Last Updated: May 26th, 2011
by Ōura Mizuki
Translator's Notes: This is a translation of love, but also of spare-time, so it is a rough translation, no doubt prone to mistakes.
I have put rather blurry copies of some of the photos from the book here, but for the hundreds of others, I really recomend getting a copy of the book. It's quite worth it!
The (?) and other various odd punctuation is all Ōura Mizuki's own.
1 ~*~ The Day of Fate
The spring holiday before I entered junior high.
In those days, my father would receive tickets to Takarazuka from the Yomiuri Newspaper, whom he wrote drama critiques for. Up to that point I had seen Takarazuka performances twice, but had gone on without becoming any more interested. And yet, I must have felt something when I heard my father talk about those tickets, because I jumped so high in pleasure that I hit my head on the lintel.
--I'm the type to jump in joy; how many times did I hit my head on the lintel in my family's house?--
I held on to those tickets and eagerly waited for the day.
But, I was over-excited. I developed a fever and spent the day sleeping.... This was also very like me. It's often seen in children, but I always developed a fever when it was Sports Day or a School Arts Festival.
My every thought was focused: I MUST see Takarazuka. I begged my mother and she bought me tickets for another day, and this time I went safely with my older sister to the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater.
The lights in the house dimmed, and just at the moment that the performance began I had hearts in my eyes and I was rooted on the stage. The entire time I watched, it felt as if electricity was running through my body.
The work Takarazuka was doing then was a two-show performance of "Red Flowers Fall in Menam" and "Hollywood Musical", a March performance by Flower Troupe.
"Menam" was a musical, a tale about Yamada Nagamaki's exile to Siam, where he fell in love and became entangled in politics.
I don't remember the threads of the story so well, but Kasugano Yachiyo-san made a guest appearance as Yamada Nagamaki, and was utterly beautiful, and Gou Chigusa-san was then making her rise (she would later become the top star of Snow Troupe), so that the impression was of dazzling light, as if from a shining star.
"Hollywood Musical" was in the American show style, and the teeeerrifying choreographer Paddy Stone visited Japan, and he decided who would appear in every scene by audition, so it was an amazing work.
It also had a special guest appearance, of Maho Shibuki-san, who was dynamic in singing and dancing. Of course, Gou-san also shone. I presume it was titled Hollywood Musical because perhaps all of the music was from Hollywood films. I think so because I knew most of the songs.
In any case, no matter the scene, they all overflowed with song and dance, from one to the next, with the people constantly changing, and it felt as if the gloriousness and twinkling lights was all too much.
When I think back on it now, both works were A-class Takarazuka pieces.
Now, as I write it out coolly in words, how can I write about the degree of excitement I felt when I saw them? To speak plainly, the night I saw the Revue, I had an upset stomach. And of my emotions that I had then, they were raised to the highest degree of excitement. I had only experienced that highest pitch once before. That was when I saw the movie "West Side Story". That day I watched the movie through twice, and because of the air conditioning I got stomach cramps. --More than in words, so to speak, my emotions are expressed through my body.--
A world of dreams I had never known before, Takarazuka. And, along with the excitement I savored, when the curtain came down after the finale I felt a desolation, like waking from a dream. I wanted to always be immersed in that dream. How to continue in the dream forever? Only by standing on that stage!
I sensed that I had seen my own brilliant future. God, Buddha, my grandfather and grandmother who had passed away, Lady Luck; that was a day they were all smiling down on me, and no mistake.
There was no other path for me.
I had decided.
"I will enter Takarazuka!"
2 ~*~ Father's Opposition
From that day on, from when I woke up in the morning until I went to bed at night, I couldn't get Takarazuka out of my head. My parents understood my nature, easy to catch a fever or a chill, and so didn't give my feelings much credence. They felt, "Ah, she'll give it up eventually." But, finally beaten down by my persistence, my mother was the first to accede. At any rate, although frightening when giving a scold, she was always a sweet mother to me.
When I told my mother, this was the result: "Ballet tickets are hard to get hold of and buy, but if you enter Takarazuka it'll be nice not to have to have that trouble anymore."
Someone who thinks exactly like me, a sweet person. --Ah, don't read this and get angry, please, mother!--
But, surprisingly, my father wouldn't permit it. It was unexpected because my father loved Takarazuka since he was a child, and even as an adult he would always go alone to see Takarazuka. Again, Lady Luck looked down on me and said, "You'll enter Takarazuka." Saying that and looking at me, who when I didn't want to hear something would talk right over the crazy talk.
So, although I thought I would get his lazy approval, for some reason he refused, with a stern look. In other words, our positions were reversed. Thinking it over again later, it wasn't that I couldn't understand his worries and troubled feelings, but at the time I couldn't understand his staunch opposition.
However, in the end I found the right argument for my father.
"Although you FORCED me to learn ballet, I am still trying my hardest. So this time, please, let me do what I would like. Didn't you let my sister study the violin when she said she wanted to?"
Actually, I had been studying ballet since fourth grade, but because the school was quite strict and fundamental, I didn't enjoy going to practice much. But I thought being on stage was interesting and really enjoyed it.
Another interest in being on stage related to: "I want to enter Takarazuka, and there they stand on the stage every day for a month", but at that time standing on the ballet stage and entering Takarazuka felt different.
In any case, hearing these killer words (?), he said, "If you take the test, you'll leave junior high and immediately start learning singing and dance, so for three years I want you to study hard at school. We'll listen to what you say, so listen to what your parents say as well."
--Entry into the Takarazuka school has a requirement of being between the year you graduate from junior high until the year you graduate from high school, so if my father permitted me to enter, everything he had heard was that it was better to enter as a young junior high graduate, so from the start it was planned that I would take it after I graduated from junior high.--
With these conditions, he would allow me to take the exam once.
I felt as if I had climbed to heaven.
"Yes, from now on I'll listen to everything you say," I promised my parents. I thought so from the depths of my heart. I really thought so.....
The ballet that I had been FORCED to learn from fourth grade taught me the interest of being on stage, but I hadn't had any more enthusiasm for it than that. But, now it was different, I told myself.
3 ~*~ Ballet
As soon as I entered junior high, the talk began about continuing my education in high school.
As promised, my mother wrote to the school I wanted, the Takarazuka Music School. When I entered junior high, it seems that the results of my exams to separate me into my class were good, and the school teachers enthusiastically encouraged me to enter high school, but I didn't pay much attention. After that, my grades dropped, and I only got fives in my specialty subjects--P.E., music, and art--all of my other grades were completely awful, after which they understood at last and encouraged my entering the Music School.
I can admit it now, but it seems that they falsified my school record which I had to turn in at the Takarazuka entrance exam. Because it is of course preferred that the school admit healthy pupils, they padded my spotty attendance record. And it seems that they raised my grades slightly.
So when I entered the Music School I had become quite a smart, healthy child.
The thing I enjoyed most about entering junior high were the club activities. Actually, I wanted to enter the basketball club, but because it was important that I not injure myself, I gave up. I entered my second choice, the brass band club.
I learned to play the flute, sax, and trombone, but I left the club after a year and a half. I quit both the basketball club and brass band club for ballet.
In my first year of junior high I had a sudden growth spurt, and began to enter into adult roles. Unlike when I was a small child, I was recruited for the ballet troupe's performances. It was a large ballet troupe, so they put on a performance each month. Doing this, my days became a routine of dropping my bag off at home directly after school and going immediately to the ballet school. I would practice until ten or eleven o'clock, and always return home after twelve.
I had no time for club activities, playing with friends, or, of course, homework. On the day of a performance, we would rehearse from early in the morning, so I would have sudden absences from school, and because my body wasn't very strong, this hard lifestyle would lay me down from time to time. But as the one performing, I wasn't bothered by my beloved performance rehearsals, and because I was treated as one of the adults, it became quite enjoyable.
