“Even though I don’t know what’s going to come next, it’s important for me to keep ‘facing forward’.”
“When I first came to Ray, to be honest, I was full of anxiety.”
Now that she is graduating from Ray, we speak with Rika Izumi to get her thoughts – For the last seven and a half years she’s spent her days working with Ray. Today we meet to discuss her story; her memories of the good times and painful times. Ms. Rika shares her thoughts on her experiences both as a grown woman and a model at the agency.
As she flips through old photos, she comments on her mental state back then.
We began this interview with Ms. Rika right after the conclusion of her final photoshoot, standing alongside many of the women she’s worked with in Ray for many years. As we look around, there is a varying array of women with painted faces surrounding us. Ms. Rika, up until now you’ve been one of the faces in the crowd. Looking back on your experience, what can you share with us about your career here?
“Honestly, it’s so nostalgic for me. When I first started my career at Ray, I was so embarrassing (laughs). I even surprised myself with it. I was terrified to appear at my first real photo shoot. I was only in middle school and I had never appeared in a teen magazine before, and I definitely didn’t have a lot of experience up until that point. But the people at Ray told me to believe in myself, and gradually over time I began to. They kept telling me ‘teen magazines are different’ – and that’s true. You only get one or two takes per shot and so you have to be good at what you’re doing. And the truth is, I wasn’t that good at all in the beginning.
By the time I was a college student, I was spending my evenings in the studio even after the other models had already gone home. I am so grateful to the staff who used to stay late with me back then. Each one of us, we were all so tired. But once we entered the studio the atmosphere would change and we’d temporarily forget our exhaustion. If I didn’t work hard, I was just exhausting everyone even more. So I had to learn to make poses that were quick and looked good, so that everyone could get through the work quickly to be able to go home and rest. I was kind of a pain in the butt model to work with back then, I think. But I didn’t want to miss my chance and I was willing to work really hard. I was so worried that they wouldn’t send in the request to ‘come in for a shoot again next month’.
Back then, I used to stock up on fashion magazines and seriously study them. I used to make lots of poses in front of the mirror – I think I studied my face so much that I knew the exact length of my bangs in millimeters. Since I was just starting out from scratch, I didn’t know anything about what it was to be a good model. So for the first year or so, I just went with this one pose of me looking over my shoulder, I really relied on that.”
“I worried that if I couldn’t get up to speed they would ditch me.”
After a while your efforts started to pay off and you made a name for yourself as “Rika Izumi”. How did you get to that point?
“People at Ray started to praise me, and I started to get serious feedback on my poses and facial expressions. Even the staff used to yell out ‘Wow, you’re so cute!’ while taking my picture. But of course, as one’s skill level increases there are new challenges to tackle all the time.
There was this one camera man, when every time I made a certain pose, he would cry out, ‘Idiot! Idiot!’ because he could tell I was relying on a crutch – it was an old, easy pose. I still have a strong memory of that. I wasn’t even angry. I was just shocked at his reaction, haha. But I think I needed to take that feedback…even though at the time, hearing it, I used to have to go through my photo shoots with tears in my eyes. (laughs)
I used to think, ‘Wow, I’m so useless, I can’t do this’. And when you think that way every single day about yourself, it starts to become true. I used to look longingly at the photos of the other girls because I am the type to be very self-critical and to compare myself against others. I just wondered how they were able to get the timing of their photos right and I wasn’t able to. I thought my work looked so sloppy in comparison. But the truth is, I didn’t look as bad as I thought I did. After a while, I learned that each model has her own style and that there isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do it…and once I accepted that, I learned to really take advantage of the incredible opportunity I had been given.”
“I couldn’t rush through – it was like I was hitting every stop light, one by one. (laughs)”
How did you express yourself as “Rika Izumi”?
When I was shooting the photos for my second magazine cover special, there was a camera man I was working with who told me to hold out one of my hands like I was about to receive something. Then he said, ‘put your other hand over your ear’. Then he said, ‘pretend like you’re about to move forward’. When the shoot was over, my face was a giant (?) mark. But when I later saw the photo on the magazine cover I was shocked. I looked like I was elegantly in motion. I wasn’t doing my usual pose routine. It looked like real body movement, like the ‘me’ that I wanted to portray to the world. Even though it wasn’t a video, somehow that photo portrayed real motion. But it all happened without a sound, and elegantly – almost like a fountain welling up. And that’s how I expressed myself as ‘Rika Izumi’. (“Izumi” means “fountain” or “spring/brook”; please see blogger’s note at the end of the article for further details about Rika’s name)
Since then, I’ve tried to keep my photos as natural looking as possible, and to incorporate a story through my poses and facial expressions. I’d like to stimulate the imagination of the person looking at my photos in the magazine. And when I think that I might have an impact on someone else – that makes me really happy.”
