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Trials and Tribulations of Gravure Idols Part 1

messy - Original Japanese Date: May 9th, 2014
English Translation Published: September 8th, 2014

Gravure idoling has always been a mainstay in Japan but things are changing as of late and not for the better.

Previously, we wrote about how some Japanese gravure idols have published their own books, and while reading through a manuscript I wondered about how hard their lives as models were now that some had to also write lengthy pieces like this. It's tough not to feel compassion for them. Wakana Sakai (a former gravure idol) had a good reason to pen a novel (a first-person perspective novel about her experiences with adultery), but perhaps someone like Anna Konno (a Japanese model-talent) would best not put pen to paper.

And of course Risa Yoshiki should never again step near a publishing house. Her book was more like an obligation from her talent agency as it felt like something anyone with two functioning hands and a brain could write. I feel like Risa Yoshiki falls under the umbrella of a gravure modeling agency trying their best to push forth one of their flagging talents by having her 'write' a book that will hopefully—at least for them—become a best-seller. This is supposedly something that talents on their way out of the spotlight often attempt to regain some of their buzz.

Not just limited to Risa Yoshiki, but doesn't it appear like the demand for gravure idols in magazines such as Young Animal and Young Champion seem to be on the decline? From the perspective of messy and this author along with many other people, it's not that clear how models opt to appear in these types of publications. Perhaps some people just don't have an interest, but for those that do, we'll take a close look at the gravure modeling industry today.

Now, this is based on personal opinion, but please have a look at the trends of magazine gravure modeling in this image matrix:

Japanese gravure idol magazine matrix


This image shows that 'Adult' and 'Lolita' make up the vertical axis and 'Erotic' and 'Healthy Beauty' hold sway horizontally. In other words, moving up you will encounter grownup styles whereas moving down you will encounter fashion senses of a more maidenly kind. To the right is more sexual and to the left is the demesne of cute and healthy.


Someone like Risa Yoshiki can call the posh land in between 'Erotic' and 'Lolita' her own. This land, by the way, is quite fertile as it has turned out famous models-turned-talents such as Yuuko Ogura . These two can serve as prime examples of gravure idols who ascended from being simply models into the truly mainstream by belting tunes out of their pipes, showcasing their talents, and keeping fans in the loop via constant blog updates. Many hope to achieve this and as seen by Risa Yoshiki, it's possible, but even with her, the results are questionable.

Gravure idols are not just limited to only becoming variety TV show idols. They can also become actresses however, it's hard to confirm how many gravure idols—if any—have made the jump to serious acting successfully. Acting at the highest caliber certainly belongs to the 'Adult' zone shown in the above image and ascending to that level is very rare.

If acting is out of the question, your average gravure idols generally has no other option than to continue working as a model and that's very demanding work. Idols who stick around too long may find themselves gallantly defending against turncoat fans who ask questions such as 'how much longer do you plan on doing this?' along with battling it out with fresher idols who have youth and burgeoning popularity on their side. A good example of this is Azusa Yamamoto. What's more, there's also less demand for gravure idols in print media due to decreasing publication volume. Many gravure idols may want to work, but work for many does not exist.

Written by Caetano Takeno Coimbra
Takeno was born in the 1980's in the Fukushima Prefecture. Keeping a popular online diary since the dawn of the internet age in Japan, Takeno now works independently dealing with both online sales and online sales data analysis.


To be concluded...


(Translator's note: Gravure idols, as harsh as it may sound, find success mainly due to their image. The truly unique ones have more going for them simply than being photogenic, but they're incredibly rare. Although this two-part article drops many names, the sheer number of women working in the biz compared to the few that are household names even amongst the most hardcore of fans is staggering.)

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