My first ballet performance was when I was in fourth grade in elementary school, a December performance in the Ueno Bunka Kaikan of "The Nutcracker". Incidentally, my role was one of the mice. My final performance was "Swan Lake". I remember that although it was the day before the high school entrance exams, I performed. During this time I played the lead role of Clara in "The Nutcracker", and when the Leningrad Ballet made a visit to Japan I danced amongst all the children, and I had appearances on TV--I had all kinds of experiences. At that time the primas in the ballet troupe were Maki Asami-san, Oohara Noriko-san, Morishita Youko-san, Kawaguchi Yuriko-san, Yuuki Miho-san, Mushiyano Kouji Yukiko-san, Shimizu Youko-san, etc. A mountain (excuse the expression) of people who are now all shining brightly in various places. I am a very lucky woman to have rehearsed and grown up watching these people. Instead, no matter how I rehearsed I could never compare with them, so perhaps I quit too soon.
4 ~*~ First Love
In my second year of junior high school I was chosen as an athlete to participate in the district-wide track and field competition. However, I turned it down because of how easily I could injure my Achilles tendon.
And yet, when I was chosen to be an athlete in the high jump during my third year, my mother recommended to me, "If you are accepted into Takarazuka, you won't be able to participate in things like this, so how about taking a break from ballet and trying?", and so I did.
After school, for the first time I remained at school until after dark. And also, although Komura-kun (whom I liked just a wee bit) was competing in a different category, he was practicing on the same field, which made me happy. --It was completely one-sided, a secret that no one knew except my best friend Tada Shimiko-chan, although it was finally revealed. He was good at all sports, tall, and an interesting person.
At the competition, I was surprised to see all of the athletes from the other schools in spikes. I had only normal sneakers. The others all did belly rolls or backward jumps, I simply jumped. But for some reason I made a record high jump for the competition, and was the winner. Komura-kun also got an award.
The next day, we lined up together at the morning assembly, and received our awards. I was happier over lining up together than over winning.
Ah, how sweet. We both took part in the city-wide competition. However, it was the day after we got back from our big class trip, --since our school really wasn't athletic at all-- and the teacher said, "You're tired, so just go and give it a shot", and so we both appeared at the National Sports Track. This time I also placed. The next day I received my award at the morning assembly. But because I was alone, I wasn't happy at all. This ends the chronicle of my first love; from the next day I returned to my busy days of ballet and school.
5 ~*~ The Incident
When I became a third year junior high student, I began to learn another skill I would need for the entrance exam: singing. I was introduced by a Takarazuka Revue teacher, the late Takagi Shirou, and I went once a week to the studio of the just-deceased Matsumoto Hiroko-sensei.
Matsumoto-sensei was at the time a teacher in her 50s, who wore her makeup in the style of Awaya Noriko-san. I supposed it was because she had been singing for many years, but even if the style of the songs was different she would sing them all with the same feeling. It seems there were many other students like me studying for the Takarazuka entrance exams, but there was never an opportunity to become friends. It's too bad, since it would have been heartening to have made friends.
My teacher's rehearsal space was on the sixth floor of an apartment building in Roppongi, and I could see the Metropolitan Expressway from the window of the room we rehearsed in. Rather than singing rehearsal, my strongest memories are of watching the cars whiz by on the expressway. And also, being able to go into Roppongi in the heart of the city, where even now no trees grow, made me feel somehow grown up, and suppose that I was one step closer to Takarazuka; an all-around nice sensation.
Although I had been busy with only ballet and school, increasing things with singing lessons turned my life very difficult, but when I could find some free time I would ask my mother and go to watch a show. I would buy the magazines put out by Takarazuka every month without fail, and read them until I knew them by heart. --Not to boast, but at that time I knew the names of just about every member of the Revue. --Well, I had to study more and more, and it felt as if my promise with my parents had blown away somewhere on the wind.
And, in the end, there was an incident.
At the time, my most beloved Star Troupe was coming to give a performance at the Shinjuku Koma Theater. In October of my third year, the big star Kouzuki Noboru was retiring. Absolutely not to be missed! I don't remember now why I couldn't ask my parents to let me go see it, but I gleefully went to the Shinjuku Koma to buy tickets. Somehow there were a lot of front tickets remaining. However, only on two days. On both days I had ballet rehearsals, but I bought them without hesitation. My joy at seeing Takarazuka for the first time from the very front won.
On that day ballet rehearsal was from six to seven-thirty, then one hour from the school to my home, so in other words, if I returned home with an innocent expression at about eight-thirty, they wouldn't know. It was a little more than thirty minutes from the Shinjuku Koma to my house, meaning if the curtain went up at five-thirty and I watched until about eight I would be all right. In order to construct an alibi, I forbid my ballet friends to say anything and made my ballet rehearsal clothes as soggy as they would be after a rehearsal, then dumped them in the laundry basket. I thought it was the perfect crime.
But my mother was good. The next day when she spotted my clothes in the laundry basket she immediately saw through to the truth, she found the ticket stub from that day which I had hidden with such care, and she comprehended everything.
The day after watching the Revue in a dreamy state of mind was hell.
When I returned home from school, mother was standing there with the expression of a demon. And then:
"You haven't kept your promise to study, reading only Takarazuka books, and then what do you mean by going to see the Revue without telling your parents--and skipping ballet! If you feel so fickle about it, you are no longer permitted to take the exam!"
My mother's voice was incredibly angry, but I could hear that half of it was sorrow over her daughter's lie. Seeing my mother like that, I couldn't speak. It was aaaaall my fault.
They made me throw out all of my Takarazuka books, and I went with my father to the house of my teacher, to tell her that I would no longer be taking the exam. I had given up, and allowed myself to be taken. I was more regretful than I could say, because I couldn't imagine any other path for myself but entering Takarazuka.
Aaah, a desperate situation!
But Lady Luck's smile hadn't been a lie. My teacher supported me. "This child is aimed for Takarazuka, it would be such a waste to stop her!"
I heard my teacher's words at that moment as if they were shining.
"Would you consider letting her take it just once?"
I suppose that my teacher had various other persuasions for my father, but her first words were enough for me. Because my rose-colored world, my dream world, had returned to me.
I returned home and spoke to my parents.
"I'll study hard from now on. And I absolutely won't go to see Takarazuka secretly. So please, let me try for Takarazuka."
My parents reluctantly agreed.
"Ah, but what shall I do, I still have one more ticket to Takarazuka. Well, it'll be fine. Next time I'll tell mother and then go to watch. It's all settled."
But my obstinate inability to learn my lesson is my great misfortune, and I once more repeated the same kind of mistake, and made my parents angry.
Once again my father took me to Matsumoto-sensei's home, and once more my teacher persuaded my father and saved me. The second time, because I felt a sense of security that my teacher would be on my side, I wasn't scared at all. But I can't remember at all now what it was that I was guilty of then. And yet even so, without Matsumoto-sensei, I wouldn't be who I am today.
6 ~*~ The Entrance Exam
Watched over gently by the warm sunlight of spring, I had a little anticipation and a lot of anxiety in my heart as I left my house. First I went to see Matsumoto-sensei at her home, where I joined up with the five others of her students who were taking the exam along with me, and whom I had made plans to go to the location of the first exam with. The first stumble occurred at my teacher's home. For the singing portion of the exam, where we sing a themed song, I had hand-written the sheet music, adjusted to the pitch of my voice, which I was to hand in. The musical accompanist could look at it while playing. My teacher pointed out to me that my handwriting on the sheet music was sloppy. Because even our handwriting on the sheet music could affect our score. I'll tell you this now, but there's nothing I can do to change it. In the end, there was someone with the same song as me, and compounding my fault, I borrowed her music. I ended up using it first, and compounding my fault even more, that girl failed the first round. It's little enough now, but thank you. And I'm sorry---------
We took a taxi from Roppongi, arriving at the location of the first exam, the Takarazuka dorms in Ebisu.
Ah, this was the place where my admired stars stayed, but this sweet feeling was soon blown off of me. The other exam-takers gathered one after another, and they all seemed as if they were stars already. Beautiful, mature, and if I tried to talk to them, they knew the inner workings and the stars of the Revue well; they were exceptional people who planned to take the exam as many times as necessary. At that moment, I gave up on passing the exam.
