How to Become a Model in Japan

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Modeling internationally is a dream come true for established and aspiring models, especially with new and bold fashion trends coming out of Japan every year. But fear of the language barrier and possible culture shock may be too overwhelming for a world-be model. It's true that being able to speak Japanese fluently will be a great asset to your modeling career, but more important are the physical qualities of a model and a willingness to expand your horizon.

Study everything you can about Japanese culture, particularly the modern fashion trends in Tokyo and Osaka. Familiarizing yourself with the culture and what Japan considers “hip” will give you less of a shock when you arrive there.

Learn Japanese that will be relevant to you. Don't worry if you can't completely understand the language when you make the journey; Japanese people in the fashion industry are normally used to English-speaking models. Learning what you can of the language will help you, as it displays a willingness to understand the people you'll be working with.

Find a few local jobs first to put on your resume before applying in Japan. It's not a requirement, but it's highly recommended; Japanese modeling agencies invest a great deal in foreign talent, from sponsoring a work visa to securing and paying for accommodations. An agency will be less hesitant about hiring someone who already has a résumé, because that model has already proved a commitment to (and talent in) the modeling profession.

Apply to agencies in Japan who work especially with foreign talent. Many of the agencies will have a website in English to make applying easier for you. Usually you won't need a Japanese “rirekisho”, a specific résumé typical of other occupations in Japan. Have your portfolio and other photos in a file format that can be read by a majority of international computers—usually .jpeg or .gif. If you speak Japanese conversationally or fluently, make a note of that and any other languages you know.

Save money to make the trip. Although a modeling agency will generally cover your travel and accommodation expenses and sponsor your work visa, everything else is usually left up to you. If you don't like the idea of living hand-to-mouth in a land where you don't speak the native language very well, save up enough to live on comfortably for several months until you can book steady work as a model in Japan.

Tip

Use your “gaijin” (foreign) qualities to your advantage. The Japanese figure is normally smaller in height and frame from those of other ethnicities, so magazines and other print media will often look for a “different” kind of model to catch the Japanese reader's eye. Being tall, green- or blue-eyed, or being a natural redhead will be selling points you can use, so highlight them in your application photos, but don't overemphasize them to the point that the viewer can't see anything else.

Like their Western counterparts, Japanese agencies usually have exclusive right to your work and your likeness. When you sign a contract, you're “locked in” to it and need their permission to work with any other agencies during that time.

Warning

Avoid agencies who try to scam you into giving money or a “fee” of any sort. A legitimate agency won't require payment to list your photo on its website. If the agency contacts you with a job offer and you don't remember applying, be on your guard.

About the Author

Umiko Sasaki has been writing for newspapers and trade magazines since 1999. Credits include Software.com, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Mayo Center for the Performing Arts, and several regional charities. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Drew University in playwriting and has owned a copywriting business in New Jersey since 2005.

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