THINGS THAT HAPPEN TO YOU AS A CATALOGUE MODEL IN TOKYO

*circa 2003
  1. You lie about your age
    I was a young-looking 23. My agency told clients I was 19. I learned how to say "19" in Japanese. (The clients thought it was adorable when I trotted out my four words of Japanese.)
  2. When you arrive from the airport, they drive you directly to the agency to measure every part of your body
    This is actually standard in a lot of markets (though elsewhere they usually let you sleep/shower), but in Tokyo they measure EVERYTHING. I'm talking head circumference to ring finger sizes on every finger to ankles. Note: your contract can be canceled and they send you home if your measurements go up by a few cm. (Also skin conditions; one girl was sent home for acne.)
  3. Castings and jobs are 10-12 hours a day, usually 6 days a week
    You sit in a a car all day, being driven to castings where your manager and clients talk about you in Japanese and gesture to your body and ask you to turn around. On days you have jobs, you get in the car at around 7-8pm and do castings for another 2 hours.
  4. Jobs are 8 straight hours of "make catalogue pose, please"
    The catalogue pose is an exclusively Asian market thing. Think 80s mall circulars. They like smiling and hands on hips and f-u-n! But you have to do it in 30-40 looks. (A catalogue shoot in NY/LA is 8-10 looks.) An assembly line of cheesiness.
  5. For this most girls earn $15-20,000 for 6 or 8 week contracts (not sure if this still holds in 2015)
    Your agency gives you an advance/allowance of about $150-200 a week that will feed/amuse you. Your rent (mine was about $2000 per month for a dollhouse sized apt) is deducted from this, along with expenses (prints, cards, messengers - this has probably changed in the era of digital/email). I left with about $12k pre tax for 2 months work.
  6. You learn some necessary words in Japanese
    Or at least I did. Please/thank you/excuse me. On set "water" and "where is the bathroom" were useful but the most useful was "it's fine" (like, please stop) because in Japan the assistants have assistants for their assistants and they all need to look like they're working so they fuss at you, touching and poking and picking invisible lint off you constantly. After 8 hours, this gets to nervous breakdown territory. Also, I knew how to say my clothing sizes.
  7. Bizarre things happen
    I wore a Carmen Miranda headdress with office clothes. I wore lingerie and clutched a teddy bear. My contract explicitly stated I couldn't have a tan so at a swimsuit shoot, 4 women applied bronzer to each quadrant of my body. They said my arms were "so long, like monkey."
  8. Very cool things happen
    You're in fucking Tokyo. Getting paid. You are walking around Shibuya and it's exactly like Lost In Translation. So much sushi and so cheap! So many awesome snack foods! Subways with those attendants that pack you in (more cool in hindsight as a thing you know happens). You bond with your manager and he takes you to "real" Tokyo places and translates things. The shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. TOKYO STYLE YO. Harajuku girls aren't just an invention of Gwen Stefani.