We were separated fifteen to a room, and I listened from the corner as everyone talked with enjoyment about Takarazuka. I found another like me. She seemed more grown-up than me, Idenawa Kimiko-chan (Machi Yuu). Without knowing that we would later be roommates, I remember how we consoled each other about our unfavorable positions.
That dormitory that I was never to set foot in again was burned into my retinas, but I don't remember the exams at all. In other words, I took them in just that wretched state. The one thing I remember, is how in the ballet portion (the one thing I had confidence in), I fell on my rear while doing a squat.
Falling into a pit of despair, I arrived home, said, "I definitely failed!" and threw myself onto my futon and bawled.
Matsumoto-sensei called me there. My teacher had asked a teacher of the Revue over the phone. Their answer: "It's fine. She passed with the best score."
It seems that was true, but I couldn't believe it.
"Why was *I* number one?"
The second exam was combined with those students who had taken the test in Takarazuka itself, and we went to the Takarazuka Music School. In Kansai there are two kinds of Takarazuka Prep schools, the Child's Athena and the prep courses, so they had a stronger collection than our Tokyo group. But it was my second time doing this and so I had gotten used to it; this time it felt like a school excursion, when I went along with all these faces I recognized from the first round.
Ballet, voice, interview, I enjoyed them all. In the ballet portion where I could display my special skill, there were others who danced Spanish, jazz dance, Japanese, tap, and many other types. I particularly remember the girl who did impressions. I felt that the girls from Osaka had pluck and were pretty interesting.
Well then, at last the fated day when the results were announced. Actually, the day before the doctor at the exam location who gave me a physical told me, "There's a suspicion that you have cardiac valvular disease. You'll pass the exam, but please give up on entering the school."
Oh my God!
Again I returned home in tears. During the exam I was staying at my aunt's house, and I spent the night crying. Exhausted from crying, the next morning I was quite disillusioned of my dream of entering Takarazuka. "It's enough. I've worked hard to come this far, and high school life seems enjoyable, so I'll give it up."
Those were my feelings as I went to see. Even when I saw my name written on the results board of those who had passed, I was only a tiny bit happy.
Only those who had passed gathered in the auditorium.
"I heard this time there are three with weak bodies, so they've accepted 43, three more than usual."
The voice came to me from somewhere. So was I one of those three.....?
Counting on only the words of the doctor, "I can guarantee you only three years", and having finished the formalities of entering the school, I returned to Tokyo.
7 ~*~ The Journey
The entrance exam which had managed to throw my whole family into such uproar was over too quickly. "So this is what happens when your dream comes true", I thought, and returned home with an empty feeling, but as the days went by I completely forgot the valvular disease and my joy rose up more and more.
As the day of the entrance ceremony approached, I was in an exuberant mood once more. It felt as if I was going on a school trip. Instead of the dorms, it had been decided that Kimi-chan (the aforementioned Idenawaki Kimiko) and I would be boarding at my aunt's house.
My packing was done and it was the day to depart Tokyo.
"Because you're leaving your parent's home so young....."
I have a hunch I received this and various other sermons, but they just went in one ear and out the other. My older sister was lonely and cried, she stayed in her room and didn't see me off. Everyone in my family gave me sidelong glances with worried faces; I alone set out for my beloved Takarazuka in good spirits. And they all lived happily ever after.
8 ~*~ Entering the School
Dressed in my gray school uniform and regulation cap, on the morning of the entrance ceremony I stood with Kimi-chan in front of my aunt's house for a commemorative photo, and then we set out for school. We went down from my aunt's house high on a hill, to the closest train station, Obayashi Station on the Hankyu Imazu Line. We rode for two stops, to Takarazuka Minamiguchi Station, then we crossed the big bridge, turned right, went a short way down a narrow street, and arrived at the Music School.
Incidentally, since I'm writing this, the way home was one stop from Minamiguchi, getting off at Sakasegawa Station, buying an ice cream from the sweets shop in front of the station, and climbing at an easy pace up the hill road while eating and talking. Sakasegawa Station was busier than Obayashi, with a bus and taxi terminal as well; in any case, the hill road was gentler in this direction. For the one year until they built the addition to the dormitory, this became the nostalgic path I took every day.
When you enter the school gates you soon find yourself in the foyer of the school building. It's a small, three-floor building, but although the student population is 80 strong, it was plenty big enough. In one corner of the large Family Land, it seemed to feel as it if quietly stood in another space.
And in the deep pool of 60 years of history and tradition, ---We were the 60th class, bound to debut in the 60th year since the foundation of the Takarazuka Revue---we new students were easily swallowed up; I remember thinking such an oppressive atmosphere flowed around us. Ours was a tiny existence.
The entering students were sent to the auditorium on the first floor. Just like any other school, we had a congratulatory address from the principal, words from the representative of the new class, etc., etc. There was only one, very large difference, which startled. That was when the students a year above us, the honkasei, entered the auditorium.
A loud voice exclaimed: "The honkasei class are entering!" And then, moreover, they came marching in in crisp military formation without break. I was really shocked. As surprised as if I had time warped into the middle of a war.
The way we wore our uniforms, our hair style, how we walked while in school, how we spoke, how we rode the trains, and a million other things.... from start to finish they were all established, all according to the rules, and doubtlessly unchangeable. In that moment I doubt I was the only yokasei thinking I would quit and go home.....
9 ~*~ My Time as a Yokasei
For the yokasei of Takarazuka Music School, there is a correct way of doing things. Things have probably changed slightly now, but back then the following is what we were told.
1. If your hair is long, wear it in braids, and bangs are not permitted. ---Not one strand of hair can hang down over your forehead. Meaning your head was covered in bobby pins. Hair clips and ribbons were completely forbidden.
2. Make-up was restricted to events or functions.
3. For the school uniform, the skirt length should be just above your knees. White socks folded in three, in the winter gray highsocks. Shoes were leather flats withoout any decoration.
4. During rehearsals, we wore black or navy-blue leotards, and heavy black tights.
5. When commuting to school, a black satchel or Hankyu department store paper bag.
6. Inside the school, say "Excuse me" when entering a room, and "Excuse me" when exiting, and walk around the edges of the hallways and stairwells in single file.
7. When you speak to a honkasei about some business or to apologize, stand before the honkasei room, and when someone makes eye-contact, call out "excuse me" to them to catch their attention. When making an apology, the words you speak are already decided. ---In other words, if no one will make eye-contact you must simply continue to stand and wait.
8. Outside of the school, on the street keep your eyes lowered, and walk in file along the edges. On the train, take the very last car and you must stand. Whenever you meet an upperclassman, you must call out "Good morning" (ohayou gozaimasu) to them in a big voice, or "Good work today" (otsukaresama deshita).
9. When not in school, only a short skirt. ---At the time long skirts and pants were in fashion.
Furthermore, stores you could not enter, how to clean, how to live in the dorms, how to use the rehearsal rooms, even nicknames, etc.; there are so many I can't remember them all.
The only saving grace was that this was a two-year school, and so after the honkasei graduated these rules would no longer apply,---the honkasei who created these rules rarely followed them themselves---so we really only had to hold the course for one year.
But according to one of my classmates whom I became friends with: "This is nothing!"
It seems that the dormitory of the school she had gone to was even stricter, and there was always someone above you. Not knowing, I bowed to her superior judgement!
At a glance I seemed the happy, mature, unlikely to draw attention type, so I escaped my first year withough angering anyone.
There were a few defiances of the rules during my year as a yokasei that I can't forget, even now.
An appalling defiance of the rules was waiting outside of the stage doors for the upperclassmen to emerge after seeing a performance, and as a bonus even getting a star's signature.
One more bonus was was that I was seen by a honkasei, but to forestall anything, I apologized: "I was asked to by an upperclassman and I couldn't refuse, so I'm sorry." With that it ended without her becoming angry at me. I'm sorry!
And other things, like safely wearing pants and sunglasses and being bowed to by a honkasei, making my ballet teacher cry; those sorts of things that you'd expect from the leader of a group of juvenile delinquents.
Back then my good friend Tako-chan and I were smoothly breaking the prohibitions, but it was always Tako alone who got in trouble.
"It's nice for you, Natsume, even though you do worse things than me you never look the type to." To this very day, it seems she carries a grudge about this.
