Takarazuka Kagekidan (The Takarazuka Revue Company), a Japanese all-woman theatrical company, was formed around 1915 as a counterpart to what had by then become all-adult-male Kabuki theatre. Kabuki was founded in the 17th century by a woman dancer, Okuni of Izumo. However, in 1629, by decree of the Tokugawa Shogunate, first all women and then all boys were banned from appearing in the plays in order to stem "disorderly conduct" and "prostitution".

The group, now consisting of about 400 members, is broken up into four troups, "Flower (hana)", "Moon (tsuki)", "Snow (yuki)", and "Star (hoshi)", which perform in rotation. The women who perform the male roles, and have much bigger fan followings, are referred to as "otokoyaku". Those who play the female roles are called "musumeyaku". Directly translated, these two terms become "male-role-player" and "daughter-role-player". All "Takarasiennes" have to have attended two years of the Takarazuka Music Academy, also founded by Kobayashi, where there is strictness in both subject matter taught and status/position within the insular society of Takarazuka.

Takarazuka's founder, Kobayashi Ichizo, had two hopes for the theatre. He was using it to provide a stepping stone for women into the new consumeristic Japan of the early 1900s: he located the theatre in a resort town situated on the Hankyu train line, which he owned, and made sure that there were plenty of shops around the station. He also wanted the theatre's pieces to, ultimately, emphasize the role of "Good Wife, Wise Mother (ryosai kenbo)" that was the state-mandated model of female behavior as codified in the national Meiji Civil Code from 1898 to 1947. It is interesting to note that, while he stressed that having women playing men's roles would not have a reverse effect than hoped, and while publicizing the idea that the otokoyaku would, in fact, make better Good Wives and Wise Mothers from having been in a man's shoes and thereby more able to anticipate his needs, he also, more subversively, publicized the otokoyaku/musumeyaku romances in order to use the erotic tension as a selling point.

Jennifer Robertson wrote a difinitive book on the subject: Takarazuka, Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan.
I have to admit that, despite the rather archaically hetero-centered story lines, I was enthralled by the glitz and kitsch, and the otokoyaku themselves, a few of which I drank with occasionally - lucky me! The musumeyaku were, as are most ultra-feminine anime females, a bit too squealy for me to listen to for any length of time.

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