Interview with Former Takararisienne Ako Dachs

July 17th, 2016

5e21f6b27399e70f17b225223aef2ff6_400x400Welcome to the beginning of Takarazuka Week here on Okazu! We’re starting off with something extremely exciting – an interview with former Takarasienne, Ako Dachs.

Ms. Dachs performed in Takarazuka under the name Natsumi Youko in Moon Troupe. She’s now living in New York, still working as a performer on TV,  movies and stage.  I’m excited as I can be to welcome her here to Okazu!

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1. Why did you want to join Takarazuka?
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My mother and grandmother were fans of Takarazuka and they took me to see it when I was very young. I was attracted by it immediately, and when I was ten years old I decided that I was determined to be a part of that company when I was old enough.

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2. What is your favorite memory from your time at Takarazuka? What show was your favorite to perform in?

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The favorite memory is when I was in my second year on stage with the company and had just started as an apprentice in Moon troop. There was an audition for the musical Oklahoma, and Ms. Gemze De Lappe, who had played a role called ‘a girl’ in the original production came to direct us. Ms. De Lappe wanted me to play Ado Annie, but Takarazuka had already chosen a star to play that role, so she gave me the role that she had played. I loved performing in that show, and I later became a featured singer and actress in the company.

But there were some other experiences that stood out: in two major productions I sang songs while legendary performers danced; Ms. Yachiyo Kasugano in Matoi Okesa, and Ms. Otome Amatsu in Ibaragi Doji My last show for Takarazuka was Goodbye Madeleine and the writer/director Mr. Shibata wrote a wonderful role for me.

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3. In your opinion, has there been any visible change in the way otokoyaku and musumeyaku roles are performed?

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Yes. Obviously the taller girls play otokoyaku – men’s roles, and in the last 30 years Japanese girls have become much taller, and that makes otokoyaku more handsome and attractive.

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4. What, if any, changes have you seen in Takarazuka fandom?

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These days Takarazuka fans seem to be more highly organized and disciplined than when I was there. I think it used to be a little less extreme, and very friendly and supportive. I’m still in touch with some of my fans from those days.

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5.What do you think of of overseas fandom? Is it different or the same? Are non-Japanese fans looking for the same things as Japanese fans, or completely different things?

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I know several Takarazuka fans in New York, and they seem to be much more subdued than some of the extreme fans I’ve seen in Japan. They are very supportive of those of us that have come here that they remember from Takarazuka even a long time ago.

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6) What is the secret to Takarazuka’s popularity in Japan and overseas? Have there been any changes in the way Japan relates to it?

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Takarazuka is, in a way, a mirror image of Kabuki in which men play all the roles, including the women’s roles, and the men who play women are the biggest stars. In Takarazuka women play all the roles, including the men’s roles and the women who play men are the biggest stars. Kabuki has 400 years of history in Japan, and the men who play women’s roles have inherited a long tradition of how to move, how to speak, and how to behave which is passed down from star to star over the centuries. In Takarazuka, which only has 100 years of history and a much more contemporary repertoire, the technique for the ‘Otokoyaku’ (the women who play men) is also inherited and developed by star after star. You need years of strict training and apprenticeship to work in both these traditions.

In both cases one gender is portraying a kind of idealized version of the other. I think this one of the most fascinating things about both these forms, and Takarazuka in particular – learning what men think the ideal woman is in Kabuki, or seeing women portray their ideal man in Takarazuka. Its no accident that so many women and girls wait in the huge crowds of fans to see their favorite performers after a show – they are attracted to them and sort of have crushes on them because they do represent a Japanese ideal of male beauty and gentlemanly behavior. We’re so used to seeing women through men’s eyes in this world, its refreshing to see men through women’s eyes for a change!

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Thank you very much for your time! This was fantastic.

Takarazuka will be performing Chicago at Lincoln Center this week. Tickets are still available for shows at the Lincoln Center box office, so get yours and experience the fantasy and glamour of Takarazuka for yourself!

Thanks to the folks at Lincoln Center and May Young for making this interview possible.

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11 Responses

  1. Mudakun says:

    “”Takarazuka will be performing Chicago at Lincoln Center this week. Tickets are still available for shows at the Lincoln Center box office, so get yours and experience the fantasy and glamour of Takarazuka for yourself!””

