It’s technically our last day…though the blog will carry on for a while as I’ve got a few more topics that I haven’t covered yet. In term so of modelling, it’s an odd market this year for a variety of reasons but mainly because there are more girls in town than usual. Karis has more work in Vancouver so we’re heading back to the west coast tomorrow…but hopefully back to Tokyo in the next year or so.
Anyway, back to Barbie. It was sort of apropos that we ended up at the Barbie 55th Anniversary Retrospective as I picked up a flyer advertising it from Seibu (department store in Shibuya) on my very first day in Tokyo…and I remember thinking that it would be a very cool thing to see. As I’ve mentioned before, most department stores here have a gallery and exhibition space and they tend to have some unique exhibits…sort of like 55 years of Barbie 😉 As usual, very well done and beautifully presented. A very complete collection of Barbies in the most amazing outfits, including some collector’s items and a unique Barbie designed by a contest winner. Lots of high fashion Barbie including Burberry, Juicy Couture, Bob Mackie, Christian Lacroix, Dior, Givenchy just to name a few…that I could actually read…the only drawback is that department store exhibits are rarely translated so it’s a bit slow trying to figure it all out but at least I can read the dates and take photos of Karis with the life size Barbie in the display.
The people here in Tokyo are better than me. In many ways, but one in particular: they are not wussies about the heat. If you’ll notice in the photo, which is taken inside Shibuya station, there is a woman wearing stockings and a cardigan. I took this photo on Friday. It was 34 degrees (‘feels like 42’) outside, and it’s much hotter in the bowels of the station though the actual trains are air-conditioned.
The people here are stoic. It’s almost as if they dissociate themselves from the heat, then they won’t be hot. According to a friend who lives here, dissociation and distancing oneself is a necessary survival mechanism in a city this big. I see his point…it’s pretty orderly and polite all in all, otherwise anarchy would quickly take over. Anyway, I digress. The heat is insane. Everyone carries handkerchiefs here and in the summer, it’s basically the equivalent of a small washcloth to literally mop the sweat from your fevered brow. They are quite fashionable, embellished with all manner of brand names ranging from Betsey Johnson to Kitson to Laudree (which is a French baker specializing in macarons). They also have special tissue paper that soaks the oil off your skin. However, many people don’t appear to actually be sweating at all. These are often women, dressed in full kimono or in stockings, a dress and a cardigan. Stockings, as in nylons or pantyhose…with high heels. It actually boggles the mind. To add insult to injury, most of the mid-range and cheap clothing here is polyester (an abomination from biblical times) so it doesn’t even breathe. No cheap linen and cotton from Old Navy. They do have The Gap, Zara and H&M but it’s not as affordable as you would expect, though the Japanese equivalent, Uniqulo, has some good deals.
It’s also a more formal society here so you wouldn’t be seeing casual cotton shorts and T-shirts in the city anyway. Often when women and young girls wear shorts, they wear them with stockings; sheer or skimpy tank tops are usually worn with a camisole and they have special arm gloves to protect your you from the sun should you be wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Men wear full on suits (also polyester) with long-sleeved shirts and ties and many employees and blue-collar workers wear uniforms…also polyester. It’s a bit more casual on the weekend but still, on the whole, people wear a lot more clothing despite the heat. I’m not sure how they do it… Karis and I seem to get the beginnings of heat stroke whenever we’re out for more than an hour. Maybe it’s a Zen thing? Probably not something I’ll be mastering any time soon.
View from the Gallery level at Hikarie Department store in Shibuya
The department stores here are epic. There’s not really any other way to describe them. They’re huge…4-10 floors including a basement and possibly a sub-basement or two. They usually have food like groceries as well as take-out boutique-style food. I mean serious food here…all kinds of Japanese food, Korean barbecue, French patisseries, Italian delis, butchers, bakers, fromageries, chocolatiers…it’s quite something. Anyway, the food does not stop here. There are usually cafes and restaurants interspersed amongst the floors in case of starvation…think high-end food court. There are often art galleries and museums on the top floor as well as public spaces and sometimes even theatres and movie theatres. Up until today I’d only been shopping but today I did my first gallery tour at Hikarie Shibuya. I saw an exhibit on Japanese puppets (amazing), an installation on travel with various ‘objets’ and a modern art exhibit. Hikarie has two floors of restaurants and cafes. And it was packed.
I guess having such a huge population supports stores like this…think Holt Renfrew (10x bigger) with about 20 stores in the downtown area. For the most part, most department stores sell fairly high-end goods and many are boutique style, housing top designers within each store. They usually have a gift section and a kimono department in addition to the usual fashion, household goods, and beauty departments. The customer service is amazing…if you go right at opening time (usually 10 or 11am), all the staff stand at the door and bow as you enter. They also bow whenever they leave the floor by turning to face outwards, bowing (even when there is no one there) and then going through the door. You rarely have to wait…if they see a lineup forming clerks will rush to a till to serve you…so that you, the honourable customer (o-kyaki sama), does not have to wait. It’s quite radically different from shopping at the Bay.
