Vaguely Indistinguishable Professionals and Amateurs Under the “Gradol” Label

グラドルとは何か (後編)"曖昧化するプロとアマチュア 「“グラドル”はタグである」/ネクストサブカルリーダー・岡島紳士のTokyo Idols' Update第2回
Vaguely Indistinguishable Professionals and Amateurs Under the “Gradol” Label

Hikaru Aoyama “Ai ni Kawarutoki…”/ Shining Star Entertainment

“Gravure idol” (Gradol for short) is a general term that mainly refers to the swimsuit-clad female idols and talents that appear in weekly magazines and comic magazines, as well on image DVDs. In our previous article on Gradols (, we discussed “whether or not gradols exist overseas”, “the origin and history of gradols”, and “the uniqueness of gradol as a means of photographic expression”.

In this sequel, we’d like to consider “why gradols appear in swimsuits” or “the line that is beginning to blur between professional and amateur gradols”.

Why are Gradols featured in swimsuits? Gravure as a promotional platform

First of all, how did swimsuits become the standard image of gradols? Are there any benefits to gradols showing off their skin?


Hikaru Aoyama “Ai ni Kawarutoki…”/ Shining Star Entertainment

The most significant cause lies in the fact that magazine gravure is an extremely valid effectively platform for talent promotion. For magazines set out at convenience stores, several tens or hundreds of thousands of copies are displayed at bookstores and conveience stores all across the country. By making the cover of one of these magazines, they can reach the eyes of a much larger audience. This explains why appearing in gravure is not only for career gravure models, but something parallel to the live, dancing and singing idol, actress, and modeling industries. There are many who follow the pattern of making a gravure debut before moving into acting or singing.

It makes me consider whether or not the word “gradol” is prone to being confused as a title or career name because of this situation. But how about if we try to perceive “gradol” as a label like that of being a Japanese talent (personality)? Rino Sashihara of AKB48, for example, is a dancing and singing “live idol”, who also appears on television as a “TV talent” and is also active as a “gradol”. We can give Rino Sashihara multiple labels to describe her work. For successful actressses and singers that have moved away from gravure work, by simply removing the “gradol” label, it seems easier to understand their work as a talent (personality).

Vaguely indistinguishable professionals and amateurs
The “gradol” label can be used for cosplayers, selfie clubs, and women who take amateur selfies….

Finally, let’s try to describe the current scene and the way the word is treated.

To begin with, for gravure published in magazines, even with photoshoot models only releasing photo DVDs, for example, if they refer to themselves as a “gradol”, there is a strong tendency to view them as one. But due to the publishing recession since the 2000s, the number of gradols “gaining exposure through magazine gravure” as their main job has decreased. In other words, even if the release of photo DVDs, photoshoots, and the like were no longer their main source of work, they are still regarded as a gradol. Additionally, since DVDs are possible to produce on a less expensive budget compared to publications, the entry barriers are much lower. Because of the explansion of mail order sites such as Amazon, even amateur cosplayers who do not belong to any entertainment office can easily sell their photo DVDs and CD-ROM photo collections through them. The result is that gradols and cosplayers working independently are selling more items than those gradols that belong to an entertainment office.

There are other ways in which the boundary between professionals and amateurs is becoming blurred. In 2013 Yuka Kuramochi, a gradol who belongs to an entertainment office, participated in a photoshoot by independent charisma cosplayer Ushijima Iiniku, and her selfies were uploaded onto Twitter. Additionally in January of 2014, with the creation of the #gradolselfieclub (#gradoljigadoribu) hashtag, gradols could easily get more exposure on Twitter. It was a hit for Kuramochi, and resulted in her big break as a talent (personality).

Ushijima Iiniku Photobook

Ushijima Iiniku Photobook

“Jidori”, or “selfie”, did not originate with talents (personalities), but was originally a worldwide trend. Not gradols or cosplayers, but regular women began uploading pictures of themselves to SNS like Twitter, starting seeing their follower count increase. If they were to make an event appearances, these selfie amateurs would be able to even attract more customers than some professionals signed to an entertainment office. If they were to reach that point, it would be considerably difficult to determine what is amateur and professional, and what is gravure or not gravure. In these instances, try and view them with the “gradol” label previous discussed. “Gradol” includes “idols active in gravure magazines, photo DVDs, photoshoots, and other gravure-related work”, so it’s good to label amateurs doing gravure-related work as “gradols”. This way using the word “gradol” in this way will spread, and the boundaries will blur as the scenes gradiate together.


Gradol is not its own “field”

Once in Quick Japan vol. 68 (published October 2016), the idol critic Akio Nakamori said,

“What kind of thing forms an industry? Perhaps it is criticism or evaluation, or something with authority. But based off that, would subculture not be called “culture”? The fact that gravure idols are not part of any “field” is because there are are no awards or criticism for it… There are only producers and consumers. Despite how many gravure magazines there are, there are magazines critiquing gravure. It doesn’t exist as is own “field”. It only has a “place”. This is where gravure idols thrive.”

Even now this situation has continued, and there is very little discussion of gradols, even in Japan. This article was written to explain “gradol” to those overseas, but I hope it gives those even within Japan an opportunity to think about gradols. Speaking of which, this author currently is a huge fan of Hikaru Aoyama, Satoho Yoshioka, Rena Takeda, and Nana Nano, and just looking at these women can’t resist right-clicking and save their images.


Rena Takeda

This author’s life-long dream is to become a craftsman that “writes poems accompanying idol gravure”. In order to fulfill that dream, I’ve taken on the title “expert idol writer”, which is not an actual profession, I am constantly thinking about idols, use the internet, and continue writing papers on idols without my parents having any knowledge about it. I’m waiting for your messages of support.

Contributor Wanted!!

Cover photo
Hikaru Aoyama “Ai ni Kawarutoki…”/ Shining Star Entertainment

Translated by Jamie Koide

Shinshi Okajima

Born in 1980. Idol writer. His works (includes joint works) : "Group Idol Shinka-ron" "AKB48 Saikou Kousatsu" "Idol Gakkyoku Disc Guide" and so on. Worked as a main adviser for "Media/Idol Museum" exhibition organized by Saitama prefecture. Manager of the idol contents website "IDOL NEWSING".

comments powered by Disqus