What is Gravure Idols? Photographic Expression by “Covering the Un-cute Parts of Girls”

グラドルとは何か (前編)“女の子の可愛くない部分”をカバーして可愛く見せる写真表現/ネクストサブカルリーダー・岡島紳士のTokyo Idols' Update 第2回
What is Gravure Idols?  Photographic Expression by “Covering the Un-cute Parts of Girls”

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

“Gravure Idols (shortened to Gradols)” are female idols and talents who mainly model in bathing suits for spreads in weekly magazines and comic magazines, image DVDs. Although the “gravure” in “gravure idols,” refers to the published photo pages in magazines, it derives from the 1960s-1970s intaglio printing (technique at the time) which was the mainstream. After that, another printing method became the mainstream but the term is still used today to describe this type of magazine photo page.



gravure idols on the covers of weekly magazines

Of course, gradol is another term explicitly used in Japan. But regardless of that, gradol images are uploaded to the Internet daily and people outside of Japan come into contact with them all the time. It has become a little difficult to grasp how foreign people see these gradols, or the gravure of idols. This time we’ll look further into gradols, the meaning and history of the term, and the uniqueness of this photographic expression.

Are There Gravure Idols Abroad?

First, let’s take a look and see if there are any entities similar to gradols abroad. For example, when women take part in pinup photo shoots in the United States, they appeal to the sexy side by going nude (take PLAYBOY as an example), while in Japan they try to be as cute and sexy as possible while sporting a swimsuit. Mr. Takeshita Japan, a gravure idol critic who is very knowledgable about overseas models, says “there aren’t any gradols abroad, but there are models similar to gravure models.”

In Japan there are comic magazines like Young Magazine and Young Jump that publish gravure in bathing suits, but in America there are many people who believe comics are for kids and would not publish such photos. Instead,
they’re published in weekly magazines. A great example of this would be Sports Illustrated. In comparison, Japan has similar magazines like Weekly Playboy, SPA!, and Number (which is not strictly about sports). It is said that
when swimsuit photos are published, the magazine sales go up significantly. But PLAYBOY doesn’t just feature nude photos, but also female talents who model swimsuits.


Nana Asakawa on the cover of Young Magazine

Mr. Takeshita specifically named Kate Upton and Hannah Davis as examples. While he named specific names, there is a large difference between these women and Japanese gradols.

It's almost Easter people @thelovemagazine

A post shared by Kate Upton (@kateupton) on

#tbt @si_swimsuit 😍😍😍💃

A post shared by Hannah Jeter (@hannahbjeter) on

“Hannah Davis models for brands such as Ralph Lauren and Levis, so she is more of a fashion model than a gradol. There is a Playmate by the name of Lindsay Pelas, and a while ago her Twitter bio said ‘model’ and ‘fitness enthusiast.’ Enthusiast means an enthusiastic advocate, making the literal translation an‘enthusiastic advocate of health.’ For example, she will make an appearance in a sports opening ceremony and release a video teaching about dieting. I believe overseas gravure models also promote healthy lifestyles as well as a sporty image. There was an issue of ESPN where America’s volleyball team had a seminude photo shoot. Aside from that, a majority of the gravure-like photos were taken under the brightness of the sun as they enjoyed beach volleyball. In Japan, it’s common for gravure models to pose in dim Japanese style rooms in a dramatic atmosphere, like Dan Mitsu and Sugimoto Aya. If you compare the two, they are complete opposites. Overseas gravure models may be similar to Miwa Asao, who expanded towards gravure a couple years ago.”

Healthy, sporty, and athlete-like… it seems like gradols may exist only in Japan.

“Gradol” Became a Term in the Early 90’s

“Gradol” is very original to the Japanese culture. But, before we can get into that, let me explain gradol history in a simple way.

In “Quick Japan vol.68” (sold on October 2006) in a gradol feature–before the term gradol existed– idol critic Mr. Nakamori Akio said Agnes Lam (active in the mid 1970s) was a gradol-like talent. In Mr. Oda Yuji’s “Gravure Idol Illusion Theory” (sold in April 2011), he states that it is “difficult to example the past of all magazines, and it is not clear to determine whether this is the nominal.” In Oguri Kaori’s gravure on Scola On September 1990 (issue 13), they used the catch phrase “Gravure Idol’s Limit Seminude!!” It is assumed that this was the first period which began using the term gradol.

Later, in the 90’s Hinagata Akiko, Kato Reiko, Hosokawa Fumie; in the 2000’s Hoshino Aki, Wakatsuki Chinatsu, Yinling of Joytoy; in 2010 Yoshiki Risa, Shinozaki Ai became active. To know the detailed history, “Quick Japan vol. 68,” “Gravure Idol Illusion Theory,” “EX Masses September 2011 issue” (※ Reprint→, and “STUDIO VOICE May 2005 Issue) have contributions towards gradol history.

The Uniqueness of Gradols as Photographic Expression
It’s a photographic expression by “covering the un-cute parts of girls”

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of gravure. First, the most distinctive trait is how the girls can show their cutest, yet sexiest look with clothes on through their expressions. This can be done through their poses, outfits, and situations.

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

Sexy look with clothes on. Hikaru Aoyama “Ai ni Kawarutoki…”/ Shining Star Entertainment

Some staple poses for gradols is to be on all fours and push their hips up, like a leopard, or Hinagata Akiko’s slouching pose that emphasizes the chest. Watanabe Mayu, from AKB48, gained attention with her poses that made her seem like she was wearing nothing at all, all while wearing a bathing suit. One radical genre is “Ki-Ero,” which emphasizes the sexiness by making poses like M-leg, which positions the legs like an M and holding and covering the breasts just with hands. In image DVDs, there are models who will balance on a balance ball at the waist, lick popsicles with a profound expression, and use oil to massage their bodies.

Mayuyu posing

Mayuyu posing

The outfits tend to be swimsuits, but not just bikinis. There are usually small bikini tops that barely cover what needs to be covered, monokinis that are between bikinis and one piece suits, and many swimsuits you probably wouldn’t see out at the beach or pool. Often there are idols who are high school students or younger who will pose in school outfits.


With small bikini tops. Hikaru Aoyama “Ai ni Kawarutoki…”/ Shining Star Entertainment

In addition to school outfits, to emphasize the situation of being a student, schools are used as the setting. They will use many locations such as a classroom, schoolyard, and gymnasium. Seashores and pools are often used to make the situation of wearing a swimsuit more realistic. But there are oftentimes when the situation makes no sense, such as wearing a swimsuit in the snow.

When gravure is published in magazines, it is common to see a copy, almost like a modest poem, with the photos.
For example:

“Looks like we were able to meet again”
“I want to…real you”
“Let’s go to the beach again next year”
“I hope time stops”

These appeal the innocence and virginity of the idols, making the readers into lovers or person of unrequited love as a standard. These copies are meant to help readers understand the image of these photos, and are not written by the idols themselves, but the magazine’s editors. It is most likely written by adult men.

Gravure idols aren’t just idols with faces that stand out or bodies like overseas models, and maybe that’s why the techniques have only evolved with history.It is a technique that helps girls “cover what is un-cute to be cuter,” and “emphasize cute points to be cuter” making idol gravure its own unique entity.

To be continued in Part 2 (set to be published on Nov 7th) /後半へ続く(11/7公開)

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

Translated by Misato

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".

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