HOW I BECAME JAPAN’S 1ST BLACK BIKINI IDOL
Twenty year old Amina du Jean is a J-pop “idol”, social media addict, aspiring documentarian, youth subculture fanatic and macaron magister.
Stage One — The Interview
“So, fill out this paper and check with you’re ok with doing, and what you’re not ok with…” my manager for gravure work told me. I waited anxiously in the comfy Shibuya office room as I fidgeted with my pen, reading over the paper work. The paperwork had a list of things ranging from my body measurements, to the type of guys I liked. Was I ok with showing my bare breasts? I checked no. Licking an ice cream cone? Maybe.
As an idol in Japan, doing gravure and releasing a DVD was something I saw as inevitable. Although America doesn’t have a mainstream “gravure” culture, the closest thing would be pin-up models or non-nude Playboy photoshoots. The term gravure comes from the French term rotogravure, and is softcore glamour modelling, somewhat mainstream in Japanese media. Gravure is not pornographic in nature however skirts the line of suggestiveness. Think of Betty Paige meets Hello Kitty, if that image is even possible. Gravure idols are often used as covergirls for Manga(comic) magazines, to sell products or if they’re lucky their own DVD. DVDs feature young women usually ages 16-mid 20s wearing scantily clad “cute” outfits in certain angles and situations while soft royalty free music plays. The DVDs are usually 60–90 minutes, often shot in exotic locations such as Guam or Bali.
These DVDs can get pretty suggestive however they aren’t pornography and would not even be considered soft porn. Most female celebrities in Japan have started off doing gravure photoshoots or DVDs at the beginning of the careers. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Nakagawa Shoko(Shokotan), and AKB48’s Oshima Yuko just to name a few.
Idols in Japan are marketed as pure, homely, and virginal with no ulterior motives. Unlike fashion models who are considered beautiful rather than “cute” and more mature, idols are to invoke more of a girl next door quality. Gravure idols however exist in the grey area. DVDs and regular events allows fans to have a psued0-interpersonal relationship with the girl pursues a career in usually modeling or acting.
As an idol in Japan I jokingly regard myself as a “Professional Manic Pixie Dream girl”. Goofy, homely enough to be a girl you actually know in real life but existing in the world between celebrity and normalcy.
After filling out the information papers, the first step of producing my DVD, I brought the bikini per requested. The producer at the company, Spice Visual was pretty friendly, in his mid 30’s with dyed brown hair. “She speaks Japanese so well!” He said with amazement. He took a few pictures in my bikini to see my body type and determine my skin clarity.
“Can you wear black contact lens?” Colored eyes would make me look too charai (gaudy) for this market. My hair, dyed auburn brown at that time was also a debate having black hair hair in Japan is a sign of conservativeness and the lighter your hair dyed, the sluttier you are. “Since you’re not Asian, your brown hair may be okay” I was assured.
“I think it went well!” My manager told me as we left Spice Visuals’ office. We were on the way to our next destination, the manager’s office building in Shinjuku. “The next guy we’re meeting is the distributer” he started “He has to see if you’re good too. Oh and just to warn you, he’s kind of fat.” I was kind of offput by the warning, especially seeing as the man wasn’t so large. Just a normal middle aged man gut, however I guess I have warped American senses.
The distribution man sized me up “You’re American? But your tits are so small!”
Hey tubby, you should get into gravure yourself if you think you’re such hot shit with your receding hairline and all. I giggled to myself.
He also made a note of the scarring on my back, but complimented my weave “Extensions look so great these days! You don’t know what’s real and what isn't”
After the interview with the distributor I was sent home. I decided to go to a Starbucks and piddle with my phone and look at YouTube. After two hours I received a call from my manager “They said they’d like to shoot a DVD with you!” We started to agree on a date. I wouldn't get some fancy DVD shoot in Guam however, no no. Only on the condition my first DVD was any good.
It was settled, I would get my first gravure DVD. It was on the checklist of my things to do as an idol. I did have anxieties on my impression on Western fans. America is still a pretty conservative country and without an adequate Western counterpart to Gravure DVDs it would be lazily categorized as soft porn. Despite being the first Black gravure idol in Japanese history, I am however not the first American.