During that period, although I should have angered the upperclassmen, been put through the wringer, cried, and cultivated an enduring willpower, I was not blessed (?) with these experiences, and developed a personality without willpower......
10 ~*~ Determined Goofing-Off
Otherwise, school life was quite enjoyable.---Leaving home early in the morning when it was still dark to clean the school was the only arduous thing---.
Music School lessons were from Monday to Saturday, and Saturday was a half day.
Ballet and Japanese dance were 90 minute lessons, subjects that we had every day, with three students to a teacher. The others, depending on the contents, varied from an hour to 90 minutes.
We had ten minute breaks between, and were practically doing quick-changes changing from our leotards into our kimono.
Over summer holidays there wer supplimentary lessons, and even though the subjects were different, it was similar to a regular school.
But there were many extracurricular lessons, and we went to many places to sing in chorus or solos.
Japanese dance, ballet, vocal, drama, piano, shamisen, etc.; other than ballet they were new to me. In drama class I said my first otokoyaku line. I felt somehow both embarrassed and happy. For Japanese dance I also didn't kow how to walk, and I loved shamisen class.
Every day passed in a flash, and during afterschool hours when everyone simultaneously spent their time in individual lessons, I and my remaining friends determinedly goofed-off.
It was our daily routine to ride the rollercoaster at Family Land, eat okonomiyaki, or go to see a movie or concert.
Like a ladybug, when I saw those rehearsing, I thought that even if they did so it would do them no good, and I felt sorry for them.
Because, at any rate, although all I did was play, at the end of the year I had the nice result of being third in my class.
After the third trimester exams, I became first without any effort. So life looked sweet.
Here, again, I had forgotten how to exert myself.....
With the difficult yokasei period behind me, in the second year of Music School, when I became a honkasei, the world became Heaven, without a fear.
The new school dormitory was built, and we who had spent so long boarding with my aunt moved into the dorm, and began goofing off with my friends in earnest.
I played cards into the middle of the night and skipped school, I grew out my nails and had them manicured, I wore make-up, I lied about my grandmother becoming ill and went home to Tokyo.... (Seeing what would happen if I said grandma was ill was my mother's suggestion.)
My classmates spoke ill of me and were always angry.
But, among the teachers I was still an honor student with good grades.
During this period where I was so wrapped up in skipping, only my desire to stand on the stage grew stronger day by day.
I wanted to graduate woithout further delay.
Every day during the afterschool period I ran to the Grand Theater and would watch the same show again and again. I envied everyone who appeared in the performances.
Particularly when the upperclassmen who had graduated a year above me appeared, I wondered why I couldn't be there where they had gone before me, and I suffered over what couldn't be changed.
At last, the long-cherished day when I could appear in the Grand Theater came.
Before graduation, we put on the Bunkasai.
As one of the honors students---at the time I was second, but first of the otokoyaku---I was the Bunkasai star.
After all was said and done, after the period of school, Takarazuka was the world of otokoyaku.
I played a main role in every scene.
Without feeling any fear or difficulty on the stage, it was a completely satisfying Bunkasai.
The Bunkasai was in four acts and,
Act one was Japanese dance, and I played "Green Pines" on the shamisen.
Act two was vocal, and several people acted out "The Lady of the Camellias", among them, I sang Armand (the lead man)'s song.
Act three was a play, and I played Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet".
Act four was a revue, and I performed in good places in every scene.
The admission fee for the Bunkasai was taken for use in the performance, while costumes, scenery, lighting, and orchestra all belonged to the Revue, and production, direction, and choreography was all done by the school teachers.
Many of the Revue staff also worked on it, and with greasepaint and makeup, wired with mikes, I felt completely like a star.
Hey, I even, for the first time in my life, received a fanletter.
11 ~*~ First Setback
My two years at Music School were nothing but fun, except just once, when I felt the painful stab of disappointment in my chest.
When every year turns to autumn, there is a singing competition on a national scale, and Takarazuka also participates in the female solo and choral divisions.
There were auditions at the school for participants in the female solo division.
There were about sixteen entries, myself among them, but singing isn't my strong point, and compared to the other participants I had no projection or craft; to be blunt, I was awful!
I was on the point of thinking that I should withdraw, when my roommate Sachippe invited me: "Let's do our best together!", and unconsciously my dislike of loosing out made me hold my head high in anger.
And also, I thought auditioning was really cool.
Captivated by what was in front of me, I began to rehearse.
For the first time since I entered Takarazuka, I made an effort with morning lessons before classes began. ---For students at the school, there was a tough battle during morning lessons and after school activities for pianos and classrooms, and they were individualized rehearsal areas. At any rate, I had never set foot in those places---I was roused out of bed early in the morning by Sachippe, and forced my disobedient voice to continue, I even kept at it into the middle of the night in the dorm rehearsal area.
But I couldn't keep up something I was so unused to.
My voice grew weaker and weaker, and I completely forgot that I was auditioning for myself. In some half-baked way, thinking only of of how my voice wouldn't work, I auditioned.
The results were a perfect failure.
In front of my teachers, classmates, and underclassmen who were all watching, I sang in a horrific voice, as if I couldn't be bothered.
I had never been so miserable and embarrassed.
Sachippe, who always worked so diligently, passed.
For a week after the audition, I tasted a sense of defeat as if the peak triumph of my Takarazuka life had been raggedly torn from me.
I remembered what my father had told me before I entered the school, "You're only clever. If you don't work more diligently than others, it will be no good."
It was all my fault. Everything worked out to my advantage, and yet all I could do was think of running away.
I was ashamed of myself.
I was in a slump because I was in a slump, and feeling sorry only because I felt sorry.
An A-type's strength of recovery, simply put, someone with my character is an optimistic type who forgets all of the bad things, and so, unfortunately, I forgot all that I had learned there.
From the eighth day I had completely put it all behind me, returned to my sham top-student status, and enjoyed my Takarazuka life.
If I had applied what I felt at that time towards something more forward-thinking, if I had been able to sustain it longer, I suppose my life would have been changed..... Introspection.
As third in my class, bearing the new name of Ōura Mizuki, in the spring of Showa 49 (1974), I graduated from the Music School which held so many memories.
12 ~*~ Stage Name * Ōura Mizuki
During the summer holidays of our Honkasei year, everyone's conversations centered around one topic.
It was nearly time to begin the preparations for our hatsubutai next year. In other words, to decide on a stage name, which had to be submitted by the fall.
We couldn't have a name which resembled any current upperclassmen.
They seem to also resemble retired names, so it is quite difficult.
You could have an upperclassman you admire make it for you, or think of it yourself or with your family; there are many ways.
I turned to the one who had given me my real name, the author Shouno Junzou---Actually, my father had just taken the name "Natsume" from his book and given it to me.
"Ōura Mizuki" (大浦みずき)
Ōura (大浦) is from the Kakinomoto no Hitomaro section of the Man'yōshū:
In his garden, the professor was raising a fodgwood seedling, which after a little more than two years had grown into a swaying tree, and when I first met the professor as a honkasei, I was even thinner than I am now, and seemed to sway. In other words, my shape overlapped with the image the professor had of a dagwood, and so immediately the name "Mizuki" came to him.
Oura Mizuki. Later, when I sought approval for the name, I was told that it was a good name with will-power, and I think that he made it for me knowing my will-powerless disposition, for which I'm grateful.
Even I, having thought over this and that, find it a compelling stage name, but concerning it my feelings of embarrassment are stronger than my joy.
To tell the truth, even now when I identify myself by my stage name it's embarrassing.
The impact of the Bunkasai on me was strong, but the later events--final exams in the Music School, the graduation ceremony, and entering the Revue company--I don't remember much at all.
Shuugobi (what we call the first day of rehearsals) for my hatsubutai has also fled somewhere, and when I suddenly took stock I found myself rehearsing in one of the Revue's classrooms.
In due course I became Oura Mizuki who had stepped onto stage in the April Star Troupe Grand Theater production of "Gu Bijin", my hatsubutai, but although it was the same Takarazuka, Music School and the Revue company were completely different.
