Getting Into Modelling in Japan
This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Connect.
Kayla Beyer (Tokyo), Holly Walder (Gunma)
Thank you for joining us, Kayla. Tell us about yourself.
Hi, I’m Kayla. I came to Japan in 2019, just before COVID. I was on the JET Programme for about three years. I was living in Niigata, in a place called Nagaoka. That was pretty fun. I just moved to Tokyo in August last year. All my friends were leaving and I don’t really love living in the countryside anyway, so I packed up and left to find a job [in Tokyo] with my boyfriend. Our time in Japan didn’t feel quite finished.
How did you start to pursue modelling?
My interest started while I was living in Nagaoka, but of course there’s nothing around there so really there weren’t many opportunities. Yeah, living in Tokyo gives me a lot more opportunity for that. My schedule is opening up [from my day job as a teacher] a little bit soon to do more modelling.
Surprisingly enough I did find one opportunity in Nagaoka. It was modelling for a hair salon. The hair stylist wanted to join a hair contest in Kyoto. At the contest, hair stylists came in with models with a bunch of different hairstyles and costumes. So we flew out to Kyoto. [The stylist] dyed my hair green and made it poofy and put me in an outfit. But I didn’t have my glasses, and I didn’t have contact lenses at the time so I was just kind of looking around so confused. But it was really fun. It was an interesting experience.
How did you find this opportunity? Did they contact you?
The salon lady contacted me through Instagram. I do promotions and stuff through my Instagram. I advertise myself there and I’ve gotten a couple of opportunities through it, even without so many followers. I used to use my Instagram a lot more but it can be kind of draining for me. I try to keep up with it. Maybe after this, I’ll update it so people will have something to look at!
What first got you into modelling?
My relationship with modelling is quite new, because before—you know, growing up—the image of a model is this skinny white tall Victoria’s Secret goddess. So I never thought that was going to be me. I’m not tall, not white, not blonde. So, I never considered that for myself—I haven’t, even though a few people had told me, “Oh you could be a model.” And I kind of just thought it was like a joke or something. One time, my Mom saw something in the mall about sign up sheets for an agency or something, with these very young models, and she said, “Hey, do you want to do that?” And I thought, “How? I’m not a model.”
But it turns out that there’s just more than one type of model. And I just never really realised that until I came to Japan and I had a friend who was kind of interested in becoming [a model] herself in Tokyo. There are lots of different types of models—like when you watch TV, maybe you’ll see an advertisement, and it’s not like some goddess—it’s a regular person. There are models in advertising with all sorts of different body types for all sorts of different products, that don’t need to be tall with a square chin.
So how do you go about pursuing modelling in Japan?
You can go about it in all sorts of different ways. An agency is one of the best ways. If you live in a city like Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto, you can sign up to work for them and it’s surprisingly simple. Don’t sign up for anything that requires you to pay. If there is a fee to join it is a scam, so research the agency before you sign up.
I personally use Instagram. I would take pictures of myself in an interesting place or in a fancy outfit advertising myself as a model. I’d put in English and Japanese “DM for collaboration.” There are a lot of hobbyist photographers out there. I would definitely be wary about this on Instagram, though. Of course, we all know that internet safety and personal safety are important. I haven’t had any very bad experiences personally, but you know, there’s always things that you have to watch out for.
Would you say that you have to be careful getting into modelling?
I wouldn’t say it’s dangerous, I guess, but you just have to be careful. Use common sense and ask a lot of questions. I haven’t had any horrible experiences, but this industry is sketchy at times. So far, in Japan, there thankfully hasn’t been that element of danger or sketchiness. And the community of foreigners is small enough that you can kind of just ask any model about what agency they have worked for and they’ll tell you. That’s how I knew which agencies were pretty good, and then I would research them afterwards as well. But be careful. Don’t just meet up with any random photographer, right?
Have you noticed any difference between Japanese models and foreign models in terms of getting work?
I’m not sure. All the agencies that I signed up for offer work for both. And some of them advertise as foreigner friendly. There isn’t necessarily anything like, “Japanese people go over here and foreigners over there.” I don’t think it’s quite like that.
Say you’ve found someone through Instagram or an agency or so on with a modelling gig, how would that usually go?
It depends on the job. They say what kind of look they’re aiming for. You meet up and take some pictures.Then they pay you, and you go home. During the job, they might travel with you to different locations, but sometimes you’ll stay in one location. Sometimes they’ll have an outfit ready for you, sometimes they expect you to bring your own outfit. You might change outfits multiple times or you might keep on the same outfit all day. It varies on the makeup as well. Sometimes they’ll have a makeup artist, sometimes you do your makeup for yourself. If it’s for a product, they may want a specific image, but if it’s more like fashion, you may be able to do whatever poses you like to try and kind of see more of your personality.
If it’s just pictures for a product, it’s usually not too long of a day—it’s pretty simple and straightforward. I have also been an extra for movies and those are really long days of just standing and waiting, but modelling for photos isn’t very long.
What do you like about modelling?
I like the behind the scenes aspect of it, being able to see what goes into making a commercial. You know, when you’re watching it, you don’t really think about all the extras they hired or all the props that they have. And how many hours people were just standing around for a two minute commercial. It’s also fun to be in a creative environment. I enjoy it. It’s a break from teaching nine to five. You get to see an entirely different world and meet so many people. I do like that aspect. I’m not the most social of butterflies, but I have met some really interesting individuals from all around. I met a guy who was a refugee from Syria. He had an incredible story on how he went through the (pretty horrible) refugee process in Japan, to being able to make a living acting here. I’ve met a lot of Ukranian models. There is still a war going on, their stories are a fresh reminder. There’s also other Americans. It’s cool just listening to so many people’s stories. There are some assholes as well. I mean, obviously in any industry you’ll find a couple, but it’s still sometimes fun to watch. Like, there really are people like that in the modelling industry?
By “there really are people like that,” do you mean like models portrayed in media?
Wow, there are those people who are arrogant or attention seekers. I think attention seeking might be the biggest one in this industry in particular, because they want to be in front of the camera. They want to get the role, right? Even if they’re just an extra. But generally it’s not so dramatic.
Do you have a dream gig?
There are a couple. Any kind of big brand name would be really cool. It could be really cool if there was travel involved. I had an audition for a job that would take me to Kyoto, but I didn’t make it. That was so sad. I was really, really close. Especially because I already did kind of have that with the hair model when I was flown out to Kyoto and I really enjoyed it. It doesn’t matter what it is for—even rice cookers, I’d do it. It’s really cool opening a magazine and seeing images of things that you have done.
What is your experience with retouching?
There was one that did retouch me quite a lot, and I felt like my skin was quite light in that one. But so far they have all looked like me, and even people at work notice them and say, “It’s you!.” I wouldn’t like them to make my skin lighter, I feel like that’s not cool. But I am a model and I get paid for my image, and what they do with my image afterwards—that’s what the money goes to. So it’s not like I have any right to have an issue, unless the final image really was degrading. You can’t really do much about it, but if it happened I would speak out—not against the company, but rather against the practice of [skin lightening in photos]. I’m glad that I haven’t had to deal with that too much.
“Go for it. Everyone who wants to try can do it.”
Would you recommend modelling to others?
Absolutely. Go for it. Everyone who wants to try can do it. I think there’s no harm in giving it a shot. If you enjoy the experiences, keep at it; and if you don’t, you can stop at any time. I would really encourage anyone who wanted to try it to give it a go. There are so many different kinds of models in print and video, as well as runway of course!
Kayla models and teaches English in Tokyo. She enjoys everything art, and is often drawing in her free time. You can find her on Instagram @kayla_cbear.