    I would drive to New York for this if I were not on a gig right now. Tickets for a Taka show in Japan, in Tokyo are notoriously hard to score, especially for outlanders. They sell out months in advance and then re-appear on Yahoo Japan – of which outlanders will have loads of impossibilities with (no, most seller will not ship out of Japan, no JP bank acct? sorry no bids over equiv $50, etc) And then there are the tour co.’s/ official resellers – their prices will induce heart attacks.

    Whatever the LC wants for the tix, it will still be a bargain. Sooooo Envious!

    The Takarazuka are worth it. I was enchanted (and I don’t have functional Japanese – It still was amazing !!!!)

    I wish them and their run in NY massive appropriate non-theatre- people- tradition- proscribed wishes!

  2. Mariko says:

    Maybe (probably) she would not have answered questions like this, but I would have been interested to hear her answers to some topical questions about sexuality. To what extent is otokoyaku/musumeyaku reflective of gender or sexual identity, or is it purely an acting exercise? Do stars ever have secret relationships with each other, or get together after they retire? What about fans – how often do they run across women who want something more than to be a face in the fan club? Does she see the potential for a Takarazuka performance with something to say on the topic of homosexuality or is that too risky? Is there the same kind of overlap between Takarazuka fans and yuri fans in Japan as there is overseas?

    I saw a Takarazuka performance when I studied abroad in Nagoya. I went alone because I didn’t know anyone else who would want to go. I have no idea what company it was, who starred in it, or what they performed, and I certainly got plenty of looks for being the gigantic gaijin who didn’t have a clue, but I loved soaking in performance spectacle all the same!

    • There is no way I would have even asked about that. It’s intrusive and they do not speak about such matters. Who would? Would you go on record speaking about your coworkers’ sexuality?

      You need to just assume that, like every other career path, most of the folks are straight and a few are not. There’s no logical reason to assume that Takarazuka is any different.

      • Mariko says:

        That’s what I figured – even in retirement, Japanese performers would probably “respect the system” too much to say anything off-point. However, I do think it wouldn’t be shocking (at least for an American star) to have to field a question or two about sexuality (and how it pertains to your profession) when being interviewed by a gay media outlet. There’s presumably some connection there which prompted the interview in the first place.

        Particularly now with all of the new, slowly emerging developments for gay rights in Japan, that perspective would be interesting and maybe even influential. If not about the performers, then at least the institution of Takarazuka itself. I didn’t really mean it as a prying kind of thing (having seen over the years that, for the most part, Japanese performers and content creators rarely say anything too radical in interviews.)

        • I still think it’s creepy to ask a person about someone else’s sexuality. I know American press does that. It’s icky when they do it, too. Sexuality isn’t the issue here, gender is.

          And as strong as rumors are, they can still not mean anything. There was a Top Star couple that was widely rumored to be partners, but who both left the group, got married had kids and moved on. So “sexuality” may not be relevant to relationship.

          Japan is a good generation behind the US in understanding sexuality and gender, but they have this long history if androgyny and gender-bending. It makes for a non-analogous understanding of things. And Ms. Dachs is retired, so of a different world. It’s like asking your mom if she worked with gay people. Yes, you could, but it could also be really awkward if your mom wasn’t cool with gay people, kind of thing.

          I predict a openly gay Takarazuka couple in my lifetime, but not anytime soon.

          • Takarazuka fan says:

            Hello to both of you,
            Please allow me to apologize first for interrupting the conversation.

            I would like to point out few things about Takarazuka and the whole sexuality debate.

            Here is the thing, Takarazuka is a small society, and as such it most likely has its fair share of LGBT+ members. The same goes for the fandom too. I personally am an Asexual fan, who is mostly artistically, and secondly aesthetically attracted to the Revue and its members.

            But at the end of the day sexual orientation is irrelevant, simply because, it’s just a job for them, and entertainment for us fans. As simple as that.