So you were able to do so much because you had the will power for it.
A long time ago, there was a saying “it’s better to keep silent and not brag about yourself.” But in the photography industry, that advice doesn’t seem to apply anymore. Do you think that the industry has linked that change in how they approach serialized publishing?
“Definitely. When I first started appearing regularly, I thought to myself, ‘Yes, I did it!!’ And I got to feel like that every single day and I was so grateful that I could express how I felt. But you have to be careful about how you express your feelings. It can easily transmit through the photo, and if you say that sort of thing around your friends and the staff it can definitely come off as bragging. But everyone is usually really honest. That’s the best part of working at Ray. Even if you feel momentarily embarrassed by the praise, it’s a great environment to work in. Everyone treats you like an adult. And I’ve got nothing but gratitude for my colleagues here.
Nowadays, I can clearly see my own strengths and the complexities of working in this industry. When I was first planning to join Ray, I didn’t ever want them to see my weak points, but now I’ve learned how to love myself – flaws and all. Every new issue presents new challenges. But, I learned how to break out of my shell and run free without worry or regret.
…But you know, after seven and a half years here I have to say: I couldn’t rush through – it was like I was hitting every stop light, one by one, but I never gave up and even though I tasted lots of bitterness I never swallowed it. (laughs)”
I’ll always believe that you can become cuter by taking just one more step ahead.
One of your techniques has been to stay diligent and to break through your anxieties, which certainly couldn’t have been an easy road. But Rika, do you think you’ll maintain that image of yourself internally?
“Well, for instance, I still always think to myself – ‘hmm, I wonder if this is the best angle to tilt my face’ or ‘I bet I look better facing the left than the right’, but I’ve been born with a pretty limited set of facial expressions, so I have to work a lot with movement to improve how I look. Sometimes, I just try to cover my stomach and hold in my feelings of worry about the issue. (laughs)
I don’t really have a rebellious spirit, but I also try hard not to do bad things and upset the people around me. When I did my second cover photo shoot, I was really upset. But I just accepted what was being said, and tried to acknowledge the positive side of what was being said: someone was giving me harsh feedback because they cared to see me improve. But judging yourself based on outside observations isn’t always a good idea, so I’ve learned to be more self-confident too. Sometimes you just have to wait to develop that kind of self-reliance. But I’m definitely different now because of that change.
I mean, at the end of the day I do have an ‘M’ temperament (laughs) (Blogger’s note: submissive personality traditionally associated with women). When I’m given a task, I say, ‘Oh this? I can try I guess’ so I reply without much resistance. At my core, I don’t think I’ve changed all that much in my last seven and a half years as a model.
By the way, I’m the type who is also very obvious about when I’m in love. (laughs)”
If you keep believing in yourself, you’ll reach your goals.
So you really have become Rika after all – you take care of what you need to and don’t let the rest bother you.”
“I’m kind of a pessimist, but I always try to do my best. I think I’ll always have anxieties, but I don’t think I’m useless anymore. After seven and a half years with Ray I know what it means to be a model. When I first started, my goal was to ‘film on location’. Then, when I met that goal, my next wish was ‘to work on a book project’. When that wish came true, I decided, ‘I always want to be true to myself’. And that’s really where I am right now, and I think if I continue to believe in myself and work hard, I’ll reach my goals.”
Your facial expression makes me believe you’ll reach it. Rika, would you like to say anything else about Ray and your seven and a half years here?
“More than anything, being at Ray helped me realize my dreams. When I look back at my own life, my time at Ray has been unforgettable and has changed me permanently for the better. Even though I’m so disappointed I won’t be doing another photoshoot here again – so disappointed that I’m even crying a little bit, I still feel so happy to having been at this place. Even though I’m graduating, I still love being at Ray. Even though it’s been seven and a half years since I started at Ray, I’m going to continue being Rika Izumi.”
Blogger’s note: “Rika Izumi” (泉里香) is Rika’s legal name and is the name listed on her Bachelor of Arts degree from Meiji University when she graduated in 2011:
However, since the debut of her career, she has worked under different names i.e. “Chisaki Hama” (浜千咲), “Rika” (梨華) and “Rika Izumi” with different kanji (泉里果). In other words, Rika made a choice to use her legal name as her stage name when she joined Ray magazine as a model in 2008; this is the context around the questions and answers regarding the name “Rika Izumi”
(Translation by Fandom Services, paid for by this blog to the benefit of all English-speaking and English-learning Rika fans.)