Ōtori Ran (the top star of Star Troupe at that time) and the upperclassmen were all grown-up, and it felt like a different reality.
To appear together with the stars I so admired was such a thought to savor.
The director was (the former) Shirai-sensei, who to my eyes looked like nothing so much as a kindly old man, but he was a frightening and strict man; no matter how small the line, if you couldn't do it as he expected, he would make you rehearse for as long as it took.
We hatsubutaisei were able to make an appearance dancing in the special 60th anniversary dance, as chorus behind Amatsu Otome-sensei.
And in the performance itself, as the story calls for a great many soldiers, I ran around carrying a spear and a sword in the battle scenes, and had many other soldier roles.
And there was the customary hatsubutai line dance.
The choreographer was another teeerrifying sensei, Kita-sensei, who was always waiting and on the alert as if he were tempering us.
If you think it's only a line dance, how wrong you are.
Everyday the lessons continue, as if you're in hell; for over a week you are made to deliberately perform the choreography.
How to lift your legs, your hand positions, how to smile-- even these things are practiced relentlessly.
When I was thinking how I wanted to dance something cooler and more otokoyaku-ish, not this line dance, they apparently saw right through me:
"You there, Ōura~, What're you doin'?!! Smiiile, can't you lift your legs more? Cheeky--!!"
His angry Kawachi accent came flying at me without mercy.
The teacher's power overwhelmed me, and before I realized it I was dancing in earnest.
My other classmates also became victims, one after another; shouting and crying, we worked hard.
More than the first day of our hatsubutai, I will never forget the day we debuted our line dance in the rehearsal room for the upperclassmen.
When we finished dancing we received warm applause from the upperclassmen.
The happiness because of feeling as if we had at last been accepted as members of the Revue, that our great effort, our persistence, and the power of my classmates had been understood, made even me, who took everything in stride, cry.
That I was crying over this was a mystery to me, but I was glad that I could cry so honestly.
I had no particular nature, and was exceptionally weak at things that called for will-power, like sports.
You see olympians who have fought so hard to win medals crying, and high school baseball players are particularly susceptible. Even pro baseball players who have won the Japanese Series cry.
I think this line dance was probably my first personal experience with will-power.
Or perhaps that tight feeling from the time I didn't cry over the hardships of the entrance exams, perhaps in that moment I was deeply moved at last and the knot came undone, and I cried.....
It was the first time I experienced the sweat and tears backstage. And a glimpse of the enjoyment as well....
Even now Kita-sensei choreographs the hatsubutaisei. I can only bow my head to that passion and power.
I want him to be always teaching will-powerless girls like me, to relentlessly beat them into shape and teach them the emotional power of the stage.²
(1) Man'yoshu poem 4-496
(2) Unfortunately, Kita Hiroshi passed away in 1999.
(2) Unfortunately, Kita Hiroshi passed away in 1999.
13 ~*~ "I want to see my mom."
From April to May the performance of "Gu Bijin" continued to be performed by Star Troupe and then Flower Troupe, and so in the last week of April the upperclassmen from Flower Troupe who had made a special appearance pulled out, and roles were changed. The changing of the roles rippled through the troupe, coming even to ken-1 me (Those who had entered the Revue and were in their first year were called kenkyuusha 1-nen, or ken-1 for short).
It was a role with a line of two or three words, which mingled with the upperclassmen, a role with a cool otokoyaku dance.
That was a finale dance number, after which I had to do a quick-change for the line dance. Every day my classmates helped me change and somehow or other I made it out.
The theater basement is the costume room for the hatsubutaisei, and I'd go down dozens of stairs and do my quick-change. Anyhow, I got wrapped up in my impatience going down, and my shoes got caught in my pants and I fell, bang, bang, bang, down the stairwell. And then I changed into my daruma costume (the line dance costume) and went up the stairs rubbing my aching legs, going to standby in the wings.
It was like that every day.
My line was: "I want to go home, and see my mom."
That was all, and yet one day I completely forgot it, and stood apathetically on stage. Of course the upperclassmen were angry.
In the following performance with Flower Troupe, I made friends with the upperclassmen, spoke with them in the wings of the stage, and was taken out with them when they went out to have fun after the show. Those were wonderful times.
In July, during the Tokyo performance, I would commute every day for an hour from my parents' home in Nakano. Lots of friends from school and acquaintances came to see us perform, and since all I did was run around as a soldier and appear in the line dance, I wonder if they really enjoyed it?
The top musumeyaku Ōhara Masumi quit with this Tokyo performance of "Gu Bijin".
She was an upperclassman like an angel to me, for after I had angered everyone by forgetting my lines, she gently comforted me as I cried.
Watching her as she gave her final greetings, I was moved to tears without thinking. That day she wrote me a shikishi, saying "I pray that the day will come soon when I see your name on a big billboard in front of the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater."
April and May in the Grand Theater. June in Tokyo, and in the flash of an eye our hatsubutai performance was over.
I had angered countless upperclassmen and cried like a baby.
I had gotten a replacement role, and my heart's desire of an otokoyaku dance.
I spoke lines.
I had forgotten them part-way through, and angered others.
But those kinds of things were inconsequential.
More painful than all of those things was the moment when the upperclassman rehearsals for the next Star Troupe show began, as soon as the Tokyo performance ended in June.
I could do nothing but wait for my next appearance, which wasn't until the Snow Troupe show in December.
14 ~*~ I'll Make Singing My Life!
My hatsubutai was held in Showa 49 (1974), the year that "The Rose of Versailles" (Takarazuka's immortal, famous masterpiece) was first performed.
It became an unexpectedly huge hit, that was then revived by various troupes within a three-year period.
Beginning with this year, the magnitude of the number of applicants for the entrance exam exploded. ---I thought how lucky I was that I had entered beforehand.---
Also, the average age of the top stars also went up.
This was because the people playing Oscar and Andre generally became extremely popular, and their periods of time at the top were lengthened several-fold.
Up to that point, they became top at ken-6 or ken-7 (ken-6 were members in their sixth year), but after "The Rose of Versailles" it became usual to be ken-10 or above.
After that, the length of a show's run changed from a month to a month and a half¹, and a Takarazuka enterprise to secure work outside of stage performances saw the creation of a new company.
A seven-year contract system with the members was established, and a fabulous small theater that seated about 500, called Bow Hall, was built adjacent to the Grand Theater.
Also, Takarazuka music publications were created for recording and other music affiliations.
There then became those who spent their holidays from the stage doing recording tours as singers, as well as those who performed in serialized TV dramas; in any case, there were many ways in which Takarazuka changed during this period.
So then, leaving Takarazuka aside, I had free time to spare back then.
When I first entered the Revue, my plan had been to attend lessons rigorously every day, to honestly work hard, and to become a good dancer, a dancer with flare.
However, in actual fact I stayed up until dawn reading books, and then slept all day -- that was the life I led.
It seemed that I had taken my older sister's advice ("High school is a period when you read all books, so you should read too") strictly to heart.
It sounds like an excuse, but my love of books even now is probably due to that time, and as I'm writing this today, perhaps it was helpful....?
Now, when underclassmen don't participate in the lessons I am terribly angry with them, so it would be bad to write on it too much, but when it was time for lessons, come rain or shine, I was secluded at home reading a book.
For a short time after joining the Revue, my body was stiff from my time in the Music School. I seemed clumsy, and when I saw classmates dancing flexibly whom I had thought weren't inclined to dancing, I was suddenly brought to realization.
Although that was what I had wanted to become, I hadn't exerted myself at all.
I regretted terribly how caught up I had become in skipping lessons.
"Although the members of the Sakata family can handle anything easily in the beginning, and although you won't realize it at first, if you don't put in three or four times the effort of others, you won't be able to do anything. Think of yourself as unskilled, and in any case, if you don't persevere you really won't break free." The words my father had said to me came back to stab me as I understood.
---I thought I understood back then, but I think my real understanding has come recently.
And yet, in another ten years or so I will probably feel the same once more. I really am slow to realize everything.
I exist now always remembering my father's words.
Father, you are remarkable!
