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Modeling in Japan: Submitting to Agents

By 3 min read 72

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.

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  • Ijaz Ahmed says:

    Hey i am Ijaz Ahmed from Pakistan i am very interested in modelling please somebody help me that i shown my talent on every stage.
    My email ejaz7ahmad@yahoo.com.
    Please contact with me i am really needy about this passion.

  • Suzy says:

    Am I too old to look into commercial modeling in Japan when I’m 27? Just curious…

  • Mark James Hill says:

    Dont join Aqua Modeling. They get good jobs but are horrible at communication. IE only return an email when it is beneficial to them. They also fail to pay on time if a client doesn’t pay on time. There is no excuse for not paying talent on time. You have a problem with a client that is your problem just pay the talent from the modeling agencies bank account.

  • Reza says:

    I like modeling pls help me,tnx

  • Dan says:

    I actually have a SOFA stamp I live on base but I’m looking to get away from that. Any suggestions to get me started?

  • Ferry Dzaack says:

    I want to get in the Japanese Porn industry. I am a mixed caucasian and Indonesian male.
    Any agents on that?

  • Chiara Aki Grandolfo says:

    I live in Osaka, I’m half Japanese and half Italian but i’m only 1,65 tall, do you think that I have any chance?

  • M.C says:

    Mr. R.J do you have any problems with filipina?

  • Paweł Chojnacki says:

    Your articles are unbelievably helpful! Thank you. From that which you offered which agency is the best for men in your mind?

  • MaedaYuto says:

    Is there any agency that accepts half japanese and filipino ? I am 19 yrs old and 158cm. I am in gunma

  • Roberta says:

    Is there any agency that does not requite a working visa, if I already have a student or dependent visa?

  • Unknown_Ghost says:

    i want to be a model in japan but its hard .. do filipina has a place to be a model in japan?

  • Cynthia Popper says:

    I’ve never had an agent take 30-50% in my life and I’ve worked for over a decade. That’s absolute robbery by any measure. And you always see usuage changes through your agent! Where are you getting your information? Terrifying.

  • Cini Mathew says:

    The modelling agencies really do a best thing for models. good post on modelling get to know more at


  • Mimi Chuuu says:

    No, some companies have agents that speak multiple languages and others will higher translators.

  • Marcell lema says:

    Hi! Before to be a model at Japan…do we have to speak Japan ? And do I must university at Japan first?

  • rose says:

    hi can brown skin, indian looking people become model or even actress in japan… am 5’7ft btw

  • Beena Gurung says:

    I want to be a model , but I am here living in Nigata city of Japan . Would you suggest me the name of model agencies nearby .

  • Glenn rivas says:

    Hi ms Cynthia I’m Glenn from phillipine. I’m a walk about model before and a body builder. I really love modeling but never tried like this. I hope you can help me to work as a model in Japan. Thank you and godbless

  • Kiki says:

    Is it possible to become a model in Japan if you’re short (like 160 cm)?

    • sammy says:

      its actually easier in japan because they tend to be shorter.
      and there’s different types of modeling and one for shorter people

  • Cozy Fujiyama says:

    how much can you make out of the model works?

  • Fiorella says:

    I have a question: how much do you have to pay to have an agent? and do you give some of the money you have earned to your agent?

    • Cynthia Popper says:

      Hi Fiorella– great question. Usually your agent gets a percentage of your contract rate. I cover more of the details in THE MODEL START-UP, but usually it’s 10-20%. This does vary depending on the job and the agency. Ganbatte! 🙂

  • Calimua says:

    Hi there! Great article, but question…do you have a list of potential agencies to contact? I’ve heard that there are many that hire girls as models, but turn them into “hostesses” when they arrive…which is sort of akin to prostitute. Thoughts?

  • Melusine Lui says:

    I have for a long time dreamming about live in Japan and modelling there
    sounds so interesting and funny. Too bad I’m already 34…TT

  • Melusine Lui says:

    I have for long time dreamming about live in Japan and modelling there
    sounds so interesting and funny. Too bad I’m already 34…TT

  • SunShine McWane says:

    Hello, I enjoyed your article. I was wondering do you know any acting classes in English here in Japan? Like ones for cold readings or auditions? I’m figuring its a long shot but I would like to take one here if possible? My Japanese, I know is not good enough to try and attempt an acting class in Japanese, so yeah I guess this is a long shot. lol

    • Cynthia Popper says:

      Hey Sunshine– There are improv workshops in Tokyo you might want to check out. A quick google search turns up TCS, a meetup for improv actors– which is a great skill for any actor or model to have. I can’t vouch for them but it looks good! Hope this helps. 🙂

  • Cynthia Popper says:

    Check out the GP blog and job sections… loads of great info and job listings! At minimum, you need to be a native English speaker and have a uni degree. 🙂

  • john brad says:

    Hello beautiful models,would you like to do some paid assignments in florida? Kindly inbox us @ greatheroes100@gmail.com. Thanks as you read this.

