Japan’s Takarazuka Revue Admits Deceased Member Suffered Harassment from Senior Performers, Apologizes to Family

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hankyu Hanshin Holdings, Inc. President Yasuo Shimada, center, and other officials bow in apology during a press conference in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, on Thursday.

The Takarazuka Revue musical theater group formally admitted that one of its members, who died in 2023, had been harassed by senior performers and signed an agreement Thursday to pay compensation to her bereaved family.

At the signing, Hankyu Hanshin Holdings, Inc. Chairman Kazuo Sumi and other senior officials of the theater group’s parent firm directly apologized to the woman’s family and handed them letters of apology written by several senior performers. The woman, who had been a member of the all-female revue’s Cosmos Troupe, was 25 when she died.

Under the agreement, Takarazuka Revue, the group’s operating company Hankyu Corp. and Hankyu Hanshin Holdings all accepted that an excessive burden had been placed on the woman by making her work extremely long hours. They also acknowledged that “acts of harassment committed within the theater group had placed an enormous psychological burden on her.”

The agreement clearly accepted that all responsibility lay with the theater group, which had breached its obligations to ensure the woman’s safety, and that the negligence of the group’s senior management had allowed such a situation to eventuate.

The theater group previously refused to admit that acts of power harassment toward the woman had occurred. However, the group this time formally acknowledged that 14 incidents had occurred, including one case in August 2021 in which a senior performer pressed a hot hair iron against the woman’s forehead, causing a burn that took at least one month to heal. The senior performer did not apologize. There were also cases in which senior performers verbally insulted the woman with comments that seemingly denied her dignity.

During the press conference held in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, Hankyu Hanshin Holdings President Yasuo Shimada and other senior officials explained that their acknowledgement of the harassment was based on evidence presented by the woman’s family and on the content of interviews conducted with other Takarazuka members.

“I sincerely apologize to the entire bereaved family,” Shimada said. “I will do my utmost to make reforms that will prevent such things from ever happening again.”

The woman died in September 2023. Since November, her family had been in talks with the theater group over an apology and compensation.

An investigative report compiled by outside lawyers for the theater group and released in November became the first factor that stalled those negotiations. The report largely disregarded the family’s assertions that harassment had occurred. A senior Takarazuka official then poured oil on the flames of controversy during a press conference held when the report was released by saying, “I’d like them to show evidence” of the harassment.

This comment infuriated the woman’s family. In December, the family insisted there had been 15 incidents of power harassment, including abusive remarks and reprimands. However, the theater group side did not acknowledge these acts.

The strict hierarchy within the Takarazuka Music School, which is a training institute for future members of the revue, and tough guidance passed down as “tradition” from senior performers to new members even after they join the group were also factors behind the initial response to the family’s claims. Many former Takarazuka members were adamant such a system “was necessary to carry on the skills” of the group and in a way had supported the revue during its 110-year history.

Several senior members accused of being perpetrators admitted they felt it would be “harsh” to describe their actions as constituting power harassment and reportedly resisted calls for an apology.

A major turning point came when the woman’s family issued a written document on Jan. 12. “If you do not acknowledge what happened, we will consider taking other steps aside from the negotiations,” the document warned. Consequently, the Takarazuka side acknowledged for the first time during negotiations on Jan. 24 that harassment had occurred.

“We wanted to avoid the process being dragged out through a lawsuit,” a Hankyu’s executive admitted.

However, the situation became deadlocked again during negotiations on Feb. 14, as the discussions turned to the assessment of individual acts. The Takarazuka side denied that some of the actions in question were harassment because the person involved did not accept what they did was harassment. The woman’s family blasted this approach as an attempt to “protect the senior performers.”

The focus of the negotiations essentially boiled down to how to categorize the actions and the comments that the senior performers denied were harassment. Ultimately, Takarazuka conceded. That step was the “result of sincerely accepting the feelings of the bereaved family and examining the facts,” Shimada explained.

He added: “The theater group didn’t realize that those actions, even though there was no ill intent, would amount to power harassment, and we hadn’t educated the performers about that. We bear an extremely heavy responsibility for not changing the organization’s culture in line with the times.”