Have you ever wanted to try modeling, but didn't like the culture that goes along with it?

Good news! Almost any non-Asian child can model in Japan. The reason is that the pay is relatively low, the conditions different, and child-labor laws nearly non-existant. You also have to BUY the magazines your children appear in, or settle for a tear-sheet.

Still interested? GOOD! Modeling was a LOT of fun for us, and allowed us to do things we otherwise would not have had the chance to do. And the bragging rights are great :-).

To get started, check with Camp Zama or Atsugi NAF MWR offices to see when the yearly casting call is. You'll be able to sign up for several different companies at once without a fee on that day. If you'd rather not fight the huge crowd that day, most companies want you to come down to their office and pay a small photo fee (usually ~$10). This is not a fake charge, they aren't trying to rip you off. It's a film fee. The benefit of doing the Base one is that it's free, and you get several companies at once. The benefit of going down to the office is that you'll get to spend some time with them and make yourself memorable. If you can afford it, the face to face will yield better results. They'll take measurements and information.

Your child does not need to be: beautiful, stunning, charming, skinny, blonde, dentally perfect, etc. They are looking for all types of children. What your child must be is: well groomed, happy, and (MOST IMPORTANTLY) well-behaved. You might want to find a way for your child to stand out. Our friend, Zykeisha, paid to have her hair professionally braided with gold beads hung on the ends. It increased her jobs significantly. Elisha had very little hair when he started modeling; I curled the front into a "sweet-pea" curl. Jenna's hair was long - I kept it well trimmed and she started auditions in braids, then took it out to reveal its whole length. Little things.

When they have a job where your child's characteristics match, they'll call you for a casting. There will be a LOT of children at the casting. Do NOT act like a stage mom. The Japanese men making the decision will immediately discount you and your child. Dress neatly and modestly if you have a small child since you'll be bringing him in the office. If your child is older, she may be going in alone. Hair should be recently cut for boys, teeth brushed, faces clean. NO MAKEUP. They may have 30 children for one spot. If your child doesn't get the first few jobs, don't be discouraged. Send your scheduler a note thanking her for the audition. You'll be in her thoughts.

There are occasional cattle-calls where a company needs 100+ children. You have to decide whether these are right for you. If you have nothing in your portfolio yet, you may want to give it a shot. For us, it was a nightmare.

When your child gets a job:

  • Be on time! Better yet, be early. The modeling agency rep will probably meet you to take you there, but if not, double the amount of time you think it's going to take you.
  • Bring a knapsack with extra clothes. On the train to one of David's auditions, another kid bopped him in the nose and there was blood everywhere. Japanese culture is very skittish about fluids, and it would've been an utter failure. Instead, with the wetwipes I'd packed and the extra clothes, he got picked for the job.
  • Pack extra shoes. A dress pair and a clean casual pair. Imagine our chagrin when Elisha showed up at a job and they did not have shoes for him to model! He was in sandals -- which didn't quite gel with the beautiful cords they put him in.
  • Do not whine and complain. If there is a problem, take it to your modeling agency rep. Never approach the client. They will approach you if they need you.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and is well fed. A cranky child is a sure way not to be asked back again.
  • Realize that it's different in Japan. On Elisha's first job, he worked fourteen hours. Yep, fourteen. He was the in-between baby (typically for children under 12 months, there will be a boy baby, a girl baby, and one that can model either way). The other two children were too young to stand, and my little one was the only one of the three that could sit upright unassisted. So he did almost every shot. If he was awake or not breastfeeding, he was working. You're paid by the shoot, not by the hour, and it is considered rude to ask for more money after your price has already been negotiated. Know that your day may be only an hour or fourteen hours (usually in the middle).
  • If you have to cancel, most agencies will not ask you again. Unless you already have a relationship built up with them and they know you're not a flake. Make every effort to be wherever you've committed to be.
  • Overnight trips are wonderful, but remember that your child is working. Do not go sightseeing or keep him up late.
  • Let them do their jobs! Don't yell at your child, don't instruct them unless she's having a hard time understanding the director. Stay out of the way, and provide moral support with smiles, clapping motions (no sounds), thumbs up, attaboys, etc.

Company Information: Everyone's experiences are going to differ. These are ours, YMMV.

Top Three:

(1) E-Promotions - MUCH pickier than most agencies. E-P is run by men, and they run it without some of the coddling other agencies provide. Most of their models are taller and thinner. THEY PAY MUCH BETTER than most. We have been on jobs for E-P where we were being paid 50% more than other models from different agencies. Try them FIRST. 2-11-9 Nishi Nakanobu, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo 142-0054, Phone: 03-3784-9851.

(2) K&M - All of K&M's reps speak fluent English. They are VERY nice and easy to work with. They have a HUGE database of children, so until you've built up a reputation with them, it may be hard to land a job, but it's worth waiting it out.. 3-40-2 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001, Phone: 03-3404-9429.

(3) Sugar and Spice - Is your child blonde or light red? If so, S&S is for you. They don't deal exclusively with blondes, but they seem to be the go-to for many ad agencies.

Other agencies we'd recommend (there are tons of agencies; we're only listing those we'd actually do business with):

Isop - Smaller, more individual attention (and more jobs if you're preferred), but fewer jobs for the masses. We had some payment problems with them that were finally resolved, so I recommend them with caution. Phone: 03-3405-7151

Junes - If Junes accepts you, they act more like a traditional agent, soliciting jobs for you and promoting you. They are a family-run agency and treat their clients like extended family. Very selective and very good. Phone: 03-5469-5331.

Zenith - Do you have an ethnic or non-traditional look? If so, Zenith is great for you! Phone: 03-5411-7747.

For teens and young 20s, the modeling experience is similar to that in the US. Elisha's first "mother" was played by a 19 year old anexoric whose legs were six feet long. Sorry!

Most of all, don't push the kids. And have fun!

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