When the Hankyū railway tycoon Kobayashi Ichizū laid a line out to the tiny spa town of TAKARAZUKA (宝塚), 20km northwest of Ōsaka, in 1911, he had an entertainment vision that extended way beyond soothing onsen dips. By 1924 he’d built the Takurazuka Grand Theatre (宝塚大劇場), which has been home ever since to the all-female musical drama troupe the Takarazuka Revue. Some 2.5 million people – mainly women – flock to the town each year to see the revues and musicals at the theatre, ten minutes’ walk southeast of the train stations, through the Hana-no-michi, or Flower Road, an elevated platform along an avenue of cherry trees, which is supposed to be like a passage leading onto the stage. Depending on the day, shows start at 11am and 3pm, or 1pm only, with no performances on Wednesday. Shows are also staged regularly in Tokyo, but most fans prefer to see the troupe on their home ground, and perhaps glimpse one of the stars on her way to and from the theatre.
As the Takarazuka Revue has both inspired and been inspired by manga, a visit to the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum (手塚治虫記念館), just beyond the Grand Theatre, is worthwhile. The museum celebrates the comic-book genius Tezuka Osamu (1928–89), creator of Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion among many other famous manga and anime series. Tezuka was raised in Takarazuka, and this colourful museum charts his career, displays art from his books, comics and animated films, screens cartoons and gives you the chance to become an animator in the basement workshop. If you want to see more of Tezuka’s animated works, check out Kyoto’s Tezuka Osamu World.