After that I gave as good as I got and worked hard, and tried to gain a proper performer's perspective, but for Ōura-san, as a dancer she had fallen behind and so had to give up.
And so I decided in my heart to make singing my life.
At that time, even though I'm saying it myself, I had a very beautiful voice.
I didn't have volume or technique, but I had a high, soft voice. ---Now I have a low, heavy, thick voice like an old man.---
I received shadow solos (A role where you don't appear on stage, but sing the solo in a chorus box in the wings of the stage. Usually they're given to musumeyaku who are good at singing. For an underclassman it's one of the best roles they can get.), and as a member of a hand-picked chorus I was one of those who sang when they were recording the chorus.
And, although she passed away more than ten years ago, it was my chance meeting with a wonderful vocal teacher named Mizushima Sanae-sensei that was the cause of my deciding that I would make singing my life.
(1) In 2009 they reverted to the four-week show run for Grand Theater performances.
15 ~*~ Parting From Mizushima-Sensei
Mizushima-sensei had been a trailblazer jazz vocalist in Japan before the war, and before the war and after, for more than fifty years she made singing her life.
She had also trained many of Japan's jazz vocalists, and was like a mother to them. I don't know when she started teaching in Takarazuka, but every month she came from Tokyo to Takarazuka, and taught jazz lessons.
Her belly was puffed out like a barrel, and when I first laid eyes on her she was already past 60, but she was a teacher with a pure soul like a child.
She enjoyed singing and teaching so much there was nothing else for it; that's the kind of teacher she was.
She was someone who held all of her students as precious, and even if you learned only a little, when you progressed she was as happy as if it were her own progress, and praised you.
She was the teacher who taught me the joy of singing.
From time to time she rented the apartment just over mine, and for the week that she was there we lived as if I were her live-in pupil.
First, the day before she was to come, I would begin to clean my room.
In the morning I would wake up to her morning call of "Natsume-chan, wake up~!", change, then go to her room and have breakfast with her.
Then we would go to the Revue complex together, where she would go to teach her singing lessons and I would go to my dance lessons.
For lunch we'd arrange to meet at a nearby café called "Ichinose", and eat our meal together, then I would go to her afternoon lesson.
When the lesson was over, we'd go home, and I would go to a nearby market to do the dinner shopping that she requested of me, and I'd help her with the preliminary arrangements for the evening meal.
In the evening, because she began to hold private lessons in her own rooms, I would spend the time taking a lesson myself, or listening to other people's lessons.
Then, after that we had an enjoyable dinner.
We'd all eat together in high spirits, then she and I alone would do various things together, like watch TV or talk, spending a pleasant time together, then I would say good night and go back to my own room.
When she was there, that was how my days would go.
For someone like me, bitten by the truancy bug, it was my sole productive week.
Like this, through my two years of free time on stage, each day in that week was a golden one. It was a precious experience for me.
Although I made a promise that I would travel to Chicago or New Orleans, bag in hand, and I promised that when I was a little older I would quit Takarazuka and devote myself to jazz......
When she got sick and entered the hospital, I heard from friends who had gone before me to visit her that her stomach had flattened.
I felt as if it weren't my teacher, and couldn't bring myself to go to the hospital.
Back then, I wondered why I didn't go, and regretted it terribly.
But because only the cheerful image of my teacher resides in my memory, I suppose it might have been for the best.
The end of my time as a ken-4, February 25th.
I was in the ballet classroom of the Revue, playing the piano and rehearsing a song for a weekly TV program of the time called "The Takarazuka".
Then someone from the Revue (I don't remember who) informed me, "It seems that Mizushima-sensei has passed away."
It was the first time I had experienced the shock of a death.
Without tears, I continued playing the piano and rehearsing.
Even now I clearly remember the scene.
The dark, cold day, alone before the piano in the ballet rehearsal room without the lights on.
Remorse for not going to see her and memories of fun conversations with her went round and round inside my head
The first time in my life that I helped at a funeral was also my teacher's.
I stood at reception, bowed, and arranged the gifts brought to the funeral.
I only participated in the ceremony itself when she was being driven in the hearse.
A jazz band played "When the Saints Go Marching In".
After the ceremony, unable to watch me work without drinking or eating, an upperclassman who lived in my area made me eat some tempura soba.
The money of the funeral gifts, the melody of "The Saints~", the taste of the tempura soba; they all float in my memory.
Appropriately strange memories for my parting with Mizushima-sensei.
Although she left me with these wonderful words, ahhh, I'm sorry to her up there in heaven. After she died, my interest in singing was halved; in any case, I began skipping lessons again.
If there weren't people constantly looking after me and helping me, I am a weak person who would accomplish nothing.
16 ~*~ My Time in Snow Troupe
I appeared in a Snow Troupe performance in December of the year I debuted, and the next year in Feb and April in Tokyo with only Snow Troupe, and then was assigned to Snow Troupe. From that point until April of my ken-6 year, I grew up as a child of Snow Troupe.
Troupe assignments are the big question for all ken-1s, and those who get into the troupes they want are overjoyed, while those who aren't placed in the troupe with the upperclassmen they like, or are separated from classmates whom they have grown close too are thrown into tears, so that it has the feel of a fateful fork in the road.
Without a fuss, I entered Snow Troupe and within a month was completely acclimatized.
I had wanted to join Snow Troupe, and with me were Sachippe (Ayuhara Sanae), Megushi-chan (Megumi Hanae), Kimi-chan (Machi Yuu), and Tako-chan (Aoki Ryou), as well as Naru (Narukami Jun), Hikko (Mano Yuria), Yacchan (Nana Asami), Youko-chan (Tae Kurumi), and Shouko (Ōtate Hato), making ten of us altogether.
We were all of us classmates who were good friends, so it was a joyful troupe.
In the summer of my ken-2 year after joining Snow Troupe, I appeared in "The Rose of Versailles".
It was a re-staging of Flower Troupe's performance, and a performance smack-dab in the middle of "BeruBara" Fever.
How do I convey how amazing that was? Before opening night we had a dress rehearsal (the same as a real show, it ran straight from the opening to the end), and they let the customers who weren't able to get tickets to that day's Flower Troupe closing performance in to watch.
There were so many people that they spilled out into the lobby of the theater.
Although normally only those involved in the performance can enter, and we could only hear the sound of camera shutters and the voices of the director and choreographers, that rehearsal was completely different from usual and filled with applause and raised voices.
Before and after, I never had a rehearsal like it.
This "BeruBara" was a red-letter performance for me.
First of all, I received my first lines. "The queen graces us with her presence" was all it was, and I was only a nameless aide-de-camp, but I was nervous everyday and had to tune up.
And I had a role in the finale number where I sang on the ginkyou.
Only as one soloist from a plus trio.
And yet to be so visible among the masses was a great career advancement.
And as a perfect example of that, the shinjinkouen (the one day only where the newer members performed the roles of the upperclassmen) role of Fersen.
This role was the lover of Queen Marie Antoinette, and to give an idea of its importance, it is one of the major roles.
I bow to the courage of the Revue for giving this important role to the green-horn Oura-san.
I'm now an upperclassman who always performs important roles, and who has gone through a lot of foreign tours.
Nevertheless, my impression even now of that shinjinkouen is extremely bad.
I remember nothing but the staff's anger at me, and the upperclassmen's anger at me.
At any rate, with my high, thin voice I couldn't speak the lines with the deep voice like a man, and my partner playing Marie Antoinette was a musumeyaku five years above me, so that rather than lovers I seemed like an abashed child of the queen, and I didn't face my first big role with pluck, but frivolously, and so many other things.....
By all rights, if you receive a big role in a shinjinkouen, it's like you're being made a promise of how you'll be progressing down your own path in the future, and there should be a good feeling of wearing pretty costumes you couldn't normally wear, and a spotlight you wouldn't normally receive.
But to speak plainly, it was an unwelcome favor.
Because I couldn't do it, it would have been better to decline, but I didn't have the courage.
Now, when I see underclassmen selected, they all have courage, and can perform conscientiously, and you can see them doing a thorough job despite their inexperience, which I always admire them for.
