Home > Publications > NDL Newsletter > No. 205, April 2016

National Diet Library Newsletter

No. 205, April 2016

Memorial photograph album of an art mission for friendship between Japan, Germany and Italy:
Violets bloomed just before the outbreak of World War II
―Takarazuka Girls Revue Company public performances in Europe

Kazuya Takeda
Library Support Division
Kansai-kan of the National Diet Library

This article is based on the article in Japanese of the same title in NDL Monthly Bulletin No. 657 (January 2016).

On October 2, 1938, the art mission for friendship between Japan, Germany and Italy left from the Port of Kobe, Japan, for Europe by the Japanese ocean liner Yasukuni maru for the purpose of giving performances commemorating the first anniversary of the conclusion of the Anti-Comintern Pact between the three countries, and of expressing gratitude for friendship to Japan which had gradually become isolated in the international community. The art mission headed by Yonezo KOBAYASHI consisted of 48 people in total: 30 girls from the Takarazuka Girls Revue Company; general director Toyokichi HATA; orchestra conductor Goro SUDO; and other staff members including stagecrew, props and costumers.

The "Takarazuka Girls Revue Company" was founded by Ichizo KOBAYASHI, president of Hankyu Railways, in Takarazuka, Hyogo prefecture in 1913, as one of development plans for the areas along the railway line. Yonezo was his third son. The revue had its first performance in 1914 and soon enjoyed great popularity. In their performance, young women play all roles including male parts, the opposite of Kabuki in which men play female parts. "When the violets bloom," which is a cover version of the song "Wenn der weiße Flieder wieder blüht (When the white lilac blooms again)" written by the German composer Franz Doelle in 1928, is regarded as something of a signature tune and now the flower "violet" symbolizes the company.

The book below, Nichi doku i shinzen geijutsu shisetsu toou kinen arubamu (lit. Memorial photograph album of an art mission for friendship between Japan, Germany and Italy), includes photos taken during the European tour and travel journals of the delegation leader and some of the girls.

<<Photo 1>>
Nichi doku i shinzen geijutsu shisetsu toou kinen arubamu
Published by: Takarazuka Shojo Kagekidan;
Photo by: Shizuo TOGO;
[NDL call no.: 210-234]
Published in 1939;
*Black-and-white image available in the National Diet Library Digital Collections

While putting on shows for Japanese troops stationed in Shanghai and Japanese people living in Singapore, they enjoyed the voyage, for example, relaxing in the shipboard pool (Photo 2) and playing "deck golf" with a stick and a piece of wood similar to a hockey puck. (Photo 3).

<<Photo 2: Takarazuka girls relaxing in the shipboard pool>>

<<Photo 3: Takarazuka girls playing "deck golf">>

On November 2, 1938, they went ashore at the Port of Naples, Italy, and two days later, on November 4, the train carrying the troupe arrived in Berlin, Germany, at 11 p.m.

<<Photo 4: Girls from the Takarazuka Girls Revue Company arriving in Berlin>>

However, the Deutsche Opera Berlin theater was not ready for the performance due to communication screw-ups. Hata’s efforts finally enabled them to perform from November 20 to 23 in the Theater des Volkes. His diary, Takarazuka oshu koen nikki sho (lit. Abstract diary of the Takarazuka revue European Tour) vividly tells us of his trials and their active lives during the tour.

At that time, Nazi Germany (the Third Reich), following the Annexation of Austria and the cession of Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, gradually grew in strength to put Europe into a tense situation. Jew-baiting had appeared already. During their stay in Berlin, the bloodcurdling pogrom of "Crystal night" exploded in Germany where rioters brutally destroyed Jewish shops and set fire to synagogues.

After a performance in Poland, which was additionally scheduled after their arrival in Europe, they performed in nine theaters in Italy. They were favored with the presence of the Queen of Italy and Prime Minister Mussolini at their performance in Rome, and of the Prince and Princess of Italy in Naples. After the year-end vacation, from December 28 to January 1939, they gave performances in fifteen theaters in Germany (Photo 5).

<< Photo 5: Itinerary of the troupe>>

In Japan, the Takarazuka Girls Revue Company had in fact become hugely popular with its revue-style performances such as the program "Mon Paris," but in Europe, based on the idea of the founder Ichizo, they focused on programs inspired by Japanese traditional performing arts including Noh, Kabuki and Japanese-style dances. (Photo 6).

<<Photo 6: Takarazuka girls on stage during the Europe tour >>

Many of their performance were set in the evening of the day of their arrival, so Sudo had sometimes difficulty in conducting a local orchestra. According to the diaries of Hata and some of the girls, they enjoyed Japanese dishes including sushi, sukiyaki, unadon (a bowl of rice topped with broiled eel), but they had to eat nothing but bread and sausages during train travel, and the girls missed very much the taste of their home country.

Many photos in the book show us that they had a lot of fun despite their busy schedules. (Photo 7)

<<Photo 7: Takarazuka girls enjoy sightseeing>>

On January 29, they boarded the Japanese ocean liner Fushimi maru for Japan at the Port of Naples, and arrived at the Port of Kobe on March 4. Their nearly five-month European tour ended. Half a year later, Germany attacked Poland, and World War II broke out.

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Reference (in Japanese):

  • Takarazuka kageki 40nenshi (lit. Takarazuka Girls Revue Company 40 years’ history) [NDL call no.: 766.7-Ta377t3]
  • Takarazuka kageki 50nenshi (lit. Takarazuka Girls Revue Company 50 years’ history) [NDL call no.: 766.7-Ta377t3]
  • Yume o egaite hanayakani: Takarazuka kageki 80nenshi (lit. Toward a big dream, gorgeously: Takarazuka Girls Revue Company 80 years’ history) [NDL call no.:KD597-E51]
  • Sumirebana toshi o kasanete: Takarazuka kageki 90nenshi (lit. ’Violets’ continue to live forever: Takarazuka Girls Revue Company 90 years’ history) [NDL call no.: KD597-H13]
  • Niji no hashi wataritsuzukete: Takarazuka kageki hyakunenshi: Butaihen (lit. Over the rainbow: Takarazuka Girls Revue Company 100 years’ history, focusing on theater programs) [NDL call no.: KD597-L13]
  • WATANABE Hiroshi, "Dai 7 sho ’Takarazuka aidentiti’ no keisei to orientarizumu 1938 nen Takarazuka no berurin koen" (lit. Chapter 7 Takarazuka identity creation and orientalism ―Takarazuka revue in Berlin in 1938) Nihon bunka modan rapusodi (lit. Japanese culture modern rhapsody), Shunjusha, 2002. [NDL Call no.: KD151-H1]
  • IWABUCHI Tatsuji, Suisho no yoru takarazuka (lit. Crystal night, Takarazuka), Seidosha, 2004. [NDL Call no.: KD597-H26]
  • PARK, Sang Mi, "’Kindai nihon’ o sekai ni miseru ― senjiki taigai bunka seisaku to takarazuka shojo kagekidan no oubei koen" (lit. Showing Modern Japan to the world ― Japanese external cultural policy during the war period and the Takarazuka revue in Europe and the United States), Shiso (lit. Philosophy), 1026th issue, October 2009, Iwanami shoten. [NDL call no.: Z23-90]

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