#9 Tao Okamoto
2012-04-24 / Interviewd by Kei Hirano, Text by Rena Suno, Video by Dorian G. Stone
Tao is an international fashion model who represents Japanese models. She has been popular not only in Japan but also in the world through fashion collections in Paris and New York and foreign fashion magazines. Her passion to social activities made her become the organizer of a charity sale in New York after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, and she succeeded in collecting donation of more than 13,000 dollars. We asked Tao about her involvement in charity activities, reasons for going abroad, and tips to succeed outside of Japan as a few Japanese models who are actively working in the world.
Interview with Tao Okamoto
– You have been living in New York for four years. Please tell us about what made you to go abroad and live in a foreign country.
I stayed in England when I was 17 years old, which was my first experience to live in a foreign country for a long period of time. I studied English there, and later on visited various places such as Paris and Asian countries.
I came up with an idea of going to England while I was struggling to think about my future, which was typical to adolescents. I started to have an interest in working in England as a model while I was staying there and applied for a position because I had already had a career as a model in Japan. Becoming a model is not something that I had been dreaming since I was little. I happened to be scouted by a model agency when I started to have a complex about myself.
– Please tell us about your recent activities.
I have been working as a model for 13 years since I started to work at the age of 14. The Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011 made me try something new since I felt I had already gone through many things in my career. Although I had an interest in charity or volunteering through my friends, who were involved in them, I did not have a chance to do it by myself. However, I felt I had to do something after the earthquakes, and was desperate to do anything I could. I found four other women who had successful careers in New York, and had a meeting with them to support Japan from New York. Since we could not go to the disaster sites by ourselves and help people directly, we decided to do what we can do in New York, and that is how the idea of holding a charity fashion sale was came up with. We got in touch with our fashion industry contacts, and had them bring items they were no longer wearing. Then we invited people to come and buy these items.
It was important to us when planning the event that it was not over overburdened with the concept of “charity”, but rather it was a shopping event. There were those who came to support the event and those who were serious about shopping. That all the money raised in this way became donation to Japan was really wonderful. It was a lot of work but it was successful. It is important to continue to work on these activities, and I already started to have regular meetings for the next event.
I created my own website, http://savejapanofamerica.tumblr.com, whose proceeds from the selling of pictures and photos go to donation. It carries my wish for not forgetting the earthquakes rather than collecting money. I have never thought of reasons of my senior international models being involved in charity activities. Ten years later, I finally realized why by looking back the meaning of my luxurious life as a model such as wearing gorgeous clothes everyday and being invited to parties. I would like to devote my passion to what I really want to do including our charity activities to support Japan.
– What did you feel through working on these charity activities?
People in the fashion industry live in the opposite world from musicians, who can give comfort to people through their play. I had a dilemma after the earthquakes because people in the fashion industry were living in a completely different world from the victims of the earthquakes, and I felt it strange to speak out something from the fashion side to help these victims. However, I now think that my work in the fashion industry is a way of making a living, and it would be allowed that I spend time to charity activities outside of my work along with working as a professional model if I can contribute my career and experience as a model to the activities.
– Would you like to continue to be involved in these charity activities?
I feel it a little uncomfortable to get involved in these activities as a professional fashion model TAO. It is true that you can get more things done if you use your fame that you have established through your work. But I personally hesitate to do so because I would like to do what I want to do apart from my work.
– What was the biggest event in your career as a model?
In addition to my life in London, which was my first experience to live in a foreign country, the life in Paris gave me a big change. I was wondering why Japanese designers did not appreciate my work when I was around 20 years old. It was time when I came back to Japan and decided to pursue my career as a model in Japan. On the other hand, I always passed auditions for fashion shows from foreign designers. This experience let me think that I was asked to work not in Japan but in other countries, which took me to Paris.
I always want to be praised by Japanese since I like Japan. Therefore, even when I was in Paris I made an effort to be accepted by Japanese people without giving up being admired by them
– What do you think of young Japanese who do not want to go abroad?
It is regrettable that you cannot have a chance to find the values of Japan by looking at other countries. I think it would be a good idea that you get to know more about Japan that you have never realized by going abroad and looking at Japan from outside.
– What do you think is the virtue of Japan that you have noticed after living in foreign countries?
I was told from my boss to appeal myself and speak out what I bear in mind in foreign countries. Although it is important to do so, I do not think you have to adjust to other cultures too much. It is not good that Japanese cannot say “No” to others, but Japan has a unique culture that you care others a lot and try not to invade in privacy of others.
I have many characteristics that are typical to Japanese. Although I have been told that I cannot survive in the United States of America without being Americanized, I do not want to interrupt other people’s conversation and be aggressive by changing my characteristics. I like myself, who sometimes misses a chance to say what I wanted to do to others.
– Could you tell us about what you are interested in doing or what you would like to do in the future?
Email newsletters and advertisements with videos created by advanced digital devices make me think that the implementation of “movement” is a new way of advertising. Models including me move their bodies through photo shooting but it is only a moment of series of the movement. Taking video is much different from photo shooting in that it makes up of the sequence of time. I find it interesting that I have more video shooting jobs now. I would like to work for photo shooting because it exists forever and it should not be distinguished. At the same time, I am interested in working as a model in varieties of media such as moving or acting, which I expect to become more popular in the future.
I did not want to admit that models were considered to be in a lower position than actresses since successful models later became actresses back in the day. But I now think it is a natural career path for models to look for something new based on what they have experienced so far. Your performance will be gradually changed by shifting your way of expressing yourself.
Tao is a fashion model who was born in Chiba. She debut as a model when she was 14 years old due to her height of 5.8 feet, and went to Paris in 2006 after learning English in England while she was in high school. Her stay in Paris led her to belong to Elite Model Management and debut at Paris collection. In the following year, she debut at a fashion show by Marc Jacobs in New York. In 2009, the change of her hair style from long black hair to short hair, which was later nicknamed TAO hair made her popular. In the same year, she became famous due to the selection for a model to the advertisement of Ralph Lauren because it was uncommon as an Asian model. She has featured the campaigns of Emporio Almani, Dolce & Gabbana, Kenneth Cole, Uniqlo etc., and covered magazines of “Harper’s BAZAAR”, “V”, “i-D”, American, Japanese, Russian, French and Chinese versions of “Vogue.” In 2012, shu uemura, a renowned Japanese cosmetic company, appointed her as a beauty ambassador of the company. Her passion to social activities made her become the organizer of a charity sale in New York after the Great East Japan Earthquake in Japan on March 11, 2011. She succeeded in collecting donation of more than 13,000 dollars. To learn more about her, you can visit her official blog at http://ameblo.jp/okamoto-tao