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A day in the life of a Japanese 'hostess' model
Learning what it means to be an agejo model at Shibuya fashion bible Koakuma-Ageha magazine
It’s 11 a.m. and Satomi Yakuwa is busy putting on her makeup,
getting ready for a full day of shooting photos for the Shibuya fashion magazine she models
In a normal fashion shoot, a team of professionals would be busy at work on the model, but Satomi, nicknamed Satomin, is going at it completely alone.
“A makeup artist? No way, I would never let them touch my face. They don’t know how I like my makeup done,” she says.
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Little devil, swallowtail butterfly
She is starting the day by shooting a series of photos for the magazine that show step-by-step how to achieve the look she’s created.
This includes heavy liquid eyeliner, several sets of false lashes placed far outside the natural lash line, and special contacts with extra large irises lined in black to make the eyes appear almost inhumanly larger.
It is the signature look of the girls who appear in the
Koakuma-Ageha magazine -- the title means “little devil, swallowtail butterfly.”
It is also the definitive title for followers of the “agejo” (hostess) fashion style that is a Shibuya fashion subculture.
On top of the makeup, the agejo also favor pale skin, light hair colors, and voluminous hair -- done up so picture-perfectly it could easily be mistaken for a doll’s wig.
Satomin is a senzoku, or exclusive model, for Koakuma-Ageha. It means she appears in every issue and, unlike dokusha models (street models), cannot be in other magazine titles.
A woman usually becomes a senzoku after gaining fans as a dokusha model, when enough fans choose her as their favorite in monthly surveys.
Copies of the newest Ageha issue are strewn throughout the makeup room, and looking through one we notice something that strikes me as strange: every model wears color contacts but they are all brown. We ask why no one tries green or blue.
“Ew, are you kidding me? Those would be weird. They’re not a representation of reality,” says Satomin, without a hint of letting on that she may be joking.
“I'm so tired!” says Satomin after she yawns for the umpteenth time between camera shot.
“This sucks, I wanna take a nap. I was up late working. I only get the first of every month off. I even work Sundays.”
Satomin is a true agejo; she works in the night clubs, as a hostess or companion at the cabaret clubs. It is here that the makeup and fashion style that spawned the Koakuma-Ageha magazine was born.
“Just last night this pretty weird customer came in,”
“He said he has bought every issue of Koakuma-Ageha since it began. He even recognized me and he was able to tell me exactly the issue in which I became a senzoku model from last year.
"It’s totally creepy, right? I tried to pass him off to someone else but still had to talk to him for a while anyway.”
Satomin stands up to go take a nap before adding, “But most of my customers who recognize me come to give their support. Most are really nice. It’s just 'work is work', you know?”
Dressing up for the girls
One of the Ageha editors on set, Haruka Noda, eagerly explained about agejo culture until the subject of clubs came up, then suddenly she chose her words much more carefully.
“Not every girl works at a club. Many of them don’t. It’s more about an attitude, in that the girls aren't so interested in doing regular office jobs and they don’t care about what the opposite sex thinks about the fashion and makeup they wear. Mostly, agejo dress like this to appeal to other girls.”
Since many of the readers are not always agejo who work at clubs but rather just idolize the look, the magazine mainly features daily casual looks that may be favored by any girl walking through Shibuya.
But this is still a different world and advertisements for slinky hostess gowns permeate the pages. Unlike many other Shibuya subcultures and their off-shoots, the agejo style is favored by older girls.
At 19, Satomin is the youngest senzoku model, but the age goes up to 28. The girls may look baby-faced, but they are mature in poise and speak openly in the magazine about subjects such as love and sex.
It is a contradiction that runs throughout the agejo culture, and in the Ageha shots Satomin is asked to pose with stuffed animals and party balloons wearing supersized doll dresses.
Make the money, honey
Late in the afternoon Satomin’s manager comes in to show her updates on a video game avatar she is designing. When she became popular enough to be senzoku, she was able to snatch up deals with “Diamond Puff”, “Sugar” and “Dazzy”, all popular agejo brands.
The magazine provides itself as a vessel to the masses, but the girls are mostly self produced. Unlike fashion trends that are dictated by the magazines themselves, Ageha gets most of its content directly from its agejo models.
A writer for the magazine watches Satomin like a hawk when she’s putting on makeup.
Did Satomin use one or two sets of false eyelashes? What shape does she make with them? How thick is her liquid liner today?
Many of the outfits displayed in the pages are not styled, but brought to the set by the girls themselves.
“We need them to explain to the readers why they wear one thing and not the other, so we ask them to bring what they like from their favorite brands,” says Noda.
Despite the fame these girls have found within their circle, they usually don't get the same amount of success or fortune as similar models in titles with broader appeal do. They even may face stigma outside of their community.
In response to an editor asking if she had found a new place to live yet, Satomin sighs “No. I found one but my application was rejected.”
Later, Satomin tells a fellow senzoku model that she intends to quit her job as a hostess soon.
“But you`re still going to take on a part-time job right?”
“Yeah, I'll do gaikin,” she answers. We are then told that gaikin is working behind the scenes at a club, without actually talking to customers.
“Oh my god, that’s the same thing! Ugh, you know they’re just going to make you go talk to customers anyway!”
A temporary life?
It may seem to be vicious cycle, but Satomin says she won't be agejo forever.
“My dream is to just be a mother to two kids. And I'm sure I will be dressing really normal when that happens.” With black hair? “Oh, I don't know about that.”
12 hours later as we leave, Satomin is still at the studio, getting her hair dressed up with leaves and plastic vegetables for a shot where she’ll say she’s on a vegetable diet. We ask Satomin if she’s going to the club tonight to work.
“No way, I'm totally going home. I consider this is my main job now, anyway,” she says.
She yawns, and complains about being tired again. We ask her for one last shot for the camera, and she immediately brightens up and pulls out a saccharine sweet wink from her arsenal of poses.
We finally understood what Shibuya fashion bible Koakuma-Ageha and it's agejo models was about; it’s OK to bat those lashes to high heaven, but keep the pitchfork on hand and remain in control of your domain.
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