When the tsunami hit the East Coast of Japan, Rila Fukushima was working in Yokohama, about half an hour north of Tokyo. Everyone on set was used to earthquakes and evacuated in a professional manner, but no one had anticipated the magnitude with which it plummeted the countryside. “It was really scary!” recalls Rila. “I remember running outside and seeing the water current in the river by the studio flowing the wrong way.” When the nuclear plant in Fukushima began melting down a few days later, Rila started getting dozens of phone calls and messages from friends everywhere, asking her if she was OK. Her last name could not have been more unfortunate.
Rila was born in Kyushu, in the South of Japan but grew up in Tokyo. From an early age she took interest in fashion and magazines. She was mesmerized by images of the supermodels and thought maybe – but not realistically? – she could be a model herself. But what she really wanted was to be a booker. So one day she walked into one of the agencies to apply for a job but by the time she left the place, she had signed a model contract and was on her way to become one of the first Japanese models to break through on the international scene. She moved to New York in 2004. “Of course, being short limited the kind of work I could do,” she admits. “Runway was always a challenge, although I have done it in the past, but I never took part in the show seasons the way other girls would. I ended up doing a lot of beauty and editorial work.” New York is a tough, challenging place for any foreigner, let alone a young, Japanese girl. “People are definitely a lot more open, and outspoken in New York. It took me a while to get used to it, but now I think I can give my own piece of mind just like any other New Yorker!” she says proudly.
Last year Rila decided to move back to Tokyo. Her mom got sick and her dad asked if she’d please return home to help the family. She’s happy to be back and on a quest to rediscover the city she had been separated from for so long. She started a blog – she writes about the cultural and fashion scene in Tokyo – went back to her natural hair color – she used to dye it blonde for years to distinguish herself from the other Asian models – and started taking acting classes – she loves independent movies. But her dream is to be on the cover of Japanese Vogue, which she laments, has proven to be nearly impossible. “I am not sure why Japanese models aren’t featured more often (in Japanese Vogue), but I know it’s a big complaint that gets brought up all the time, especially by my mother…”
Rila and I were both part of the bloggers posse to report on FNO. When we met we found out we have at least one other common interest: vintage. So we decided to go shopping together. We planned on spanning a few of Tokyo’s trendy neighborhoods but we ended up getting stuck in Shibuya, though happily so. There are literally “used clothing” stores on every block! We backcombed the little side streets and alley ways and discovered shops in concealed basements and out-of-sight penthouses. We started at Toro, a beautiful and well curated vintage store located on the 4th floor of a seemingly residential building. This store is high on everyone’s list here. It looks like the interior of a log cabin. At Sister we found more of an 80′s stock. Across the street from Hypnotique, we discovered this amazing store on the 2nd floor calledGrimoire. It’s catered to a subculture of “mori girls”, or forest girls. They dress as though they belong in the woods, with lots of layers and long tiered dresses and skirts made of natural fibers and flowing cardigans in earthy colors. To me it looks like a mix of grunge, folklore and granola. And maybe a hint of taxidermy. It’s perfectly creepy. Rila didn’t find much to her liking there. She’s an “impressive” dresser. “I am not sure what to call my personal style, but I think it would feature words like eclectic and original. It’s what I strive for.” We ended the day at a “really cheap” Udon noodles restaurant.
Tokyo’s streets are full of inspiration. Everywhere you turn or lift your head something else astonishes you, whether it’s an oddly shaped building, or a street vendor selling mini-puppets, or a bus illustrated with cartoon animals, everything is crazy, yet everything makes sense. Japanese people might be prone to following the rules and adhering to a one-for-all policy, yet they are wildly creative and darkly imaginative. I know I haven’t seen the half of it but the two hundred something photos I posted these past three weeks are proof of some of my favorite, lasting first impressions. Sayonara Tokyo!