In the 1970’s Hong Kong born Agnes Chen (left) and Hawaiian native,(right) Agnes Lum would take Japanese bikini magazines by storm and Californian Leah Dizon(below) was all the rage in the mid 2000’s. Both of them however have some Asian blood. Lum and Dizon would later expand their careers to having healthy singing careers in Japan.
Time went on and as we solidified the date for my DVD, I was texted a list of instructions by my manager “Don’t bring anything, we’ll have all of your outfits on set, meet at 7am in Shinjuku station, we’ll all drive there together” I cringed at the time. I’m not the type of person to count on being on time if something is before noon. “Oh and, come without any makeup on! The makeup artist will do everything for you”.
Um, what? After previous experiences I just didn’t trust any Japanese makeup artist with doing anything. Not to insult their skills, but most have experience exclusively with Asian features. “No, I cannot. I’ll come with my foundation and contouring done and she can do the rest.”
This spawned an hour long argument of whether or not I was component to do my own makeup. “What you think is cute in America may not be cute in Japan! Just come without makeup on.” The manager and producer of Spice Visual argued with me. I felt flabbergasted that these two Japanese men had the nerve. But I later realised, they wanted me to look as young as possible(because, Japan) and I equivocated.
That morning I came as instructed, my face covered with a surgerical mask as I would not dare walk around Tokyo bare faced, and black contact lens. We(manager, second girl shooting that day, and I) drove to a studio in Setagaya to shoot at. The set looked like a normal American style house with a yard, kitchen and various rooms. Until I saw the classroom with a chalk board and desks on the other side, this was indeed a large photostudio for Japan’s large gravure industry.
I waited nervously as the makeup artist worked on my face first and made small talk. The typical script I had recited numerous times being a foreigner in Japan.
“Where are you from?”
Detroit. Near Godaiko(Great Lakes)
“How did you learn Japanese?”
This banter had become second nature to me now, it’s always the same here. The woman decided to allow me to do my own foundation “You know your type of face better than I do.” Of course.
She decided to even add false lashes, just for me.
“I don’t get to do this often! I’m always working on Japanese girls” She and another woman who was assigned to picking my wardrobe helped me put makeup on to cover my body blemishes. Afterwards, I was sent into the bathroom where wardrobe woman helped me get dressed. She handed me a white childlike strawberry dotted cotton bra and panty set(Because, Japan) and had to inspect something — my body hair.
She then took a razor and did something nobody has done for me, not even those I’ve been intimately involved with. She helped me shave my body hair. Typing it out doesn’t sound strange but being nineteen and having a grown woman shave my body hair was the strangest thing I’ve ever encountered.
I then put on the school uniform, from the sailor top, pleated skirt down to the navy socks and traditional Japanese school shoes. They even gave me a real school backpack to accompany my first costume. After presenting myself, everyone on the set from my manager, Spice Visual’s producers, a few assistances and the cameraman commented how cute I was. How wide eyed I was and how the school uniform looked perfect on me.
And then it went, we started taking pictures. The cameraman, a man large in stature bald with a gotee was pretty friendly with me. Everyone addressed me as “Ami-chan” (Lil Ami) instead of “Amina-san” (Honorable Amina).
Going in the yard, posing next to flowers and on a table the cameraman instructed me “Look at ojisan (Uncle, older man), I’ll show you how to pose first.” It was pretty funny for me to see such a large man doing a sexy pose and made me feel comfortable.
As the shooting went on we did the video shoot as well, I blew on dandelions, blew bubbles and skipped in the garden outside before going into the “classroom” to write my name, introducing myself before my invisible classmates. The non-sexual nature (despite them zooming in on my butt occaisonally), felt pretty weird as we filmed it. It didn’t make any sense why anyone would want to see a 19 year old girl frolicking blowing dandelions, but I didn’t think much about it.
