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Made in Japan

One of America’s hottest exports to the Far East may be its fashion models. Here’s why girls who cross the Pacific are practically guaranteed to profit from the trip.

By Eve Matheson
Lee Meriwether - Groundbreaker
Repping Americans abroad: Model agent Sawa Saito of Diamond 1 Modeling Agency, Tokyo, helps new arrivals to Japan’s flourishing modeling scene.
One of the greatest perks of a modeling career is the opportunity to travel the world, and Japan is one of the most popular venues overseas for male and female models. I have interviewed many Americans who have ventured to Japan, and they told me that they relished the experience of learning about this beautiful country and its culture. They also had made a considerable amount of money while working there. There are, however, some misconceptions about modeling in Japan, as can be seen in this question from a 19-year-old whose career started about two years ago. She writes:

Q I have heard that Japan is the place to go because it is guaranteed that a model will make a lot of money quickly. Is that true?

A The word “guaranteed” in this context bothers me. In Japan, the government law requires that there be a standard guaranteed exclusive contract between a foreign model and model agent. The government also requires that agencies guarantee a minimum amount of earnings for that period, regardless of whether the model works or not, plus a pre-paid round-trip airfare ticket and accommodation. One agent told me: “The government does not want us to bring in anyone who will not work. This protects the model from unemployment. The guarantee will pay back what they owe in airfare, apartment rental, and other expenses.”

From this you will gather that the guarantee covers all expenses incurred by the agent on your behalf. Money earned over and above this is yours, but no one can guarantee how much that will be. Experienced models with good portfolios inevitably do better than newcomers.

Agents, scouts and managers working in this market are extremely selective when choosing models. Their choice is seldom wrong. That is why most models do work a great deal and, as a result, make a lot of money.

Charming Sawa Saito, an international scout based in Tokyo with the Avenue 1 Modeling Agency, has this advice for you and other young models contemplating time in Japan: “There is a wide variety of work in Tokyo, especially for catalogs. Clients expect girls to walk and pose well. Models must be able to change poses quickly and naturally to prove they are professional. This is very important. They must also be able to take care of themselves and their apartments.”

While Tokyo is the most famous fashion city in Japan, Osaka is also an important and lucrative stop on a model’s itinerary. The work there is done mostly for catalogs.

This next question also concerns the international circuit. This young model writes:

Q Is it true that to really get ahead a model has to work in Europe? Why is that?

A Basically, there are more magazines there pertaining to the fashion industry, which means there is more work, which translates into more opportunities to get tear sheets. These are pages from magazines and other publications that show a model at work. Since they indicate experience, they are essential credentials. When models come back from overseas with tear sheets in their portfolios, clients can see that they have been successful and are willing to book them. Suzanne Von Schaak, who is a model and an actress, encourages all newcomers to “go to Europe and come back strong.” She told me: “I came to New York, but I was afraid to go to Europe. I didn’t speak any other languages.

  For the complete behind-the-scenes story and all the details on this and other exciting competitive events from across America, as well as a wealth of advice to improve your chances of victory, be sure to order Pageantry today.  

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