For decades white and Asian American models and actors have gone to Japan for lucrative modeling and endorsement jobs for Japanese companies in search of just the right shade of fun, freshness and sex appeal. Few Japanese faces have tried the reverse crossing. Those who have generally return home in discouragement.
Eiko Nijo is one model with the statuesque proportions, memorable face and the staying power to help right the imbalance in the fresh-face trade. She first left her Sapporo home in Northern Japan to escape a dysfunctional family life. Since then she has modeled successfully in Tokyo, encouraging her to come to the U.S. in the hope of breaking into Hollywood. Since last winter she has been getting a steady stream of unspectacular but solid modeling jobs that have allowed her to support herself—a dramatic improvement in circumstances over finding herself penniless after being ripped off by a fellow Japanese.
One sign of Nijo’s success in achieving a salable look—she was recently chosen to appear on the cover and fashion pages of Face, Issue 15. She’s still some distance from achieving her dream of becoming a successful Hollywood actress, but she now has a foot planted solidly in the door. It remains to be seen whether her distinctively Japanese accent will turn out to be a handicap or, as some argue, a selling point in a rapidly internationalizing Hollywood.
GoldSea: What part of Japan are you from?
Eiko Nijo: I was born in Kyoto. When I was three, we moved to Sapporo. I grew up in Sapporo.
GS: What made you come here in 1992?
Nijo: I was interested in Hollywood movies.
GS: What kind of roles do you want to play?
Nijo: I want to do action movies. I am learning karate and kickboxing.
GS: How long have you been learning that?
Nijo: Just a year.
GS: Are you good?
Nijo: I’m not strong but I can do the forms.
GS: Are you quick and limber?
Nijo: [Laughing modestly] Not yet.
GS: What does your family do?
Nijo: My father is the president of an architectural firm. My mother is a housewife and my sister works in a department store. My family is very weird. We don’t talk at all.
GS: What do you mean?
Nijo: I never talked with my father since I was a kid.
GS: Why not?
Nijo: He doesn’t talk to me. I never saw my parents talking to each other.
GS: So it was not a happy family.
Nijo: I guess not.
GS: Do you know why?
Nijo: I guess my father doesn’t like children.
GS: How did that effect you?
Nijo: I was always thinking about getting out of the house. I wanted to be independent. I did a lot of work in Japan trying to be independent.
GS: What kind of work?
Nijo: My first work was as a restaurant waitress in Sapporo.
GS: How old were you when you left home?
Nijo: I left home when I was 18 and got an apartment.
GS: When did you decide to be a model and an actress?
Nijo: When I was 20 years old I was a company president.
GS: Of what kind of company?
Nijo: Import/export. Actually somebody wanted me to be president because he couldn’t find the right person. He had another company and the next company he didn’t want to do it himself.
GS: What kind of import/export?
Nijo: Importing Italian bags, wallets and selling to department stores. It was so hard.
GS: What was so hard about it?
Nijo: Because it was a new company, it doesn’t have anything. I make up our basic things. Finance money from bank, a lot of money. I always worry about how to pay back money.
GS: How long were you doing that?
Nijo: About a year. It was too hard for me. I didn¹t have time to eat. I went to office and get out 11 or 12 o’clock at night. I couldn’t eat at all. I get sick and my stomach upset all the time. I could not eat, threw up.
GS: Did you quit?
Nijo: I made everything, the basic things, then I quit.
GS: What did you do then?
Nijo: I decided to study modeling because I didn’t want to worry about any money and anybody else.
GS: Did you go to Tokyo right after you quit?
Nijo: Yes. I went to a couple of places and they wanted me to model for them. Only for fashion shows.
GS: How long did you stay in Tokyo?
Nijo: About two years.
GS: When did you decide to come to Hollywood and become an actress?
Nijo: I loved Hollywood movies since I was kid. Being an actress is wonderful, don’t you think? You can be a teacher, a doctor, you can be even a killer.
GS: This was all decided on your own?
Nijo: Nobody recommended it to me.
GS: Could you make a living modeling?
GS: How much would you make in a month?
Nijo: Sometimes nothing, sometimes a lot.
GS: What would be your best month?
Nijo: Couple of thousand dollars.
GS: Two thousand?
Nijo: More. If you do a commercial, you can get tons of money.
GS: Ten thousand?
GS: Fifteen thousand?
GS: Did you do anything that people in Japan would remember?
Nijo: I did Kose Cosmetics. That was a long time ago. My agency sent me only for fashion shows. I didn’t do print, only Kose.
GS: When you came to the States did you know somebody over here?
Nijo: Nobody. I just wanted to get out of Japan.
GS: Why did you want to leave Japan so much?
Nijo: Because it’s uncomfortable. Too many people, no privacy. I went to New York first. Next
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