  • selin says:

    Hey Cynthia 🙂 I have a question about one of these agencies. I just registered Zenith Management and now I need permission from the immigration office. But when I told this to my host family in Japan, they said that this agency is not very safe and I need to think about it again. Do you think this is true ?

    • Cynthia Popper says:

      I’m repped by Zenith. They’re professional, honest, and proactive, and have booked me a fair amount of work. Shooting another national commercial this week because of them.

  • debriana says:

    hi Cynthia im form azrion I wanted to know how you would go by learning the language of japan and if a female has a little extra hair on the face would we have to remove it’

    • Cynthia Popper says:

      Check out GP’s section on language studies, or look for language classes in your area. And personally I’d remove extra facial hair if I had it.

  • heart says:

    hi i’m 21yrs old.. can i audition as a model with 3years visa here in japan. how to audition? i’m not very good in japanese. i speak but not very well. if ever had a chance. thanks!

    • Cynthia Popper says:

      It depends on your visa. Check with the agencies I’ve listed… they can help you get started. Ganbatte! 🙂

  • Cynthia Popper says:

    Hi Giana– For fashion modeling yes– the agencies want girls who are in the 5’7″ to 5’10 range, but for commercial print modeling, height isn’t a huge factor in Japan. it all boils down to your look and ability to sell to the camera. If you currently live here you might want to talk to your parents about submitting to agents and see if you can get work. There are no guarantees in this business. Check out my other articles on preparing to model and talk to your folks about getting started!

  • Cynthia Popper says:

    Hi Pearl,

    First… jobs shouldn’t cost you money– jobs are to make money. Modeling is going into business for yourself, so your only expenses starting out should be photos and transport going to auditions.

    And you already know this, but at fourteen, going into modeling is really up to your parents. If they can see that it wouldn’t effect your grades (the occasional commercial print shoot) and that it can be a lucrative and productive hobby for you, then by all means you should talk to your parents about it in a sensible way. If grades are an issue for you, that’s your first step.

    As far as runways and spotlights… well, I have to give you the reality: Modeling has nothing to do with the model. It’s all about the product you’re trying to sell, whether it’s a designer brand or a company image. Fashion modeling is a very narrow field with specific age, height, weight, and look requirements, and even if you meet these requirements, it’s an intense business that can wear on your self esteem.

    Acting is a completely different field- especially in Japan. If you’re truly interested in acting, I suggest getting some training or getting into school-related theatre to see if it’s something you’re really passionate about, not just a way to “get into the spotlight.” No matter what you choose to do, if you’re doing what you love, it always shows. The spotlight finds you. 🙂


  • Cynthia Popper says:

    Sure! Contact me on my FB and I can help you out 🙂 page… https://www.facebook.com/CynthiaPopperBlog

  • Bevys Smyth says:

    Hi Cynthia! Thank you so much for this information. It has been very helpful! I am still working on my wordpress page, but I want to send it on over to an agency very soon. The measurements that you posted are accurate examples of what the agencies would be looking for (ie. height, chest, waist, hips, etc.)? Also I understand if you’re unable to, but I recently had pictures taken but I am not confident in which ones I should send in. I narrowed it down to around 20 (I’m really trying to be concise =(() but I run into the ill-knowledge of which photos are ones that agencies are most interested in. Is there anyway you could help me out? Regardless, thank you so much again!



  • jmb says:

    Hi Cynthia..Im a Filipina and mother of two kids at the age of 27, we’re currently station here in japan an hour away from Tokyo..Im so interested to be a model. I am not really sure where to start:(

  • Britts Luchi says:

    Aww thanx Cynthia!your words are very encouraging!and thank you too for responding through Facebook!
    Yes I understand I can’t do modeling alone in most foreign country unless am in London or America!so yes wouldn’t mind doing part times jobs!
    No I do not have a website!!!!!but have tons of photos!I will see what I can do about a website ASAP!!
    You can check out monarchmodels.co.nz ,and search Britts Luchi,the portfolio there is solely fashion modeling and editorial!well that’s the kind of model I am lol!if you need more pictures simply let know!I wanted to come to tokyo and work in the next couple of months before December so if you can help me direct me to the right path I would be thrilled!
    Again thank you for your quick and helpful response!
    Big ups!

    • Cynthia Popper says:

      Hey Britts! Sorry for the late reply– yeah if you have specific questions just message me on Facebook. Much easier. 🙂

      The right path is finding agencies to rep you. There are a list of agents in this post– I’d start by submitting to a few of them once you have a work visa. They won’t rep you without one, so search GPjobs and find a position that will sponsor you.

      Best of luck lady!

