Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Takarazuka and Hanami!

Last weekend was filled with Japanese cultural experiences, both niche and mainstream. These experiences have definitely helped me feel more in tune with the culture around me!

In my Japanese pop culture class, we studied about a form of theater called Takarazuka. In takarazuka, all the actors are played by females, including the male roles. These actresses train in a takarazuka school for two years in their teens, before being able to perform on stage. Most of the shows performed are musicals, which makes it very impressive when you hear a female singing lower than most males. 

An interesting aspect of this theater is that the main male and female roles are played by the same actors until those actors retire. The main male character is called the Top Star. She will continue being the Top Star until she decides to retire. Another interesting thing is the interaction between the actors and fans. Takarazuka audience is primarily female. These female fans form clubs surrounded by one of the actors, with the biggest club usually going to the male Top Star. Before the show, the Top Star waits outside the theater, and the leaders of the different fan clubs will come up and hand her gifts. 

Fans waiting to take a group picture with the Top Star.
Fans waiting for other fan members

Taking a picture on the famous stair case in the theater

The show that we watched was the Scarlett Pimpernel. It's about an Englishman who uses his secret identity as the Scarlett Pimpernel to rescue French aristocrats during the French Revolution. The premise of a secret identity where he refuses to kill anyone eventually inspired the famous character Batman. The musical was well performed with engrossing music. The fact that the male characters were female made it that much more impressive.

If you ever come to the Kansai region of Japan, I highly suggest you go to a Takarazuka musical. It's honestly quite stunning.

The next day brought about a much more traditional cultural experience, the famous Japanese Hanami.

Hanami literally translates to flower viewing. And that's exactly what you do. Durning the peak of cherry blossom season, usually about a week or two after they bloom, you go to a park filled with sakura (cherry blossoms), sit on trap or blanket, and then eat, drink, and enjoy the flowers. My seminar house hosted our own hanami where we went to a local park. It was filled with locals eating and drinking. Kids were playing soccer and badminton. There was even a surprise performance for everyone at the hanami. A group of performers did several Okinanawian dances. Even some of my friends joined in!

Okinawaian Dancers
Locals enjoying the hanami in the park

So much food! Ranges from traditional sweets to donuts!
Friends drinking and eating

Reminds me of people singing folk songs at TN festivals!

Dancing with some locals!
Next up are the drummers!

After dancing, drinking, and eating, we all decided to take pictures with the cherry blossoms. Here, we experienced the generosity that exists in Japan. See, there was an old man with a nice camera going around and taking pictures of the cherry blossoms and the performers. He also started taking pictures of us. He took a picture of my friends and I in front of a sakura tree and printed that one off for us. He would show us his pictures on his camera so we could take a picture of it. Well, about a week later, he shows up at our seminar house. Of course Otoosan is really worried. If a local come in, it usually means we were too noisy or something bad. Turns out he printed off all the pictures of us, made enough copies for those in the pictures, and dropped them off us we could all have them! I was amazed! He went through the time and effort to give us forgieners the pictures he took. They're really good pictures too.  It's just amazing that he was willing to go through  that for all of us. I'm definitely framing the picture when I get back.

Unfortunately, the cherry blossoms only last for a short amount of time. A week later, most of the sakura are no longer in bloom. I can see why the Japanese love them so much. They are so beautiful. Apparently, they also like them due to their blooming time. When sakura start to bloom, it also corresponds to when the new school starts, when new graduates start to work, and other types of beginnings. The blossoms represent a new beginning. And as the Japanese students start college, hopefully I will have a new chapter in my study abroad.