Want to model in Japan? Poof! You’re a model. Okay… not exactly, but kind of. There are a few differences between getting started in modeling and commercial acting in Japan. I’m from San Francisco, and when I started nine years ago it was tough to get an agent. When I say “agent” I mean a real agent, with SAG/AFTRA affiliation and portfolio of global brands featuring successful talent — an agent that books you real work that doesn’t involve being sprawled on the hood of a Thunderbird.
If you leave this post with one piece of information, it should be this: Most modeling isn’t about you. It’s about the product, or the client, or the idea that ultimately sells something to a consumer. Creative work is about you – and it’s amazing to shoot – it’s fun and artistic and collaborative…and doesn’t pay jack. But print modeling? Gets. You. Paid. So let’s talk about doing that in Japan.
You will need head shots, audition training, a variety of test work that shows a client you can sell whatever story the client is trying to sell.
Being a foreign model means you’re a rarity. It means the competition level is low, so experience means less here. If you look at many Japanese foreign agency websites, you’ll see what I mean. Check out any Japanese foreign agency, and then look at an agency like LA Models or Ford. Most of the photos on the Japanese sites would never, ever, in a million years get put up on an LA or SF agency site.
Now I’m not saying these people can’t get work, I’m saying most of the headshots and photos aren’t super high quality. If you want to book work fast? Be professional and look the part. A few tips:
Professional Tip 1: Get the Right Visa
I get emails from girls from all over the world who want to come to Japan to model. Right on, go for it, and do it now! BUT, be smart about it. Don’t try to roll into Tokyo on a tourist visa and say “Okay I’m here agent, sponsor me. Can I have some money now?” Agents are not employers – they’re agents — it’s an important distinction. Agents don’t pay you, the client or photographer does. And you don’t work for agents, they work with you do book work and take a cut for making the connection and brokering the deal.
You need a humanities visa to come over and get work, which means, yeah…you’re going to need a job with a company that will sponsor you. If you get here on a humanities visa, start working, and land a bazillion-yen SoftBank contract, THEN you can apply for an artist’s visa and sleep until 2:00 p.m. But until then, check the job boards and find sponsorship doing something you’ll dig in the meantime, and go to auditions during your downtime.
Professional Tip 2: Look The Part
If you want to stand out here, look the part. Polish your look: hair, nails, skin, fix your teeth…all of it. The more effort you put in the less rookie you look.
Professional Tip 3: Get Proper Photos
Find a professional photographer in your area who has done headshots.
Professional Tip 4: Get On the Internets
WordPress, Blogger, Wix, Yola… whatever template you chose, get an online presence up to show you’re a pro and you mean business. Plus they’re free… but put real effort into it. Your website or blog is your storefront, and you’re the product. Make it look nice.
Once you have these things in place, submit. Submitting to Japanese agencies is beyond easy. Email, make an appointment, and register.
A short list of places to start:
Once you book? Poof! You’re a model. Next up: Audition tips.