            Now the fandom and its ways might seem strange and maybe even romantic in nature, but for most fans the feeling is parental. We pick a young girl from her first years on stage and we aid her and support her to stardom until her last days on the Takarazuka stage.
            The only person who saw that affection as sexual and labeled it as such was Robertson in her book about Takarazuka. Sadly this book is popular and probably the first read most English speaking fans have, and results in all those misconceptions about Takarazuka being a secret cavern of all the gays in Japan or something, which is, I’m sorry to say, out right ridiculous…

            Takarazuka has nothing to hide, they have an image to uphold, that of the dream world. The girls are not allowed to be seen with men in public, and talk about their private affairs whatever they are. That being said there are former members who had said in interviews that even though it was a rule, they still had walked out of a guy’s apartment. Another former member was actually asked on TV about the whole “what about the gays” and she said, “there are rumours around, but I like men”.

            There is a single out and about former member of the revue, she is actually an LGBT+ activist even, she married her wife in Tokyo DisneyLand and she was the first to sign the Shibuya samesex partnership certs. You probably have heard of her.

            There are former members who attended the Pride this year, they are supportive of LBGT+ matters, and even the city of Takarazuka issues the same sex partnership certs since June 1st this year.

            Then again all these are still irrelevant, because it’s just a theatre company that runs glorious performances. I don’t see people asking about kabuki’s performers sexual orientation. And people never questioned the Shakespearean theatre. Yet somehow Takarazuka is treated as if it is any different, just because Women are involved in it.

            To conclude with this, I would like to point out that Takarazuka traditionally, has been including gay characters in their plays ever so often.

            Notable examples are:
            -Nijinski, where the lead role of Nijinski and his (male)manager were in love, they even included a chastise kissing scene.
            -Nova Bossa Nova, Madame X is a secondary character, who is shown as only interested in women. In fact, 2 of the main characters had to dress up as women so to get their way. (it was about stealing a necklace)
            -Oceans 11, an original character was created as both a person of colour and gay, his main love interest was one of the lead roles who was changed (from the original movie) to also be gay.
            -Several effeminate gay men, have been included in many other plays. To be honest in every 2 or 3 plays there is at least one gay man. Gay women are not as frequent, though if we count Rosalie from Berubara, and the times this play has been done, it does grow a bit.

            Now if we go to the Revue part of the shows, they mostly have a main theme of S man and S woman(they are above the Alphas). While the S man and woman end up together in the end, prior to that they go on a journey to “find” each other. In that journey EVERYONE (both men and women) are attracted and infatuated by the S man and woman. Every single revue has the S man being touched sensually, and glorified by other men. The same goes for the S woman. The S also responds to the touch by touching the hands that roam all over. There is practically homoeroticism in every single revue.

            I apologize for the very long comment, I hope this clears some things up about Takarazuka and its dynamics.
            At the end of the day, it is only another theatrical troupe, and all they want is to be seen as one, and not having people asking them inappropriate question about sexual orientations of its members and what anyone is doing in the privacy of their house.
            It is highly disrespectful to assume, let alone label them into anything sexual.

            Dear Erica I agree with your stance in the matter of such questions, and also thank you for this wonderful interview.

            A Takarazuka Fan.

          • Mariko says:

            Thank you, Takarazuka Fan, for your detailed and enlightening post. It was very interesting to read.

            Of course I would not want to ask prying or disrespectful questions, and as Erica pointed out to me the generation of the interviewee might make that even a bit more awkward. Perhaps I wasn’t clear but I wasn’t thinking about “gossip” so much as whether playing a role like this is possibly an important piece of identity expression for some actresses (as it is not common in the US) in a society that still makes it difficult to be openly LGBT. Also, to what extent Takarazuka itself could be a positive force for normalization. Again, in America when being interviewed by a gay publication some questions to that end would not be seen as inappropriate. However, I certainly understand and respect the cultural differences and Erica’s judgment to ask the questions she feels comfortable with. I just wanted to express a curiosity and you have actually answered many of my questions yourself!

            For what it’s worth, *I* would be interested in the same answers from Kabuki performers and the comparison of the two. I find the cultural presence of such outlets for positive gender/sexual fluidity (found in yuri and BL as well) contrasted with the still lagging societal change to be a fascinating area for debate and discussion.

      • Will says:

        Also from what I understand even if that was the case, a lot of the women don’t make a habit of broadcasting their personal lives anyway. A year or two ago I remembered reading something about a retired otokoyaku mentioning that she had a girlfriend on social media, and a lot of the people I saw from Japan were commenting on how rare that was.

  3. Will says:

    Really enlightening. Thank you for the read!

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