Interview with Junko Shimazaki, Tao Okamoto’s agent

While Tao Okamoto was getting ready for the Audi Fashion Festival opening show Missoni, we sat down for an interview with Tao’s mother agent Junko Shimazaki. Read our exclusive interview with the veteran agent as she spoke to us about the situation at Japan’s modeling industry post-earthquake and her views on Japanese magazines preferring Caucasian models over Asian models.

How’s the modeling industry in Japan like post earthquake?
It’s actually really good. But as you know there’s the big earthquake on 11 March, right after the earthquake, all foreign models left immediately. But you know there are still jobs. We went from 20 to 30 models down to 2. They work like every single day because they have to do everything. Sometimes two or three jobs a day.

We see that there are a lot of Caucasian models working in Japan, is there a certain imbalance between the two races in the industry?
Firstly, the market between the Caucasian and asian models are completely different. As you can see all the good Japanese magazines like Elle, Vogue and Numero use mostly Caucasian models. So you know we are so disappointed. As a Japanese, I don’t think that’s fair, the Japanese model usually gets paid lesser than Caucasian models. I know the Caucasian models deserve to be paid a little higher because they have air fare, rent and tax to deal with but you know, not more than higher.

Did the success of Ai Tominaga and Tao Okamoto create an impact or a positive energy about Japanese models making it big?
Ai has definitely change the way people look at Japanese models, she was the pioneer, you know the first model to work in New York, Paris, Milan and London. She put the first step, then you know Tao came up, so that’s why I think it’s very important for other Japanese model. But as you can see, there are still not many Japanese models in the world, but there are a lot of good ones with potential.

What do you think sets Japanese models apart from others?
I think Japanese people are kind of shy, and they are not very outgoing, don’t you think so?

But they are very polite.
Yes, people say Japanese models don’t say no, they don’t want to hurt people’s feeling.

So where does Tao base now?
She is based in New York now, but we want her to focus on the asian market now.

After all the success overseas she must be huge in Japan now right?
We get calls from clients in Japan everyday “Oh is she available ?” “Is she coming back?” We have to say no no no because she is in New York.

How often does she go back to Japan?
Even it’s only three days, she flies back to Japan, just for holiday because she loves her country and then she has family and friends there. Sometimes she call and say “I’m here in Tokyo” and we are like “What? You are in Tokyo?”

What do you think makes a model become supermodel?
You have to be beautiful, the body… and ambition. If you really want to be supermodel, you really want to be something, you should try and never give up. That’s what I am telling my niece and nephew (laughs) Sometimes you have to be heartless, but you need to respect other people as well.

What are your opinions on models who are too young like 14 and 15 year olds?
Personally I don’t really agree. When they are so young, it’s their first time leaving their country alone and they can’t take care of themselves. We have to take care of them like babysitter, but sometimes we cannot watch them when they go out. They have a lot of freedom after leaving their home. But you know sometimes even when they are 14 or 15 year old, if they will become a good model, I can already tell.

Lastly, who’s idea was it to cut Tao’s hair short – the New York agency or Tokyo?