Takarazuka makes a move to grow fan base outside Japan

Kyodo

Amid the backdrop of a graying Japan, the all-female Takarazuka musical troupe is now looking to the nation’s rapidly growing Asian neighbors to boost its fan base.

In April, the troupe organizer will put on a show in Taiwan — its first overseas undertaking in which it will handle everything on its own, from ticket marketing to theater renting.

The Hyogo Prefecture-based organizer believes that if it can raise its profile abroad, it can attract more foreign tourists to its theaters in Japan.

The troupe, organized in 1913 by Hankyu Railway founder Ichizo Kobayashi, started as a choral group whose purpose was to lure customers to hot springs in Takarazuka, Hyogo, the final stop on the railway’s Takarazuka Main Line.

The troupe, now an affiliate of Hankyu Hanshin Holdings Inc., consists entirely of young unmarried women who have passed the Takarazuka Music School’s grueling entry exams and gone through two years of rigorous singing and dancing lessons.

It is known for romantic musicals such as “Rose of Versailles,” which is set amid the French Revolution.

The troupe — a beloved fixture in the Kansai region, whose prominence matches that of the Hanshin Tigers, a local professional baseball team and Hankyu Hanshin affiliate — has also churned out a number of extremely popular actresses, including Yuki Amami.

In fiscal 2011, its two theaters — Takarazuka Grand Theater in Hyogo and Tokyo Takarazuka Theater — together drew audiences of some 1.88 million. Total revenue, including that from performances elsewhere, came to ¥25.7 billion.

Still, audience growth has stagnated in recent years. Abroad, Takarazuka put on its first show in Europe in 1938 and performed 24 times in 17 countries often at the request of local governments. Those events were organized by local government institutions and entertainment businesses, which handled tasks such as marketing.

Takarazuka, which in 2014 will mark 100 years since its first performance, is doing the Taiwan show partly in response to an invitation. But the organizer is handling marketing and has found sponsors on its own in hopes of expanding business there in a major way in the near future.