When the Hankyū railway tycoon Kobayashi Ichizū laid a line out to the tiny spa town of TAKARAZUKA, 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, which has ever since been home 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. Tickets cost ¥3500–10,000. Reservations should be made via the ticket office up to a month before performances (daily 10am–5pm except for four-day closures between performances; Tel:0570/00-5100; no English spoken, but tourist offices can often check availability on your behalf).
As the Takarazuka Revue has both inspired and been inspired by manga, a visit to the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum (daily except Wed 9.30am–5pm; ¥500; Web: en.tezuka.co.jp ), just beyond the Grand Theatre, is worthwhile. The museum celebrates the comic-book genius Tezuka Osamu, creator of Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. This colourful museum displays art from his books, comics and animated films, charts his career, screens cartoons and gives you the chance to become an animator in the basement workshop (40min session; 10am–4pm).
The fastest train on the Hankyū Takarazuka line from Ōsaka's Umeda Station takes less than thirty minutes to reach Takarazuka Station (¥270). There are also direct trains on the JR Fukuchiyama line, taking a few minutes more from JR Ōsaka Station to JR Takarazuka Station, next to the Hankyū terminus and department store. Given that performances take place during the day, there's no need to stay over in Takarazuka. There are several places to eat in the Sorio 1 shopping mall that you'll pass through on the way to the Takarazuka Grand Theatre.