Karis walking to the agency. It’s 32 degrees out and cloudy. #areweinBangkok?
Karis’s days are rarely the same in terms of timing and scheduling. She gets a text the night before sometime between 9-11pm telling her how many castings she has the next day and what time she has to be at the agency. She walks there from the apartment which takes about 15 minutes as it’s so ridiculously hot that you just can’t go any quicker. There’s nothing special she has to wear…just a cute outfit. The girls mostly wear dressy shorts or skirts with short-sleeved T-shirts or short dresses. They have to bring heels and a bikini with them to every shoot just in case the client needs to see them walk for a shot or how they’d look for a swimwear or lingerie shoot. They all meet at the agency (whoever is going to the castings) and head out in the fancy bus/van driven by one of their bookers Kai, Tai or Sho (whom I’ve never met but I’ve been told he exists). Most of the castings start in the mid-to late afternoon and go well into the evening. She doesn’t usually get home until 8 or 9pm. Sometimes later.
When the girls get work they are responsible for getting there on their own. They are given written instructions detailing which subway or train line they are to take and from which station, where they are supposed to change and the next subway or train line and so on. They also get a map to follow from the subway station which tells them which exit to use which is really important as the bigger stations have many exits…just to put this in perspective, Shinjuku station has over 3 million passengers per day, 36 platforms and 200 exits…servicing 12 different lines from five different rail companies: the subway, the metro, the Keio line, the JR line and the Odakyu electric line.
New Faces like Karis also do photo shoots called testing (sometimes called creatives in Vancouver) to give them experience working with Japanese photographers and stylists as well as learning how to pose. It’s quite a different look than what we’re used to in North America and Europe.
The agency gives them an allowance every Tuesday of 10 000 Y which is a little over $100 for food and sundries. Your flight, accommodation and transportation is advanced to you by the agency. For more information on how this works in Japan (or anywhere actually) check out the Business Model Mag. It’s a very informative site AND it’s Canadian.
Models usually get the weekend off unless there’s a special event or they have a photo shoot. Time to see the sights, shop, workout or just relax. No clubbing though. It’s written into their contract that they’re not allowed to drink or go clubbing if they’re underage. Even if they’re of legal age (20) they’re supposed to keep it to a minimum or they’ll be sent home. And the agency always finds out….
Walked home from Omotesando station today and noticed yet again that I’m definitely out of my element in terms of fashion here…they’ve got ALL the top designers and more than one store within a 10 mile radius! There seems to be many sales right now. It’s funny, the word ‘SALE’ is often in English, French (soldes) and Italian (saldi) but never in Japanese…or maybe because I don’t know what it looks like in Japanese 😉
Anyway, it’s a shopper’s paradise here. Also a good place for a “basic” dresser such as myself (jeans and various black tops with boots in winter; beige shorts with various black tops and flip-flops in summer) to learn about fashion. I must say, it could be quite an addiction. I’ve always kept it simple and pretty inexpensive: a couple pairs of jeans that fit well, a pair of boots, my Prada flats (thanks to Misha for making me buy them–best investment ever), various tops, a purse and my flip-flops. It’s a little harder here. For one, people don’t wear flip-flops in public…they are regarded as ‘shower shoes’ or slippers and I would be mocked. People make an effort…hell most of the women wear stockings when it’s 35+ degrees here! I will never do that. In terms of fashion though, there is so much to see and covet. And I do see it every single day. It’s in my neighbourhood, not in some rarefied downtown area on streets I rarely go to. They have a _______ (fill in the blank–Prada, Chanel, Gucci, Balenciaga…) boutique in many of the department stores which are literally just down the road from me. This is NOT Sears or the Bay…more like a whole bunch of Holt Renfrews. I think I need to head out to the boonies to see what real people wear.
I’d like you all to know that I do try. I wear skirts and dresses. Makeup sometimes. No shorts in the city. Silk tops and even, dare I say it, colours besides black. Sometimes even a matching hat though I don’t have a Darth Vader visor (yet…be patient Lorna). No one to mock me but the child.
So they’ve got some serious fashion going on in this city. I was walking Karis over to her agency (got lost…THANKS Google Maps) and the number of amazing stores we passed in 15 minutes was astounding: Prada, miu miu, Alexander McQueen, Loewe, Balenciaga, Ted Baker, Issey Miyake, Gucci, Emporio Armani, Chloe, Burberry, Agnes b, Cartier….
And that’s just in this particular area. We live in Shibuya which is very close to Aoyama and Omotesando, and they have even more shops here, not to mention the boutiques within the department stores (think Saks not Sears)! And THE swankiest district ever, Ginza, is about 7 minutes away by metro and they’ve got them there again. (more…)