Dazzling, unapologetically flamboyant, aspirational. I marveled at the unusual atmosphere of Takarazuka City, atypical of the modern urbanscapes you often witness in Japan.
A drove of exultant ladies of preened attires walked side by side down the “Hana-no-Michi” (Flower Street), beaming with excitement.
Oh, that’s right. They must have just had a fantastic time over at Takarazuka Revue.
If you haven’t already heard, Takarazuka Revue is the limelight, the center piece of Takarazuka City of Hyogo Prefecture. It is one of the few all-female theater troupes in the world, where women play the roles of both genders, putting together an entertaining, melodramatic show of elaborated dance choreography, enchanting singing in the most lavish costumes. Think of it as Japan’s own version of Broadway musical.
The unparalleled quality of the performers is illustrated from just how tough the competition is for young teenage girls to get a spot into Takarazuka Music School, a vocational school famous for its arduous strictness in training, but a prerequisite gateway to future stardom for aspiring young girls. It is truly a dream come true for both the blossoming graduates and admirers alike to enter the opulent hall of Takarazuka Revue.
Interestingly, the majority (some estimate a whopping 90%!) audience are female, evidently so when I witnessed the group of ladies walking out of Takarazuka Revue.
Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum
More dreams, especial childhood dreams, are to be fulfilled right here in Takarazuka if you happen to be a fan of Osamu Tezuka, one of the manga pioneers who have gained international fame with works like Astro Boy, Black Jack and Phoenix.
The Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum sparks nostalgia if you grew up with Tezuka’s manga. Relive your childhood fantasy and feel Tezuka’s unique world view through precious exhibitions of his works and get lost in time at the library that houses all his works in multiple languages. The biggest surprise came when I found a series of Tezuka’s books in Braille. It goes to show just how much thoughts the author had put into share his views with just anyone in the world, regardless of differences.
You can even create your own animation while looking at the desk on which Tezuka drew his manga works, a dream realized for many of Tezuka’s fans.
Kiyoshikojin Seichoji Temple
Aside from the contemporary glamor, Takarazuka does offer alternate allures for those who are after historical charm and peaceful walks. The Kiyoshikojin Seichoji Temple, or affectionate called “Kojin San” in the Kansai region, grants a different kind of wish for visitors. Founded in 896 in the early Heian Period by a Buddhist priest, one can see how the temple is an epitome of “Shinbutsu Shugo”—syncretic faith of Buddhism and Shintoism, evident in the temple structures where temple halls and torii gates are erected side by side in harmony.
The main deity enshrined here is the “god of fire and kitchen”, as fire has played an important role in the daily lives of olden families—a good kitchen means a well-fed family, which signifies prosperity. You can also spot ema (wooden plaques) with wishes written on them, often for passing the test to enter Takarazuka Music School!
Here’s a “power spot” in the temple you should not miss if you are looking for monetary luck: the sacred Sakaki Tree. Sakaki, or Japanese Cleyera, is an evergreen shrub considered divine in Shintoism. I found coins scattered all around the fenced-up tree, but instead of making an offering during prayers, I was told that visitors take a coin here and make a wish, usually for financial gains. And when their wish is granted, they come back and offer double the amount they took! So I took a five yen coin and kept it in my wallet. Hopefully the next time I return, I can contribute back ten. Pretty good investment strategy, if you ask me!
As beautiful and healing as the sacred temple grounds is, the highlight for me was actually “Tatsu no Michi” (path of dragon), a 1.5km sloping approach from Hankyu Kiyoshikojin Station leading up to the temple grounds dotted with about 100 souvenir stores, traditional eateries and stylish cafes. The serene landscape makes it a good stroll for those with extra time to spare.
If you have been to Japan before, you may have noticed the ubiqutous “Wilkinson Tansan“, a strong carbonated soda water found in convenient stores all over Japan. The birth place of this bubbly drink is right here in Takarazuka, when a gentleman named Wilkinson stumbled upon a natural carbonated spring near the source of Takarazuka Onsen back in 1889.
If you are feeling peckish, drop by Sandwich Le Mans for your sandwich-to-go, stuffed with an impressive array of hearty fillings. In fact, you can then hop over next door to Tarakazuka Milk to dine in, talk about good neighbors! Don’t forget to order a wholesome bottle of non-homogenize, low temperature pasteurized milk and other sweet dairy treats.
Bonus for Takarazuka Revue fans: feel free to drool over the delicious posters of dizzying stars on the wall.
Takarazuka Hotel is an excellent choice of stay for those who can’t get enough of their favorite musical troupes. Featuring a stunning revue-themed interior, this accommodation gives the easiest access to the Takarazuka Grand Theater, and is also a short walk away from the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum.
Indulge yourself in a generous traditional Japanese course meal at Iroha, served with plenty of seasonal ingredients and heart-warming hospitality. Don’t forget to try out Takarazuka Highball—an interesting cocktail mix of whiskey, Wilkinson soda and a hint of floral liquor.
Have your dreams come true, come to Takarazuka City to experience its fine cultures!
Access to Takarazuka City:
There are multiple ways to access from various cities, but the easiest access is a 25 minutes train ride on the JR Takarazuka Line from Osaka Station.
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