In case you missed the first part of the interview, let me introduce you Thomas, longtime friend pursuing a modeling and creative career in Japan.
In the previous part we talked about his motivation to leave France to live in Japan, the Visual Kei scene and Japanese subcultures. This time we’ll focus on the Japanese modelling scene and the future of the music scenes in Japan.
Check it out below!
Hasawa: Is there a unique aspect of working with Japanese people? Is it true the passing on of knowledge from one generation to the next is very important?
Thomas: They are better peer relationships between kouhai (junior) and sempai (elders). This aspect is hugely embedded within Japanese culture. When you have a good relationship with older people who like you and appreciate your work ethic, you get a lot of support from them. Elders who have managed to attain success within their career will help and “educate” up-and-comers.
It’s very cool to see people who are 30 or 40+ years older than you (sometimes less – only 10 or 20 years older), enjoying their role of passing on their knowledge and experience. A generational helping hand, so to speak. This kind of exchange doesn’t really happen here in France. Different education I guess.
Hasawa: Tell me about your modeling work.
Thomas: When I first started, I was with an agency that only hired Japanese models, with ~99.8% Japanese and haafu [NA : ‘half’ – japanese mixed person] on their roster.
I stayed there for 2 and a half years, and along the way learned how the Japanese modeling industry worked. I’ve been told that my fluency in Japanese allowed me to be treated like a haafu. I went to the same castings and received the same kinds of jobs as them.
That being said, I don’t agree with the preconceived idea that Japanese people are racist. Some Japanese acquaintances told me they were very impressed, almost intimidated, by foreigners, so they tend a to adopt some kind of shyness-induced avoidance towards them. But do we even reach out to foreigners on purpose here in France?
Hasawa: Obviously not, because we are more used to racial and cultural differences.
Thomas: But just because you don’t reach out or mix with others doesn’t mean you reject or belittle them. Besides, I’ve seen more foreigners messing around in Japan (which could give a very bad image of foreigners to Japanese) than I have seen Japanese people messing around in the West.
Hasawa: What do you think is specific to the Japanese modeling industry?
Thomas: In Japan, full Japanese + haafu and the gaijin [NA: foreigners] are two different categories.
This is a very local industry. Tokyo-based agencies will send their models to castings in Tokyo and Osaka-based agencies will send their model to castings in Osaka, so consequently you always see the same people getting sent to the same castings. But when the opportunity is present, models from local agencies can be dispatched on a national and even international scale.
Hasawa: How do you explain there are so little Japanese models in the international fashion scene?
Thomas: Not enough Japanese models match with the international standards of the modeling industry. The height is the biggest criteria. Most of Japanese male models are around 180cm maximum. At my former agency, a bunch of them were 178cm. In France this is inconceivable – 184cm is the minimum [NA: Thomas is 182cm]. But there is probably a language and financial barrier as well.
Hasawa: Do you mean the agencies don’t have enough financial resources to send their models in the West for castings?
Thomas: Like in the rest of the world, that’s not the agencies that send the models. Agencies ‘take’ models from other agencies.
I had a friend who was in an agency in France and made his career here [in France]. Then he moved to Japan and signed with a japanese agency, but his “mother agency” (the concept of mother agency is very important) remained the French one. So when he got modeling jobs in Tokyo, he had to give 10% of his revenue to his mother agency (in France). There is also a whole system of “licence” allowing some agencies to pay other agencies to use their talent.
Hasawa: How do you explain this is very the same models that are always pushed forward? Kiko Mizuhara is great example.
Thomas: Kiko is not a model. She’s a “geinojin” (celebrity).
Hasawa: Really?? Because in the West, she’s really considered as model. She has been an ambassador for a few international brands (Diesel, Marc Jacobs, Maison Kitsuné, etc) and appeared in major international publications (Vogue, Numéro, i-D, etc)
Thomas: As a geinojin, she is not only a model. Not sure if she fits as a talento, but in regards to her notoriety, I’d say she’s rather a geinojin.
In Japan, you have agencies for talento, but there are also model agencies that have a talento section for artists who are models but also actor, singer, etc. Usually, “models” do modeling and modeling only.
Kiko is not in a modeling agency – she’s in a “geino jimusho” agency (talent agency). This is why she’s acting, modeling, etc. Since she’s mixed, her ‘market’ is bigger as well.
Hasawa: So how do you explain this is the very same faces that are being pushed forward?
Thomas: Products are less frequently being sold through models. They use celebrities at the moment. Think about all these people on Instagram that are distorting competition.
Hasawa: A lot of brands are now casting girls directly via Instagram, only regarding their number of followers…
Thomas: A lot of people are now becoming models, but not really in the strict sense of the term.
Thomas: Influencers are not necessarily models. This term is very vague. But the dominant models in Japan won’t necessarily be the ones you think they are.
Hasawa: I’d say Kiko Mizuhara, Mona Matsuoka….
Thomas: Mona is a model. She’s in a modeling agency. But there is also Chiharu Okunugi, who’s very big at the moment. She’s on every runway.
Hasawa: Really? I know Chiharu, but I’m pretty sure a lot of people reading this interview have never heard of her. Not everyone watches fashion shows or read fashion magazines. On the other hand, Kiko, who is very present on a multitude of medias (brand ambassador, CMs, MVs, movies etc), receives a good amount of visibility from a lot of people, and not only from those interested in fashion. Which is pretty confusing since she’s far from being one of the biggest japanese models on the international modelling scene.
Thomas : Modeling is actually a very small industry in Japan. There are less [fashion] magazines as well. I feel like all the entertainment sectors are getting mingled into each others.
Hasawa: Everything is becoming more porous. Models are becoming actresses and actresses are now modeling. Have you seen the latest Dolce & Gabbana fashion show featuring KOM_I?
Thomas : ..Who?
Hasawa: She is the singer of Suiyoubi no Campanella. One of the hottest up and coming electro band in Japan. They’ve been featured in i-D Japan in which she gave an interview about their concert at the Tokyo Budokan.
Thomas: *Googles “Suiyoubi no Campanella”*
Hasawa: …You’ve never heard of them?
Thomas : Pop music isn’t really my scene… Anything “trending” is not really my thing.
Hasawa: I tend to think the hipster scene and indie music fans love them, while the general public doesn’t really care!
Thomas: Fair enough. I haven’t really watched TV since the beginning of the year…
Hasawa: They’ve been around for years now, and they released a bunch of albums already.
Thomas : Releasing albums doesn’t mean they’re on TV. Unlike the modeling and acting industry, the music scene is still fairly sectioned off. People doing rock music won’t use the same music production software as the ones doing electronic music are using. Everything has its own standards, their own references. You can’t always be in tune with what’s happening around you; you have to pick up your interests.