Modeling in Tokyo, Japan

24 Feb

Two Different Perspectives of Modeling in Tokyo

they made me take off my top

Perspective 1: Minoru Kusoda,

"…pretend that you're an overly flamboyant gay dude."

Firstly, I admit it: I am not good-looking enough to model in the West. BUT, I did several jobs in Tokyo. Among them:

  • model for jewelry company print advert (10000 yen/two hours work.)
  • extra for IBM training video (paid about 25000 yen/one whole day)
  • extra for DOCOMO NTT commercial (paid about 22000 yen/whole day)
  • extra on educational NHK show (NHK jobs pay shit — 10000 yen)

Generally, I was a dude in the background. Landing a main role will get you much more money (i.e. 200,000 yen) than the above extra/print work. Most of the auditions I went to were won by someone who actually looked like their calling in life could be modeling/acting. But if you want to give it a shot, here's the basic rundown:


There are dozens of agencies. I worked primarily with D'XIM (Harajuku), Avocado (Harajuku), and Group Echo (in the boonies). You can find their info online. Some agencies require you to bring your own photos, others take them for you in their office (so dress well). If you want to do voice work for agencies like Group Echo who specialize in this area, bring a reel. They'll all ask you to fill out a registration form, on which you input your sizes (they'll measure you if you don't know) and skills.

Being Available

One week you might get four calls from different agencies (sometimes about the same job). Then you might not hear from an agency for a month. The work is inconsistent. You can't rely on it, so you're forced to get a regular day job (e.g. teaching). Then you'll get a call for 'the perfect job' but you'll have to cancel because of your stupid day job. Life. Most auditions are during the daytime on a weekday, along with the actual shoot, making them difficult to attend. For exchange students in Tokyo, this type of work is ideal because you could probably ditch a month of Japanese university and still pass.

Some jobs select models/actors only by photo-selection. Therefore having good photos is important. Most jobs require photo-selection and an audition. All the jobs I got were by photo-selection only which proves how badly I suck at acting in auditions.


Are rad. But unpaid. Firstly, you'll need to introduce yourself (in JP) to the company/camera before your audition. Then they'll ask you to do something, possibly fucked up, on camera. For one audition I just had to pull my t-shirt over my head, put my arms out like a robot, and teeter back and forth for like 40 seconds. For others, I just had to drink beer and shoot the shit with other gaijins (there are plenty of beer commercial auditions). I found that just being myself wasn't enough as I am not incredibly animated. If you're the same, pretend that you're an overly flamboyant gay dude. It helped me at least.

gay Bulgarian singer Azis

Then you await the call, which is most often a disappointing one, rendering the whole process financially fruitless. But, you likely had a good time (if you're like me) and just being involved in a contest with such a high reward is exciting in itself.

Can any foreigner model in Japan?

After much contemplation, my answer is … probably not. To land a job, you need at least of one of these assets: looks or skills.

looks: you don't need to be good looking, but you need to embody some kind of look. If you fit the mold of a wholesome blue-eyed cracker, scrawny emo kid, muscular jock, or big-nosed mutant, you're likely to be hired for jobs that need to fill this stereotype.

skills: having unique skills, e.g. tennis, break-dancing, ballet, etc, is invaluable. The only audition I nearly won was a skateboarding one. If you can do something well or expertly, there's a good chance that during a year in Tokyo, that skill will be required in an audition.

Lacking both of these assets, you might want to stick to your reliable day job. This advice is coming from someone who was fairly unsuccessful overall, and therefore is not meant as boastful. If you think modeling is for you, give it a shot by all means. With so many different jobs in Tokyo; one just might require an alien freak like you.


Perspective 2: Shank,

"Rule number one: Don't give a fuck."

I've done about 20 or so male modeling gigs here in Japan. Man, if I said that to the boys back home I'd definitely get a shot in the arm! Basically, it easier than real work plus you get a little cash and a vanity trophy. I have friends who work for agencies and pull all their income from modeling. But these are thin hipsters who are half Japanese, so tattooed old skaters like me can't even hope to pull the same paychecks.

Unlike Kusoda, I have never been signed to an agency. I do have a bro who works for one, and would throw me odd jobs now and then. After you do a few shoots, the magazines and photography companies will put you on file. Then when they have something the requires, let's say, “old drunk with tattoos and facial scars to make this sissy-ass brand look more street”, then they call me. I've made as little as 15,000 yen for 5 cuts (5 sets of shots in one outfit each). I've gotten 8,000 yen for a 10 minute New Era ad as well. The best are all day shoots direct for the magazine where you go in for like 4-6 hours and pump out 8 cuts or so. That pays around 50,000 yen. But remember that most of the time your not doing shit. Your sitting around eating a rice ball and drinking coffee with some other dudes who all know each other in the 2-degrees-of-Kevin Bacon-separation sort of way….So, bring a good fuckin' book.

I've been in magazines like Sense, Warp, Ollie and Huge among others. In fact, my girl called me one day and said that she was at the bookstore above Starbucks in front of Shibuya crossing and they had a huge ass display with me and my friend on it. Turns out that we got the cover of Huge that month, so I called up the dudes and demanded a bonus. Sneaky bitches!  I've also done jobs for catalogues, promo vids, and even a full on catwalk show for Diet Butcher Slim Skin. That one was fun because they got us drunk as shit before the show, and I got to meet a bunch of whiney lil man-bitches complain about hairstyle changes and other male-model bullshit. In fact, I've got faded via modeling quite a few times. There are opening parties, seasonal exhibitions, and sometimes they just want to get some live action party pics in a controlled environment. I went to one where they rented out a club, had a “punk” band play, and had an open bar. We all got wasted and started a mosh pit. And…wa-la! I'm in a magazine bitches!

Tips to be Japan's next bottom-feeder model:

1. Don't give a fuck.  Bad hair day?  OK. 

Look like shit from a bender? OK.

Smell like tranny whore from a bondage party the night before?  OK.

Once you're there, they need you.  They can't just pull some dick off the street same-day and replace you.  Simply, being polite is enough.  No need to be overly accommodating.

2. Ask around.  You can be fresh off the boat, and within a few weeks you'll have foreign friends. Ask them if they ever did any gigs.  If they have, e-mail your photos and details (measurements) over to the contact and you might get a job.  I got my first job with a pic of me skating in Yoyogi park all dirty and skank.

3. Negotiate.  Unless you are through an agency, I suggest reasonable negotiation.  You teach English for 3000 yen an hour?  Make sure you get at least that if not more.  Unless your a vain bitch, you're there for the money.

4. Have fun.  Have free snacks and coffee. Smoke a fag. Shotgun a beer. My friend who runs a major magazine here in Japan told me that he only uses models to fill pages. They are worthless otherwise. So take advantage of anything they offer. I make them drive me to the train station or my next destination when possible.  Why not?

In summary, Handsome Boy Modeling School is a dope album, but Prince Paul wasn't referencing Japan. You don't have to look like every other GQ model, and no one will try to rape you. You just have to NOT look Japanese. Chin down and glare at the camera.  That's all there is to it bitches.

Authors: Minoru Kusoda [cybrog] & Shank [gotfadedjapan]

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