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Modelling in Tokyo

June 1, 2005

Shotaro Arai is a scout and manager who travels the globe looking for the right faces for Axelle in Tokyo. Modelresource sat down with him in Toronto, where he was attending Model & Talent Search Canada.
Modelresource: Tell me about the types of models that work best in your market.

Shotaro: We are looking for thin, long models. We need to look for models all over the world because we don't have a large variety in sizes in Tokyo. We need very specific types of models.

Hips need to be no bigger than 90 cm (under 36"). Over 90 cm won't work in Tokyo.

The waist needs to be no bigger than 60 cm (under 24").

For height, 175 cm (5'9") is a good height. You can do both shows and catalogue.

For shows, 180 cm (5'11") is fine, but 170 cm (5'7") won't work. 177 cm (just under 5'10") to 182 (just under 6'0") is good for shows. But even for shows, the girls have to be really, really thin.

For catalogue 170 cm (5'7") to 175 cm (5'9") is good.

Also, knowing how to smile is very important.

Always models with brown hair and brown eyes can work. The Japanese market changes very quickly however. What was new a month ago is now old. Even a year ago, there were more blonde girls, but now it's more dark-haired models. I can't even say what the look is right now.

Last year, last show season, we had three black girls that did very well. Years ago, they would not have. The market has changed a lot.

If you want to come to Japan right now, it is a good idea to see what is happening, and to check with us to see what we are looking for.

Modelresource: Is it easy for models to coming to Japan to work in other Asian markets?

Shotaro: Models should think just about Japan, rather than thinking about all of Asia. Asia is very different. I think Japan, Korea and Taipei are all so different. It's okay to want to work in all of Asia, but the model needs to understand the markets are very different.

Usually if we do take a model from another market, it's Hong Kong. Sometimes when we take models from Eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union, we ask them to go to Hong Kong first. That makes their book good for Japan.

Modelresource: A few years ago the Asian financial markets collapsed and it became much less lucrative for Western models to work in Japan. Is it getting better now?

Shotaro: It is getting better, but not like it used to be in the early 90s.

Modelresource: What type of attitude should models adopt for your market?

Shotaro: We just had a model from New Zealand that had a really hard time. I understand because I've seen what it is like in America, but she had a really hard time with the clients. I could understand what she was thinking, but to them, she was rude. People that want to be successful in Japan need to understand Japanese ways a little bit.

We have lots of Russians and Brazilians who I think because of their economic situation, bring a different attitude. Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders... If you want to be successful in Japan you need to be more professional. Understand what clients expect.

Sometimes it's really tough, but we know our clients and what models need to do to be successful. Sometimes my boss will tell a model she needs to lose three kilos (6.6 pounds), and the Russian girls, or the Brazilian girls will do it. They just do it. Girls from Western countries will sometimes just talk though, and say "how can I do that?" I understand it's not really healthy to do it quickly, but if you're really here to work and we tell you that you have to lose three kilos, then lose three kilos. Professionals will be successful.

Modelresource: In most major fashion markets the models are left on their own to get to castings. How difficult is it in Tokyo?

Shotaro: Every single casting, every single job, managers go with the models.

Modelresource: Japanese agencies have always been successful recruiting models by forwarding money for flights, accommodations and some spending cash for things like groceries. How much of their own money should models bring with them to Tokyo?

Shotaro: Some models from the former Soviet Union come with no money. It depends what kind of life you want to have when you are in Tokyo.

Modelresource: A lot of models don't want to do underwear. How much does that affect their potential to work?

Shotaro: If you don't do underwear in Tokyo, for catalogues, you will lose out on half of the castings. I know there are models that don't do underwear, but if there are five castings in a day, she might only go to two or three. Every single day we have underwear castings.

Modelresource: Can models in Tokyo end up with many English-language tearsheets?

Shotaro: Yes, there are a lot of English language tearsheets that can be had.

Modelresource: What about English-speaking models doing Japanese TV commercials?

Shotaro: It is not hard. We get scripts once the model gets the job, so she can practice. There won't be a lot to learn, just a couple short phrases.

Modelresource: For models that have seen the film Lost in Translation, how realistically does is portray Tokyo?

Shotaro: I have not seen it, but a friend of mine has seen it and said it's very realistic. I have to see it.

Modelresource: What else would you want people to know about modelling in Japan?

Shotaro: I think Japan is not as hard as people think. Taipei is different, Korea is different. For me, Japan is easy to communicate with the agencies. It might not be as easy on the streets, but the agencies are easy to work with.

In Japan, girls can walk by themselves at night, it's not dangerous. Take a chance on Japan - you will enjoy it.