I think I did a hatchet-job of my shinjinkouen back then, and I'm very grateful for everyone's raising me so patiently.
In any case, thanks to "BeruBara", my roles became a smidgen better, and although only a handful, I made fans.
I'm sure it felt like a waste to give me another role after that one wasted role, but after "BeruBara", I still seemed to be getting good roles in the shinjinkouen. And like anyon else I was happy to be given roles, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't like acting.
It was embarrassing speaking lines in front of people. I enjoyed watching other people perform, but when my turn came I wanted to run away.
It was nothing but agony.
Of course I didn't really run away, but-
"Natsume, you're smiling again!" they'd say in rehearsals, and get angry.
In other words, I'd feel awkward and smile to hide it.
Because that was the situation, it was impossible to create a role. That was how bad it had gotten.
Just to make my entrance and say my lines without a mistake took everything I had.
I think the reason I didn't hate performing and quit Takarazuka was the fact that outside of shinjinkouen I spent much of my time without any lines to say.
Although I was getting good roles in the shinjinkouen, in the actual performances I was just another little chirping underclassman.
By the way, my roles in the actual performances of that time were customers at a bar, passersby on the street, or the guy who got cut down in a swordfight.
(I remember, in "Man of Starlight"--a Shinsengumi story--I was cut down in every appearance, and died six times.)
Other than that, soldiers, townsmen, etc.
In other words, roles like a movie extra would do.
Nameless, poor, a giant moving prop, or part of the scenery.
Performing with many others, one of a crowd.
Sometimes as one of a band of seven or eight, friends of the lead character, I'd say "That's right! That's right!" Nothing which called for grandstanding, no grand lines, ah, it was comfortable.
Irresponsibly going through the motions on stage in a fog, that was my time in Snow Troupe.
17 ~*~ I Woke Up to Drama
But, finally, the time came when I woke up to drama.
It was the final performance of my time in Snow Troupe, the shinjinkouen of "The Spring Breeze's Invitation".
At that time the shinjinkouen was held twice each run¹, so that regardless of the mountain of upperclassman before me I always had a chance at a good role, but for some reason that time it was only held once.
Even someone who had always gotten a lead without fail only appeared in a third-ranked role (a semi-lead role), and consequently I as well got a role that had fallen deeply in the ranks.
Although I had been given a semi-lead role in the previous shinjinkouen......
Foggy-headed Oura-san was a smidgen indignant.
"The Spring Breeze's Invitation" was a story tailored on a comedy, and it was a tale set in an age where the otokoyaku were in military uniforms and the musumeyaku in long-hemmed dresses.
The role I received fell in love with the lead musumeyaku on sight, and although rejected again and again, it was a role where I followed her persistently.
My lines were only shouting that musumeyaku's character's name. In the middle of a ball I grab an enormous platter with a roast pig and follow after her single-mindedly.
In the main performance, the role was played by an otokoyaku of short build and sweet disposition.
Seeing her come out calling the name, she was sweet and got a laugh.
This was a role with only one side to display. But I playing the role in the shinjinkouen was large and seemed out of line.
If I played it the same as the main performance, I wouldn't achieve humor or cuteness or anything.
So I thought about it.
I made a daring attempt at creating a character, and if it didn't impress the audience, they would say that I was finished.
Shinjinkouen rehearsals began three or four days after the show opened, and everyday after the last performance had ended we would practice in the rehearsal rooms.
The lead role tends to spend much of her time on her feet in the rehearsals rooms, but when you don't have a lot of lines you spend a looo~ng time waiting. Just like in the waiting room of a hospital, you put roots into the chair, and don't know what to do with all your spare time.
I made effective use of that time, secluding myself in one of the other empty rooms alone, and devoting myself to creating my role.
I wracked my inadequate brain.
At my very wits end, a good idea floated into my head.
Shimura Ken from The Drifters was quite popular at the time; what about one of the characters from his series of Just-About-Dead Something-or-Others.
For example, his Just-About-Dead Geisha.
Shimura-san took on the appearance of an old lady geisha, and made her entrance in a worn out old zashikigi. She pours sake for a customer with shaking hands, and the customer says, "Hey, grandma, are you alright? Hadn't you better be sleeping?" to which she replies, "This is my job" in a voice as if about to die.
With that as my hint, acting as if in a slightly-crazed condition, coming out slightly battered (what would now be called a dangerous condition), wouldn't that be interesting?
I threw away the trademark pig, and came out clinging to my saber, etc, etc., I immersed myself in rehearsing.
In my head at that time was the desire to make this final scene completely different from the main performance, and that alone.
"If you can do this much, I should have given you a bigger role," I wanted to make the person who had given me this role reflect and moan.
And, I was intoxicated with my own wonderful role-building.
I threw away the handsome, cool figure I had cultivated to that point, I intended (?) to throw away position and wealth.
The shinjinkouen director is nearly always one of the young directors who is an assistant director for the main performance.
Because the main performance was directed by a veteran director, an underling like myself stayed huddled down, but it was different with the younger directors.
We were from the same generation, so it was easy to speak in a carefree manner, and in the rehearsal rooms also there was an air of freedom flowing among the underclassmen.
And, like me, the others were developing, so the shinjinkouen performance is a great occasion to learn.
In other words, we want to make a different production from the main performance.
Anyhow, when I had perfected my form, I called over the director and showed him. (I couldn't get up the courage to do it all at once in front of everyone in the large rehearsal room.)
He liked it, and took it well.
Great, great, but-wait.
This was where a problem came up.
If I said my lines in a voice whiny like a mosquito, they wouldn't be able to hear me in the audience, right!?
If I didn't have a mic, it would probably be no good, he said.
(In the Grand Theater, there are only eight wireless mics. Consequently, only those with important roles, or those with song solos are allowed them. My role didn't have one.)
In the end, they let me use the mic used by the lead musumeyaku.
So then, everything was going favorably, and I was going forward with creating the new role, caught up entirely in my enthusiasm, I ran swiftly.
But, unexpectedly my zeal cooled off.....
This was different than a young bride before her wedding, or Shimura Ken!
This was different than the entertainment for friends at a dinner party.
I was doing this in the Grand Theater in front of an audience of three thousand!
I hadn't entered Takarazuka for this kind of role; the sad daces of my parents, the disappointed faces of my precious fans whom I had only just gotten, the idea of strangers pointing at me and laughing, all floated into my mind.
The embarrassment of performing in front of people rose up again.
How many times had I seemed to suffer this setback.
But I was going to have a mic.
A m-m-mic from one of the leads-!
Thanks to the mic (?), on the day-of, I was able to stick to my initial resolution without fail, and could perform.
I didn't know how the audience reacted.
Because I did it as if it were a matter of life or death, I couldn't remember if they couldn't hear anything, or if they took it in mute amazement. It was awkward....
Afterward, without feeling like listening to criticism, and earnestly resolved to forget that shinjinkouen. It was a bad dream.
When the performance was over, on a day quite a few days later, I met Kita-sensei. (A choreographer mentioned before. He always comes to watch the shinjinkouen.)
"You really did it back there. I didn't think you had it in you to go so far. You've smashed through one of the shells around you, have you?"
He didn't say if it was good or bad, but those words were enough.
I was glad I had done it!
(1) Twice in the Grand Theater, twice in the Tokyo Theater
18 ~*~ First Foreign Performance
This is jumping around in the story, but in the autumn of the previous year (my 5th year), I participated for the first time in a foreign tour.
The performances took place in the three locations of Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and San Paulo, and were scheduled over forty days.
It was my first trip abroad in my life.
Moreover, I was getting paid and going for free, how lucky!
Which was as far as I thought it over, foolish me.
But of course the reality wasn't so sweet.
It was a select performance with performers from all four troupes, two members of Senka, Jun Mitsuki-san as top, 35 members in all, with the performance composed of an hour-long Japanese-style revue and an hour-long Western-style revue.
(A normal performance contains about seventy members in one troupe. I'd like you to imagine just how difficult it is to then to do a performance each night with half that number of people.)
The contents of the performance were nearly the same as the previous Soviet Tour, so we learned it while constantly watching the video.
