Modeling in Japan 101: Submitting to agents


There are a few differences between getting started in modeling and commercial acting in Japan than say, in the United States.

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 who books you real work that doesn’t involve being sprawled on the hood of a Thunderbird. You need head shots, and audition training, and preferably a variety of test work that shows a client you’re worth throwing a huge day rate down on and can sell whatever story the client is trying to sell.

If you leave this article 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.

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 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 JP 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 head shots and photos aren’t super high quality. If you want to book work fast? Be professional and look the part.

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 p.m. But until then, check the job boards here 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 head shots. Here’s a post on my personal blog on what questions to ask when interviewing a photographer.

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? You’re a model. Next up: Audition tips…

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When I read the headline, i didn't realize it was a portfolio that was being submitted. Glad that's the case. Good 'how to' article as well.

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Most of the photos on the JP sites would never, ever, in a million years get put up on an LA or SF agency site.

You can say that again. I can't remember where I saw it, but there's some ad I've seen on YouTube a few times of two foreigners, one ultra skinny and one ultra "not so skinny" dancing around selling books or something.

If those two dudes can get work here, then I think pretty much anybody can.

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thanks for the links didn't know about a few of those companies... xx

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I get tons of work based on the couple of polaroids posted on my agency's website.

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It's sure says something about the industry here that many Japanese men's magazines feature non-Japanese models, while Japanese women seem to make up the bulk of the models in women's magazines. A cost differential? Women are more concerned about seeing a fantasy of what they might look like, as opposed to men who are more into the details of the products themselves?

Print advertising and editorial spreads are of course two different things, but...

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That's great Wakarimasen! But if you get tons of work, why would they just have polaroids up? That's really strange. You could be an exception, depending on what you define as "tons of work." Most models I know here get spotty work, unless they're under a brand contract.

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Just watched the documentary Girl Model (available on Netflix) about a 13-year old Russian girl who comes here to model after winning a contest in Siberia. She's told to lie about her age, was scouted by a woman, herself an ex-model, who appears to be completely soulless and leaves here in debt having been lied to about the work she was going to get. Okay work for someone old enough to manage the ins and outs but I'd be very hesitant to suggest it to any young women, girls most of them.

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I'd never suggest a child getting into modeling unless they had a reputable agent. And NEVER pay anyone who promises to get you modeling work-- that's insane. The Girl Model situation is exploitive and sad.

There's is plenty of legit work for kids that's nothing like the film, but you're right-- scams exist even with older models clamoring to get in. I'm writing an article on scams and what to look for in the next couple of weeks

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Putting together a good portfolio is something that a LOT of people overlook. A lot of people seem to think that you need to go to several photographers and spend upwards of 100,000 yen to get a decent portfolio when that's simply not the case. A good photographer with a studio or even a natural outdoor setting can do wonders. I take care of a couple/few portfolios per month and no two photos are ever even remotely similar.

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Ms. Popper wrote a very good article above. It covers just about everything that should be considered before trying to get in the modeling profession in Japan.

In a job I had here in the past I saw how this works. And, as Ms. Popper says, get a proper agent and make those photos of yourself as nice as you can. Believe me ... and Ms. Popper ... proper photos are a necessity. I have seen a pile of such photos reduced to about 10 or so, and then the company looking for the right model makes the final choice. And it's not easy to reach that final group, let alone being picked No. 1.

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Pozzy you are spot on. You do not have to spend a ton of money to get photos- but you do need them, and good ones if you're serious about getting work. Most casting agents and bookers will tell you: "The better the headshot, the better the model." If you look at my book, I spent almost nothing over the years to grow it. But yes, you have to have a core wardrobe for tests and you definitely have to look the part. Getting started isn't hard, or expensive, but it does require real effort.

Thanks edojin! I'll be covering a whole range of topics in the modeling world over the next few weeks. Girls (and a few guys) from all over the world email me about wanting to come over to work, so talking about the good and the bad makes sense. :)

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In regard to the right Visa. What is a person has entered on a Student Visa and wants to work the holidays when school is out. Can a person still apply to an agency and get work or is this a no no?

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Very nice article and tips. I've already checked those links and it's very helpful. Thanks. Also try to check this . It is also a great guide for modeling.

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