the Takarazuka Revue. The town is also home to a very bland theme park with the equally bland name of "Family Land,"* as well as two first class Buddhist temples, the Kyoshikojin Sechoji and the Nakayamadera. There are also a host of other minor temples and shrines, as well as the ancient Takarazuka and Takedao hot springs and an Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum, dedicated to the eponymous creator of Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion (the inspiration for Disney's The Lion King).
Takarazuka can be a very nice place to live. Although not very built up (at least by Japanese standards), the town is within a short train ride of both Osaka and Kobe while still retaining a small town feel. Residents can hike in the nearby hills or stroll along the broad banks of the Mukogawa river (as with any Japanese river, swiming is not recommended due to industrial polution, but it sure looks nice). Also, unlike some of the more ritzy neighborhoods between Osaka and Kobe with their massive Western-style mansions, Takarazuka is an affordable place to live.
And now, a bit about the Takarazuka Revue Company...
Founded in 1914 by Hankyu railroad tycoon Kobayashi Ichizo to boost traffic along his new Takarazuka rail line, Takarazuka has grown from a small, seasonal theatre troupe to a 700-woman strong, five-troupe, year-round musical theatre company that tours the world, runs its own elite music school, and anually draws 2.5 million audience members to the once tiny spa-town of Takarazuka. The Company's motto is "Kiyoku, Tadashiku, Utsushiku," ("Nobly, Righteously, Beautifully"), and its five troupes are named Flower, Moon, Snow, Star, and Cosmos.
In many ways, Takarazuka is the opposite of traditional Japanese Kabuki theatre, which has all male casts and focuses on traditional Japanese stories. While in Kabuki, men dressed as women can act out typical male fantasies of how women are supposed to behave, Takarazuka's all-female cast turns the tables, portraying idealized male roles in Western-themed stories that focus on female empowerment. Not suprisingly, the company's nightly performances of musicals such as West Side Story and Cabaret and western novels such as Gone with the Wind and War and Peace have struck a chord with contemporary female audiences.
Each year, thousands of young girls apply to join the troupe at the age of 16, and the lucky few who are accepted must endure a grueling two year training program in the Takarazuka Music School to prepare themselves to live up to the high standards of the company's motto. They are expected to forsake boyfriends or marriage for the duration of their Takarazuka careers, but in return, are guarenteed the slavish adoration of their hordes of young female fans. The biggest stars of all are the otoko-yaku, the male impersonators who are the idols of women across the Kansai region and whose faces are plastered on billboard and trains throughout Osaka and Kobe, advertising every product imaginable. Nightly, hordes of young women pour into the stately Takarazuka Grand Theater on the shores of the Mukogawa (indeed, the only men seem to be the odd whipped boyfriend or husband), and lavish so many cut flowers upon their heroes that the town's shops and restaurants can sign up to receive free daily deliveries of unwanted bouquets.
* Update: Family Land closed in October, 2003 and is now being turned into a no less mediocre park.