In Osaka, I met a Japanese man who is a fan of the Takarazuka Revue. I commented that the vast majority of fans are women, and a fellow American asked what the Takarazuka Revue is. I explained that all of the performers are young women, and she (the American) was surprised that it mainly appeals to women. I talked about how, since all of the performers are female, all male characters are played by female performers, and my fellow American said she still did not understand why it does not have a large male audience.
An aside: to observe the gender ratios in Takarazuka audiences, just look at the bathrooms on the first floor of the Takarazuka Grand Theater. The women’s bathroom is huge … it has about 50 toilets … and yet there are still epic lines at intermission. The men’s bathroom is quite small, yet I never see any lines outside it.
Now, I think the American’s line of thought was 1) all of the performers are young women 2) young women = sex for straight men 3) therefore men come to enjoy the ‘sexiness’ of the young women.
This goes back to this assumption built into our culture that a young woman’s raison d’etre is to supply sex to men. If I describe a show as consisting entirely of young male performers, people generally do not assume that the audience primarily consists of straight women who want ‘sexy’ entertainment (in fact, ignoring what entertainment women are interested in is also a feature of mainstream American culture).
However, as can be demonstrated by the composition of the audience, that is not how the Takarazuka revue works. I have no doubt that some Takarazuka fans are queer women, but I also have no doubt that many are straight women.
In Japanese theatre, actresses have traditionally been forbidden, and all female roles were played by male performers. That meant that female performers could not express themselves publicly, and that female audiences could not see people of their own gender in public performances.
Granted, there are exceptions – for example, geiko and maiko sometimes put on public performances (I went to one, and I saw a lot of women in the audience, though there were also plenty of men).
But in Takarazuka, not only can women see women express themselves, but they can see women express non-femininity. This is hard to come by in Japan, particular in the relatively conservative space in which Takarazuka Revue exists. Since the Takarazuka Revue is conservative, it is ‘safe’, and it does not demand the same level of boldness as, say, radical feminism.
In other words, women can watch women step out of rigid female gender roles, with society’s blessing, even if it is just for the duration of a song and dance. I think might be part of the Takarazuka Revue’s appeal.
I know this is part of Takarazuka’s appeal to me. I appreciate the relatively low level of male gaze. As far as other reasons it appeals to me … well, that would be a subject for another post.