My First Modeling Job in Japan

Most foreigners residing in Japan are either here as an English teacher, actor or model, or a university student. Many are even a combination of the three. Of course you’ll find outliers who’re probably in big business or government work. So when I say, “I worked my first gig modeling in Japan”, it must be noted that it’s relatively easy for a foreigner to book this kind of work in Japan.

Once you start networking and making friends, you’ll begin to realize just how small this community can be.

I’ve met and are very good friends with a few foreign models here. They’re always auditioning, on set, or doing some kind of work to progress their careers. A few days ago, I was on the train one day and randomly saw AJ’s face on a poster.

He specializes in stunt work, so it was surprising to see him in this kind of advertisement. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be as noticeable in the project I participated in. I was not the star of the production, I played an extra.

So how did I land the gig?

As I mentioned earlier, it’s not difficult finding work as a foreign model in Japan. You’ll see our faces reflected all over in Japanese advertisements. I should also clarify, that the word foreigner doesn’t hold the same negative connotation as it would in the West. It’s a descriptor for non-Japanese people.

I didn’t have to go to Tokyo to find an agency, they came down to Yokosuka where I live.

I explained in my Shenmue blog, Yokosuka has the largest concentration of foreigners right outside of Tokyo. The agencies looking to recruit exotic models engage in modeling fairs to find new talent in Yokosuka.

Out of sheer curiosity, I went to one of those fair and got in contact with a few agencies. I imagine if I tried harder, I’d find more work. I don’t shave or cut my hair, retaining a more rugged look that doesn’t get fit well with marketers here.

I also don’t go to auditions. I’m not an actor, so I’d rather not waste their or my own time.

Whenever they need a model that fits my demographic, I’m contacted to see if I’d be interested in the job. I’ll send them a photo for their consideration and wait for confirmation of booking. On a few occasions I’ve made the short list, but never their final consideration.

They needed fifty foreigners for this job, the odds were definitely in my favor.

It turned out to be an enjoyable learning experience.

I was impressed with how organized the whole production turned out. A far cry from the photo shoot conducted at YouTube Space in Tokyo.

All the extras assembled at the theater where the production was taking place. I was one of fifty extras who would play the role of audience members watching a traditional Japanese performance known as rakugo (落語). It doesn’t get any easier than that. Rakugo is a style of comedic Japanese storytelling conducted by a single person.
A one man show.

We showed up and were given pre-arranged seating assignments. Some last minute changes had to be made, but for the most part, we knew where we had to be. We took our seats in the auditorium and waited while the production team worked their magic on stage.

What they don’t tell you about being an extra, is the amount of waiting we’d encounter. I was under the impression that the show would kick after we’d been seated.
Sitting and waiting is the name of the game. Waiting for the crew to get the correct lighting. Waiting for the cameramen to setup the best shots. And rehearsing a few times before the actual star performers to show up for the shoot. It turns out, the star doesn’t show up until the crew is absolutely ready to do the shoot. Instead they use a stand-in to practice their photography.

To my surprise, there were a few Yokosuka community members at the shoot. I definitely enjoyed seeing familiar faces. Catching up with them made the waiting portion more enjoyable.

One of the extras present was a nurse on duty during my son’s birth. Like I said, small community.

Thankfully, the rakugo performance was delivered in English. When everything was ready, we filmed one take that consisted of a short comedic story.

And in all honestly, I didn’t find it very funny.

I found myself TRYING to laugh at what turned out to be an extended fart joke. Not that farts can’t be funny, but I just wasn’t engaged with the narrative. When they called it a wrap, I was disappointed. Like, that’s it?
Okay, so maybe I’m being unfair. The theme of the story focused on humility. About an overzealous monk who refused to admit to his own ignorance. I forced out a few chuckles, but I wasn’t rolling on the floor in laughter. I just couldn’t.

Though I didn’t find it very funny, the performance had value.

I met a student from Meiji University who found the performance funny, but sympathized with my muted response. From a holistic standpoint, she appreciated the overall production of the performance. I think that’s my biggest take away.

I was able to experience a slice of Japanese culture through a random job. I can’t complain.

I haven’t seen the final product from the recording. It turns out these things take a while before they’re ready to be released. When I come across, I’ll promtly post it. Hopefully I’ll be able to experiment some more with this modeling thing.
We’ll see.

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