The shooting went on with a variety of scenes. Wearing a maid uniform and giving the viewers an imaginary back massage, doing ballet poses, and ending with a grand scene of me getting a massage and being tickled by a set of hands. The hands belong to the wardrobe woman. It has to be a woman doing the massage, because that is proper, but the hands must look manly so the viewers may insert themselves. “Act embarrassed” I was told before recieving the manly hand woman’s massage.
And with that the shoot ended, everyone on set clapped. “Otsukaresamae!(good job). It was a gruelling near 8 hours of makeup, hair, changing, posing and avoiding food to keep my figure.
Around a month later, my DVD’s jacket was released and I retweeted it, somewhat bashful but proud of it. The DVD was set to be released September 23rd, 2016. A day after my 20th birthday.
The DVD had been released nationally across Japan in CD and entertainment department stores like Tower Records, SofMap and HMV(pictured above)
Soon after tweeting the cover photo I was barraged with calls questioning my condition. It was my mother and grandmother whom I regularly speak to but didn’t talk at all about this decision. My mother broke down crying, saying she would sue the company, how this was child pornography (I am very much not a child and this was not pornography).
I’m an adult, living mainly from my own income. It’s my body and my choice.
“I made you! Half of your DNA is mine! Your body is apart of mine.”
My mother pleaded with me to never do anything like this again, how money wasnt worth it. I hoped this DVD release would cut our embilical cord she enshrines so much, however it seems not. My DVD event was October 16th, in Akihabara SofMap.
SofMap’s iconic blue and white background was the mecca for press events in the world of J-idols. In fact, when I was 17 I made a make-shift SofMap and took pictures of my figurine in it(above). It was a dream come true I could do a press event there.
(YouTube Vlog on my SofMap press release event! — https://youtu.be/PSQYKJ5TVcQ )
Press event flyer (above!)
Before my event, the press from various news sites came to interview and take pictures of me. “Hey Amina! Now that you’re 20, you’re an adult in Japan. Any plans on dating? How are you with men?”
“Iya Iya! No way Jose!” The men in the room all chuckled.
Next was the fan meeting event. I signed pamphlets back stage to give to fans who came to the event. As I was called out, the MC talked with me for around ten minutes or so. “Please look at the fans who came to see you and greet them!” I could barely look at them I was so shy. Expectantly, they were my normal demographic of Japanese fans. Nerdy men in their 30’s. Some of them I’d seen before as they seen me perform quite often, some I hadn’t seen in years, most were new faces.
“Thank you for supporting me” I uttered. Next was the bikini shoot. As an American, I wore an American themed bikini as they all waited their turns to take pictures of me. I laughed quietly at a man who had an instant camera. You know the kind you have to get developed? I haven’t used one since 2007.
The event ended with a handshake and oppurtunity to take a picture with me. I was eagerly handed chocolates, presents by different fans and even a letter from someone who came all the way from Fukushima(Three hours by bullet train) to see me.
(Signed Polaroids )
One man even wanted to link arms with me for the picture. Needless to say I was taken aback. As the event came to an end, all of the staff at SofMap took a picture with me.
I intentionally took a while to get changed as I left hoping any lingering fans would be dispersed. As I made my way down the elevator, I attempted to find my DVD on shelves however I was quickly recognized by a customer in the department store and left. As I exited into the sea of an Akihabara Sunday, a fan was surely enough waiting for me. “Ami-chan! Ami-chan!” He yelled. “T-thanks!” I was taken a bit aback but made my way out safely.
Around a month after I was offered an interview and (clothed) photoshoot with Playboy Weekly Japan which I giddly accepted to. This interview was released early January 2017 with positive reception.
(Playboy Weekly Japan’s President and I at their offices((top)); bikini shoot below)
Official Playboy Weekly interview (in Japanese) http://wpb.shueisha.co.jp/2017/01/11/78112/
English Translation facebook.com/amina.dujean/posts/1867375853539020
Releasing non-pornographic sort of lewd DVD has given me some insight into the Japanese male psyche, and was a fun experience. Although I delt with some adversary from family and jealous girls close minded who throw it in my face to disparage any position I take — “You’re a pedophile porn star! Nobody cares about your opinion!” I still have no regrets. I’m debating whether or not I want to release my second DVD.