In order to get jobs as a model or actor in Japan, it does take a certain amount of luck, as with any gig in the entertainment industry. However, there are some ways that you can increase your chances of success. Through my experience so far as a fashion and model photographer in Tokyo, I have gathered the following information in hopes that it will help some people out.
Due to the higher demand in the industry for foreign-looking models in Japan, it is relatively easier for foreigners to obtain modeling jobs here, even if they are not extremely tall or have previous modeling experience. Of course companies will have their respective requirements and standards when it comes to hiring models for a specific job. But it is most important to go into the field with a positive attitude, good communication skills, and a sense of responsibility. In fact, one model agency manager I met with told me that he not only chooses models based on looks and potential, but also based on how reliable they are, whether they have a nice personality, and whether they are easy to talk to. All these factors can be very important when you are aiming to achieve modeling jobs in Tokyo.
The first step is to get in contact with model and talent agencies, and register with them so that they can start helping you find jobs. Some agencies allow you to register with several different agencies, but a few may require you to do an exclusive agreement with them. Be sure to ask the agency staff and get a clear understanding of their policy on this. Some agencies will accept almost anyone who applies, and while this could mean you are just one option on their huge list of models, it doesn’t rule out the fact that you can receive jobs from them. On the other hand, if you manage to enter a more exclusive agency that chooses their models carefully, you may have a higher chance of being offered jobs, but of course you still have to pass the auditions which can be very competitive.
After contacting a model agency and they agree to meet with you, usually this means they will either have a short interview with you, or they will simply register you at the meeting. Each agency has a network of connections which organize auditions and calls for talents, and the agency will be able to provide some models from their roster to attend those auditions. If you are listed on the agency’s website, it’s also possible that you would be requested directly by a company or organization (through your agency) to attend an audition. But before you can expect to get any auditions, one of the first things the model agency will ask you to do is to put together a modeling portfolio.
Whether you are auditioning to be a model, actor, singer, or anything else in the entertainment industry, be aware that appearance and image is very important in Japan (and especially big cities like Tokyo). That said, you don’t necessarily need to look like the latest hot celebrity or have an exceptionally toned body (though of course it wouldn’t hurt ;) – but you do need to have some good portfolio photos that represent your personality, as well as the image you want to give off. Having some proper, high-quality photos will make a huge difference in whether or not a model agency will show interest in you, and whether or not you will be invited for auditions. The photos will also showcase your potential and ability in terms of modeling, and help industry staff decide if you match with their company or project’s vision. Therefore, it is very very important that you take the time and effort to put together a solid set of portfolio photos.
It helps if you have photos in a variety of settings and backgrounds, for example - parks, urban and street, indoor, natural lighting, studio. Many first time models think that they should go straight to the studio setting for their portfolio shots. Of course it won’t hurt, especially if your look screams high fashion and studio, but most model agency managers I speak with tell me that on the contrary, they want their new models to start off with natural-looking portfolio images. This is because the studio lights and heavy makeup/retouching tend to mask the new talent’s true personality, especially as they’re just starting out and haven’t yet fully developed their own style. Many clients (who set up auditions) even ask to see photos of models in natural lighting with minimal makeup. They want to see whether there is potential in the “raw material”, whether the model can be molded seamlessly into the image they want to create for the job/project. Therefore, it always helps to start off getting some photos that represent your true self and personality, then move on to heavily made-up shoots with specialized concepts if you wish.
Once you have compiled a set of photos that show about 2-3 different looks or outfits in a few different locations, send these to the model agency. They will in turn place these on their agency website with your profile, or send the photos directly to clients upon request. Most agencies accept the digital photo files, but those which require printed photos will tell you. (The agencies that require a special printed portfolio or “book” are usually those which sign you exclusively.) Now, rather than simply sitting back and waiting for the auditions to come rolling in, you should periodically do new photoshoots and update your portfolio. If you haven’t submitted any new photos for months, often the agency will ask if you have new photos. This will not only hone your skills as a model and help you practice for modeling jobs, but it will also help document your improvement and growth as a model. Keep trying, put in the effort, but most importantly – have fun! :) If you go into it with the right mindset, modeling can be a good way to gain self-confidence and self expression skills, as well as a great way to meet new interesting people in Tokyo.
All photos by Lisa (paint with stars photography).