All of the choreography was crammed into one week. The inside of my head became saturated with the memorized choreography -- in other words, I became like a sea urchin, going into rehearsals which hardened the choreography, being shouted at and belittled by the choreographers, bathed in a mountain of sweat. They were tough rehearsal days that I can't speak of now without tears.
After that, the ordeal waiting for me was the 'maiko' ¹.
When the curtain lifted on the foreign tour I had gone into so innocently, it began with maiko.
Me, so very far from anyone's image of a maiko.
168 centimeters of height plus wooden clogs and a wig easily put me at 190 centimeters, and a giant maiko was born.
And the director or choreographers had lost their minds, and lined up the maiko front and center.
In other words, when all twelve maiko were lined up on stage, the short musumeyaku were on both ends, and the tall otokoyaku maiko were in the middle.
Of all the members in that tour, I was the tallest, and I was placed in a prominent spot.
It wasn't that I didn't like standing out, but I hadn't wanted to stand out as a maiko. I'd call it the wrong kind of attention-grabbing.
If I took one step:
"You, the large maiko~! Can't you walk more sweetly~!?" they shouted at me countlessly.
Although they're the one's saying it's no good, weren't they the ones who made me the maiko?
At any rate, why do Takarazuka members like pointing out people's faults so?
All of the upperclassmen who were in the scene with us laughed to see us dressed as maiko.
Isn't it enough that the maiko looks out of place in these times?
Even though we weren't getting in anyone's way, and were diligently (?) portraying the role we had been given....
Amongst the foreign audience, whether because of kindheartedness or dread, not a single person pointed at us and laughed.
Since the maiko business, I came to love the foreign audiences.
Second row, second from the left.
After more than a month of grueling rehearsals, after a trial performance in the Grand Theater for the Japanese audience, I stuffed my trunk full of my beloved senbei² and turned toward foreign shores deep in the autumn of 1978, on October 6th.
The first soil was Mexico.
A land of sun and cacti, or so I expected, but because of unseasonable weather every day massive clouds filled a leaden sky, and it was bleak.
I had heard from others that Mexico was a place with a very thin atmosphere. For someone with poor circulation like me (not that I'm saying my head is weak!), once I began dancing my fingers and toes turned purple, and it was a terrifying place.
There were oxygen tanks in the wings of the stage to use in case of emergency, but I (being pitiable), couldn't struggle to them.
In the final scene of the Western-style show, after dancing like mad, there was a part of the choreography where we throw ourselves down to the floor.
The floor of the stage was slanted, so I rolled weakly without power, and when I looked at the ceiling I could just see the ceiling over the audience.
There was a painting of angels with harps.
My eyesight was swimming, and every day I thought I was Ascending then and there.
Come to think of it, I remember being told at the informational meeting before we left, "The air is a little thin, but they've even held the Olympics there, so you'll be fine."
What was fine about this!? At least a hundred people must have died running the marathon! In any case, I'm glad I lived to return home. Very glad.
Our next stop, Argentina, had beautiful cities, and the weather was also lovely with lots of air, so I was raring to go, but in truth the performance space lying in wait for us was a movie theater.
More than a regular theater, the stage and dressing rooms were extremely cramped, and if pushed I'd say-- No, without excuses, it was a dirty theater.
The dressing rooms were for four people, but it felt like we were stuffed into that room like four people stuffed into a train seat, shoulder-to-shoulder.
When the person seated furthest in wanted to leave, the other three would have to go out first, or she couldn't get out.
When you went into the wings of the stage, you immediately were faced with the wall.
How many people forgot that by mistake, came running offstage, and crashed into the wall? Wasn't there even someone who bounced back onto the stage!?
There was no place for quick-changes, no place to leave costumes, and if we found a gap in the dressing rooms (where if the four of us were standing our eight feet would conceal the floor), we would compromise to aid each other in changing, endeavoring as hard as possible not to open any holes in the stage or the costumes. We were heroic.
This theater sat more than two-thousand people, and the opening night was publicized insufficiently so that the house was half-full.
But from the next day, attendance increased by word of mouth, and by the third or fourth day we had a full house.
Thereupon, what the foreign promoters did was terrible. They doubled the price of the tickets.
And yet even still there was a long line of people at the ticket office every day.
Apparently they even talked about how we would have to use their lovely Colón Opera House when next we came back to perform in the area!
If that's so, you should have let us have it from the start!
Argentina is a country of late nights.
Performances would start at eleven or twelve o'clock at night. Consequently, it was common to finish performing at three in the morning.
For us coming from Japan, which had a twelve-hour time difference, we would leave the dressing rooms singing "Three O'Clock You", a theme song from a then-popular tea-time TV program.
In Argentina, there are many hot-blooded people.
Two or three in the morning. Really not the time you want to be going to the theater.
Nevertheless, they came to see us in high spirits.
And it was also in this country that I first experienced a standing ovation.
Terrific applause that seemed to gush from the the deths of the earth.
Starting in the last half of the show, the audience turned into a state of feverish excitement. It's come, it's come, it has come, I was thinking, though I knew it was just the first taste as it swelled, and the excitement surged. And then without that heat weakening at all, it reached an exploding point during the curtain calls.
Thanks to that, we rode on that high, and did our best until three in the morning.
I'd like to meet once more that moving audience in Argentina.
We changed suddenly from Argentina to a splendid theater in Brazil.
There was enough space backstage to hold a sports competition.
However, if I didn't put all my strength into running the long haul when traversing from stage right to stage left, there were sad incidents where I was late for my entrances. ----Unfortunately, for those particular scenes there was no time leeway, and the costumes were quite heavy.
And the dressing rooms were gorgeous, made of marble.
They were spacious, with a shower, rooms that made me feel like a star.
However, there weren't enough tables for all the people in the rooms, and so I was the poor child who ended up with the plywood dressing table.
In Brazil, many immigrants of Japanese descent also came to see us perform.
I felt keenly how thoroughly large the country was.
The men moving the scenery backstage were cheerful black men who danced the samba to Japanese music. I wonder if they're still moving spryly?
The crowds for the performances each day increased so much that people coming all the way from other countries weren't able to get in
Packed all the way to the ceiling gallery, they made the utmost effort to come and see us.
Old men and women who had emigrated from Japan came to see us with tears flowing.
I felt happy that we had made it all the way to Brazil.
The people of Central and South America are very leisurely.
Stage preparations that would take a half a day in Japan, take two days there.
Depending upon the completion of the stage preparations, a procedure was set up for us members to have rehearsals.
We would use our discretion to approximate the time, put on our costumes, and wait.
I acquired the art of sleeping in my costume.
If the stage curtain ripped before the start of a show, it would take an hour to repair. (In Japan it would be fixed in one or two minutes, or a new curtain brought in.)
The audience waited leisurely for that hour as well.
Once it hailed, opening a hole in the roof of the theater, and the show start was postponed until the hail stopped, because of the roof leak.
The audience also waited leisurely until the hail stopped.
However, for me experiencing my first maiko, who had to be in costume thirty minutes before the show started, with the curtain still shut after more than two hours I thought I was going to die.
The hotel elevator was also leisurely.
Even if I left my room thirty minutes before we were meeting in the lobby, there were several times I was late.
Meals were leisurely too.
After finishing desert at dinner, when I returned to my room it would be morning to the rest of the world.
However, this leisurely flow of time seemed to suit me, and even now I look back on it fondly.
And even now I can't keep pace with the restless flow of time in Japan.
There were only 45 of us, including staff, and that we could accomplish such a great performance, bringing joy to other lands, was a happy surprise to me.
The male staff members--without sleeping at night--would be making set pieces all night.
Although I developed tendonitis, the costumer didn't utter a word of complaint, simply wrapped it for me.
I saw upperclassmen and underclassmen helping each other out on stage without distinguishing, and I felt strongly that this was how you made a performance together.
There were a mountain of trials, but when the audience clapped during the finale, it all transmuted into joy.
I realized for the first time that this was the stage, that this was the happiness that professional performers relished.
And I thought how glad I was that I had joined Takarazuka.
(1) an apprentice geisha; a dancing girl
19. Unexpected Troupe Transfer