  • Britts Luchi says:

    Hey Cynthia!i posted before but have no idea where my msg went!haha…
    Anyway I was just asking do you think as a black model I can find good modeling work in tokyo?I really have heard so much of the place and want to get connected with an agency before I come over so I know my ground?please advise.
    Thank you!

    • Cynthia Popper says:

      Hey Britts! Thanks for the FB reach out. 🙂 There are a couple of things weighing in your favor. 1) You’re already modeling (awesome shots BTW- You have an amazing look. I want to see your portfolio!). 2) The black talent pool here is very small. That said- and you already know this- it depends on what the clients are after. You might get a ton of great work the first couple of months, and then have it dry up.

      If you came here solely to model, I think it’d be tough because the work is inconsistent (this is true for anyone BTW). If you came over to work doing something else like teach part-time and model part-time, you could try it for a year and see how you like it.

      Do you have a website? If not… you need one ASAP! You’re the real deal. 🙂

  • Britts Luchi says:

    Hey Cynthia do you think tokyo is diverse with her models?
    Am African and have been told several times to come work in Japan as a model!that there is heaps of work i can do and the pay is great!I am afraid that I might not get work because some countries are not very accepting of dark skin!I have never been to Japan so wouldn’t know.What’s your take on this?Do you think a black model is able to get “good work”

  • Rufus Millman says:

    Hey Cynthia, thanks for the great article, I’ve just liked your Facebook paged too.
    I’m hoping you wouldn’t mind answer a few questions for me.

    If I have a professional portfolio and blog and submit them to agencies etc, is there any chance agencies ever sponsor someone’s visa for them to go over and work in Japan?

    Are Japanese modelling agencies fussy about anything in particular? Without sounding arrogant I feel like I have the model look, 6 ft, slim and muscular, pale and clear complexion and a Japanese style haircut and have been approached by UK agencies but have turned them down. However I don’t have a great set of teeth, would that be a deal breaker?

    Lastly, I’m currently at university at the moment, would having a degree make the process easier at all?

    Thanks a lot!

    • Cynthia Popper says:

      Hey Rufus! Thanks for checking out my FB! Now to your questions:

      Because agencies don’t employ you, they can’t sponsor your visa. Get a working visa through a company and model part-time. Full time work straight out of the gate is tough- I did it in California for about three years, but that’s pretty rare, unless your in fashion and under contract with a big brand. Most models work part-time.

      You sound like a specimen, but depending on your dental situation, it could keep you from getting work, depending on the client. Commercial print work almost always demands a great smile. Japan doesn’t care as much about dental aesthetic as say, the American market (LA/SF/NYC) but to increase your chances, doing little things like whitening or Invisalign can make a huge difference in booking.

      Having a degree is essential in getting a working visa in Japan, so yeah, I’d say it definitely makes a huge difference. Hope this helps! If you have more questions, feel free to message me through FB. 🙂

  • Mo says:

    I will be studying in Hiroshima for 1yr on a student visa from this september. Do you think I could apply for modeling work on a student visa? I’m hoping I could get some extra cash this way rather than teaching English privately. I speak intermediate level Japanese and have athletic body, is that a plus? I’ve never modelled before…

    • Cynthia Popper says:

      Unfortunately, you cannot engage in any paid activities- teaching or modeling- on a student visa in Japan. I don’t know much about Hiroshima, but I’ve never heard of it being a center for media or modeling. If you intend on staying and changing to a work visa, then you can submit to agents in whatever major city you end up in. Japan agencies are pretty hard core about visas, and if you get kicked out, it might be difficult (or impossible) to get back in.

      That said, if you want to do spec (unpaid) creative work to get a portfolio going, I bet you could find some good shooters to collaborate with. That would also get you some experience. Just be smart about who you work with: ask questions, know your boundaries, and have fun. 🙂 Good luck!

      • Mo says:

        Thank you for the quick response. However I have been told by my host university I can work up to 16hours per week on a student visa. But you first have to go fill in some forms at the local city office.

        • AnthonyJoh says:

          Check with the school because I believe you are allowed to work up to 28 hours per week on a student visa. You will need a form from your school signing off on the job.

        • Cynthia Popper says:

          Wow that’s great! What kind of work are you eligible for then? Your school will know. Perhaps it’s different because of your country of origin, or maybe the US Embassy site is outdated, but they clearly say you can’t work without an industry/sector-specific work visa. Because visas are categorized according to profession, I don’t know what type of work you’d be eligible to do. You’ll definitely want to ask your school, your city office, as well as any agencies you want to apply to. Again, because agents are so wary of illegal workers, you will want very clear documentation stating you’re able to work as a model. Good luck!

