Unlike other Asian countries (e.g., Korea), there are no restrictions on using foreign models in Japan, and the job market is wide to open to as many foreigners as companies want to use. For Japan, that can be a lot of foreigners.
Since the end of World War II when Japan was pulling itself out of the rubble, Japanese have been fascinated by Western culture and affluence starting with the images of middle class America broadcast into their homes in the 1950s. Even though Japan has remarkably built up its own society to levels equaling and in some ways surpassing the West, Japanese still have a love affair with foreign culture, particularly Western culture.
Thus, there is an abundance of work for foreign models. Marketers often fall back on the proven method of selling their products with a Western look, and there are many foreign people who either earn a portion or all of their income doing this kind of work. As with acting, models are registered with different agencies, and for most people the work is erratic, perhaps only one job one month and then very busy the next month.
On my return to Japan in 1992, one of my neighbors was working as a model. When I met Michael, the first thing that struck me was wow this guy looked like a model. He was from Norway, good looking, young and had an aura of confidence about him. Michael was very carefree and seemed to take life one day at a time, not worrying so much about things like paying the rent or what he would be doing next year.
After getting to know him better, I learned that Michael sometimes earned ¥800,000 to ¥1 million in a good month. In other months he might only earn ¥50,000 to ¥100,000. It did not really seem to matter as Michael enjoyed the free time hanging out around Tokyo. To hear him explain it, it all depended on how much visibility your pictures got. If you get on a bulletin board, then you get so much for that; if you get on TV you get more; you get so much for a magazine shot and so on.
Michael was very proud of his coffee shot, a large photo of him drinking coffee which appeared on bulletin boards all over Tokyo. I never actually saw it, but to hear him talk about it so much I am sure many Japanese knew him to be the guy drinking the coffee. Michael also appeared regularly in some of the young men's fashion magazines like Hot Dog and Fine Boys. Of course I would have never noticed this, but he was always ready to show his latest work. It was also interesting that he got fan mail through these magazines.
I kind of envied this celebrity status, and Michael often encouraged me to do some modeling work as well, saying it was easy; you just have to register. Even if you are not a naturally talented model, there is work for people with all kinds of different looks. In fact he was right, but you have to be available and unless you are cut out for that kind of work, there will not be so many assignments to go to.
I lost contact with Michael but recently saw his smiling picture on a train poster for underwear. As with my actor friend Bob, it is interesting to see people I know in ads like these.
If you are interested in acting, entertaining or modeling work, be sure to register with several agencies. Most places like to have a large registry with pictures of available people, and with the high turnover (people constantly returning home) most places welcome walk-ins. In some cases there will be a small fee to register, maybe a couple thousand yen. Of course registering and actually getting called for assignments are two different things. You may want to consider some teaching work to tide you over until the other job offers start coming in.
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