Every semester, we, the student staff of the ICC, transform our ideas, interests, and hobbies into written projects that go on to become the events our office is known for. After all my 3 years working here, this is a process I am very familiar with, but at the same time I cannot help but dread it a little. “What if I don’t have any good ideas this time?” “What if my plan doesn’t work out and the event fails?”
With these worries in my mind, around this time last year I submitted the plan to carry out a lecture event that brought together a discussion about gender studies and Takarazuka Revue. My field of study is International Law and Women’s Rights, so of course I am very interested in topics related to gender and feminism. In addition to that, I love music and musical theater, and I had always had a lot of curiosity in knowing more about the unique Takarazuka Revue. For those who might not know, it is a centenarian Japanese musical theater troupe formed only by female artists, who play both male and female characters. The troupe has a wide range of works under their name, going from adaptations of Japanese manga (like the famous The Rose of Versailles) and Western novels (like The Scarlet Pimpernel), to Japanese traditional works (like Genji Monogatari).
Linking those two topics was not a hard task for me, and I knew how I wanted the event to happen. I would invite a former Takarazuka Revue actress to speak about her experiences in an all-female workplace, and also about her perception of gender roles, discrimination against women and her views on the still very patriarchal Japanese society. I would also bring in a Waseda professor specializing on the field of gender studies to share their knowledge on the matter, and both guests would do their presentation together.
However, things are never as easy as they seem, and my previous worries became a reality, with my project meeting some obstacles. First, because of my own academic responsibilities, I had to delay carrying out the event during the fall semester of 2016, and could only start working on it in the beginning of this year. The second issue was harder to overcome, as finding a professor to be my guest proved to be a harder task than I had expected. This problem was a huge rock in my path, and it actually made me rethink my whole event. So, I had my knowledge on the topic, obviously not as good as an experienced professor, but still enough to carry a conversation, and I had the collaboration of Ms. Yasuko Naka, a lovely and helpful ex-Takarazuka performer that had already volunteered her time to my event. What could I do?
I found the answer by changing the format of the project. Instead of doing my original idea and organizing a lecture, I would transform it into a talk show/audience interactive conversation kind of event. I would ask Ms. Naka thought provoking questions concerning gender and Takarazuka Revue, and she would answer them according to her knowledge and experiences. We would also leave the whole conversation open for the participants to join with their own questions and interventions. On paper, the idea sounded great, but it was the first time ever an event like that would be done by the ICC, and a disturbing amount of things could go wrong. Still, we prepared ourselves and decided to give it our best shot on the D-day.
Fortunately, the event was a success. The preparations were carried out without a problem, the conversation between Ms. Naka and I flowed smoothly, her special harp performance was beautiful, and we had more than 70 participants that asked us many interesting and thought-provoking questions. They were so engaged that they also shared their ideas with us through the participant questionnaire the ICC always provides. Some people, that had never thought about gender roles or feminism and had just come because they liked Takarazuka Revue, said our words had given them a new perspective on society. Others, that studied gender in the context of subjects such as law, international relations and sociology, said that learning about Takarazuka Revue made them think of various fresh research topics.
After everything was over, I realized that I had created this event to make people think, but in the end, I was thinking and learning as much as the audience. From the beginning, when the event started taking form, I had to deal with disappointments and obstacles concerning the formal parts of its creation process, and adapt my way of thinking in order to be able to move on. Then, while making the contents of the event talk, during the event itself, listening to questions from the audience, and afterwards, when reading their comments on the questionnaires, I also constantly had to rethink what I thought I knew about Takarazuka Revue and gender. For example, I was very surprised to learn about the expectations put on the Takarazuka Revue actresses to keep being “in character” even when they are not working, and about the higher importance clearly given to the women that play male roles. Thinking about all these new things gave me an improved perception of my research topics and even of society in general. For other people and for myself, I truly hope I can keep helping the ICC to make these kinds of meaningful events from now on.