  • Cynthia Popper says:

    Hi Monika,

    Your age and ability to speak Japanese are major assets for you. Now is the best time for you to get in, but you also have to be extra careful in this business. SO many young girls get into big trouble because the end up with bad agents, or agree to do jobs that are less than reputable. I get email from girls all over the world who just want to come over and figure it out later. But then if they don’t get work, they can end up in bad situations. Don’t let this be you.

    Your parents are right- you don’t need modeling school- you just need information and some great photos. Because of your age, you need to work closely with your parents to get a great agent in your local area. Get experience and understand the professional side of what you’re getting into. Once you’re legally able to come to Japan and work as a teacher, you can absolutely submit to agents and book real work here.

    I started modeling in California when I was 17 and didn’t like because I felt like I had no say in what I was doing. I gave it up for a few years and came back to it kind of by accident. As an adult, I had a better sense of not only how to photograph well, but also how to handle myself on a professional set. Start now, make the mistakes now, so when you come over you’re ready to really rock it.

    Have you done any work where you live, or are you starting from scratch? If so, talk with your parents about getting a headshot, and check out my other modeling articles here on GP, as well as this link for more tips: http://cynthiapopper.com/category/business-basics/.

    Good luck girl, and please keep me posted. You can find my FB page here if you want to message me specific questions. Happy to help!~ https://www.facebook.com/CynthiaPopperBlog

    • Carol Quinton Ishizeki says:

      This was really helpful information for me as well. I have two daughters, 15 and 17, half American and half Japanese. We always get told “they should be models” but I’m not sure… We were even approached at our local mall here in Oregon by a Modeling agency (one that requires a lot of money). My youngest is told often that she looks like Laura? Anyway, the girls have been asking a lot of questions and as I was searching for some answers I came across this Q&A. The girls both speak and write Japanese, we lived there for 8 years and have family there, so we visit often. They are both short though… 5 feet 1 and 5 feet 2… I guess we will take your advice given to the young girl above and start from there??


  • Jeremy-Francis says:

    advices for novices who have little to no experience but keep getting asked ??

    • Cynthia Popper says:

      Hmmm. I wonder who’s asking you? Most legit agencies don’t need to hunt down models in train stations- they’re well-known enough to get the talent they need. New agencies just starting out tend to “station hunt.” I’m going to write about trusting your gut and watching out for scams later in the series, but a quick answer is: If you want to get into modeling, and you’re being approached by a legit agency that has a list of great client work, go for it. In this post I talk about getting photos, do that first. This week I’m writing about nailing the audition, so check that out as well. 🙂

      • I’ve started modeling just as a side-thing. I’ve been picking up like 1-2 paid shoots every month just out of the “station hunt” guys to be honest. Would it beneficial to go with an agency? What would an agency actually do for me?

        • Cynthia Popper says:

          Who are these “station hunt” guys and what kind of work are you getting? Are you signing contracts with these jobs yourself, and if so, do you understand what you’re signing? Real agents are reputable professionals who make sure you get the industry scale rate for a job, that you aren’t overworked, that usage rights are honored, and that you get paid in full and on time. Let’s say you and I work on the same job. If you booked from a random casting and get paid one rate, and the ad runs forever, and I get booked for the same job and make five times more and get global exposure for a fixed amount of time… who got the better deal? Getting a real, solid agent is a win-win every time.

          My advice: If you’re happy with the randoms, do both, but be careful and know your rights. Good luck!

      • Jeremy-Francis says:

        My current job was perusing model catalogues for it’s new range of english books (covers), however every model they’ve been offered hasn’t been ‘good looking enough’, they jokingly said they want someone who’s at least as good looking as “jeremy” (me). The ppl from the agency introduced themselves to me and yea…

        • Cynthia Popper says:

          Ah okay- so they haven’t outright asked you to shoot? Sounds to me like they might be interested, but aren’t sure if you want to get involved. Talk to them first and gauge their interest in you. If you’re really motivated beyond this client, get a headshot taken and ask the agency to register you. If you show interest and put in real effort, you might get booked. A book cover is an AMAZING first job and a great portfolio piece. I say go for it.

  • Wes Wing says:

    Does this apply to male models as well?

    • Cynthia Popper says:

      Of course. But one tip I would include (that I didn’t in the post so thank you for the question!) is to take photos with and without facial hair (if you do go both ways with facial hair). If you normally wear a beard or long sideburns, make sure you also have clean cut shots as well to show your range. Also: consider if you’re willing to shave it off for a shoot- some guys won’t- it’s a personal choice. Thanks for asking… I should have included that!

      • Mo says:

        Hi, I was wondering can I apply for modelling work on a student visa?
        Also I will be studying in Hiroshima for 1 year, is there modeling work available there or mainly only in Tokyo area?

      • Wes Wing says:

        Great! Thank you for the tip and speedy reply.
        Shaving shouldn’t be a problem. I am clean shaven… most of the time.
        Thanks for all the info.


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