Three years after World War II ended, my grandmother's friend told her she should apply to join the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female musical theater troupe that was established in the city of Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, in 1913.

Founder Ichizo Kobayashi is said to have believed Broadway-style productions would be the way of the future, and Takarazuka soon grew in popularity — especially among women. My grandmother decided to try out for it despite never having taken any music or dance classes. The audition process was and is notoriously difficult, but she passed. Her name was changed from Junko Matsumoto to Chihiro Oumi as she began her freshman year.

One of the smaller students, she befriended the equally diminutive Hizuru Takachiho, who went on to become a successful actress. Since they were the smallest, they would be positioned on opposite ends of the chorus line, kicking and dancing through performances.