Review: Cherry Blossoms, Sushi and Takarazuka – Seven Years in Japan

 Cherry Blossoms, Sushi and Takarazuka: Seven Years in Japan  by Jill Rutherford 

Published by Silverwood Press

RATING: 5 STARS

CherryBlossomSushi     Jill Rutherford’s memoir, Cherry Blossoms, Sushi and Takarazuka – Seven Years in Japan, takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of her experiences living in Japan. The idea of going to Japan began after Jill saw a short TV ad  about cultural oddities in the world. The Takarazuka Theater Company, an “over the top” Japanese all-female  group was the featured show. Jill loved the performance.  A few weeks later, her friend Jan spotted a newspaper ad about the upcoming shows of The Takazrazuka Theatre Company playing in London. Serendipity?  After seeing the Theatre group live, Jill was hooked on Takarazuka and this served as a catalyst for her to eventually cash in her life’s savings(!) to travel to Japan.

Jill persuades Jan to travel along with her and details their experiences of living in Japan as ESL instructors, stories of Japanese culture, matchmakers, women’s roles in Japan, Takarazuka and the dedicated fan clubs of Takarazuka.
I’ve never heard of Takarazuka. The Takarazuka Revue is an all-female musical theater company based in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, near Osaka and Kobe. Women play all the roles in stylized, super-melodramatic productions such as of Gone with the Wind and Guys and Dolls. Owned by Hanku Railroad, it was founded in 1913 by Ichizo Kobayashi, a struggling railroad businessman who thought an all-female revue would draw customers to his railroad line and a new resort he opened a the end of the line. (1)

     The specialty of the Takarazuka Revue is that all the actresses are young, almost teenage girls.  This was a novelty when the theatre was founded in 1913. (2)  All of Japan’s classical forms of theater are strictly male-dominated. Takarazuka turned the roles upside down when young, pretty girls with low voices appeared in the male roles. In this sense, the Takarazuka tradition can be compared with the Chinese yue opera, which evolved in the Shanghai region at the same time. Since the 1920s both forms have attracted huge, mainly female audiences. Because it’s so melodramatic, Either you’ll love it or hate it. I like the costumes and dancing more than the singing –  sometimes the high pitch of the voices are too much for my ears.

    When I first saw the book excerpt, I didn’t think much of it. I thought it might be a bore. Two middle-aged ladies taking off to Japan to follow their dreams? Yet, once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. Jill writes the memoir from the first person point of view, and her honest observations and experiences make this a unique memoir.  Highly recommend it for someone who enjoys Japanese culture, theatre or someone taking a leap of faith to follow their dreams.

Good Websites and Sources: Takarazuka Review kageki.hankyu.co.jp ; English Site kageki.hankyu.co ; Revue Sphere shoujo.tripod.com/takara ; Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ;

Netgalley provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Sources:

1. Hilary E. MacGregor, Los Angeles Times

2. Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theater Academy Helsinki

Websites:  Takarazuka Review kageki.hankyu.co.jp 

English Site kageki.hankyu.co 

Revue Sphere   shoujo.tripod.com/takara

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