from Japan

Top Of The Class: How A Preschool Teacher Turned Model Unlocked Her True Potential

Saya Honno – Model



Saya Honno is a preschool teacher turned runway model. Her work can be seen in numerous ads and magazines. She also represented Japan in the Miss Universe competition.

Instagram: @sayahonno


Changing Perceptions For The Better

Yasuo We met at a casting where I was looking for a model with more subtle features.  Your personality is quite quiet, but your face does all the talking—it has this delicateness and subtlety that I think perfectly aligns with Japanese modernity. 

Saya Thank you, I definitely see those qualities as my strengths.

Yasuo You also model internationally. Do you feel that some global media portrays Japanese women all in one way, with slit eyes and straight cut bangs? 

Saya Yes, I often notice a certain Asian stereotype perpetuated at fashion shows. During one fashion week season in Europe, stylists asked to give me bangs at every show I walked. I always wonder if that’s the world’s only perception of Japanese women.

Yasuo It is so stereotypical. Although the world is becoming much more globalized, there are still many misconceptions about other cultures. A lot of people don’t know much about Japan, it’s still considered to be quite foreign to the outside world. It’s models like you that challenge those old-fashioned ideals!

Saya You’re right. By putting myself out there, I have the power to change perspectives. 

Yasuo In this day and age, I feel as though more regular and real looking models are being featured in international advertisements. I don’t see why Japan can’t have the same standards. 

Saya I agree. I really hope to broaden the world’s understanding of Japanese beauty. 

To Thine Own Self Be True

Yasuo Have you enjoyed modeling?

Saya I’ve been doing it for 2 years now. When I first started, I was constantly comparing myself to others, thinking that if I looked more like someone else, then I could book specific jobs. But I also feared that I would lose my authenticity. My entire career changed when I cut my hair. 

Yasuo You already had this haircut when I first met you.

Saya At that point, I was just beginning to embrace myself. Now, I feel inside is much more connected with how I look outside. I feel so much more confident. 

Yasuo In the beginning of my career, I would arrive at shoots with preconceived ideas for the model’s make-up. When it didn’t turn out as I imagined, I got very insecure and frustrated. I falsely believed that I wasn’t giving the same level of work as the model whose working with me. But my work really blossomed once I started letting my ideas unfold in the moment, and allowed for things like the model, location, and lighting to influence me. So, I completely understand how preconceived ideas and insecurities can throw you off track. 

Saya Before I started modeling, I was a preschool teacher, so it was very hard when I first entered the industry to see myself as comparable to other models. I soon realized that my overthinking was preventing me from reaching new goals, and so I need to accept myself and move forward.  Luckily, I do this with total confidence now.

Yasuo It’s hard not to compare yourself to others, but also so important. I feel similarly with my work as well. What about yourself did you have trouble accepting?

Saya Well, I wanted clearer skin, silkier hair, a better body, everything. 

Yasuo You are beautiful just the way you are!  

Saya I’ve been told that a lot lately. But it’s still hard for me to understand what makes me that way.  

Yasuo Don’t worry too much if you can’t see or understand it. Others can see it within you and know how to bring out the best in you. Just being you the way that you are is enough. 

Saya Oh, I’m really glad to hear this. I used to focus so much on how to make the clothes I was wearing look good, but I’ve grown to realize that simply being myself is the best thing that I can do for a project. Opening myself up to the world makes space for more creativity and possibilities! 

Express Yourself!

Yasuo Have you had any memorable shoots lately? 

Saya There was one where the makeup artist was really interested in my personality and pairing the makeup to match it. It made me feel a part of the team’s creative processes, which was special. 

I love the feeling of spontaneous collaboration. 

Yasuo Do you wish to continue modeling, or do you also have some other life goals? 

Saya I enjoy modeling because it allows me to express myself. On the side, I’m developing an online parent’s advice and communication forum. I want to raise awareness on child abuse and preventative measures we can take to stop it. 

Yasuo Wow, those are two totally different endeavors, but would make such an amazing combination! 

Saya Thank you! I also want to do some more traveling overseas. I love discovering new places and things about myself. 

Yasuo I get that. I feel like I ventured overseas not because I disliked Japan, but because I wanted to see what the world has to offer. 

Saya My most recent trip was to China for a three-month shoot. 

Yasuo How was that?

Saya I discovered how crucial it is to express myself. Without self-expression, people won’t take you seriously, they’ll even ignore you. I wish Japanese people would speak up more.

Yasuo I think Japanese people have difficulty expressing themselves. Japan is such a homogenous country; we mistakenly believe that we all share the same values. Going overseas allows you to experience a little more diversity.

Saya Even though my English is limited, people are always so patient, and genuinely want to hear what I have to say. I want to continue exploring the world beyond Japan.

Makeup Gives Me Confidence

Yasuo Do you wear makeup every day?

Saya Normally just foundation, mascara, and lipstick. A little makeup gives me confidence. 

My favorite foundation is RMK’s Liquid formula. A lot of makeup artists use it, and it works well with my skin. For lipstick, I gravitate to Chanel. I don’t like anything too heavy. I also love this nail oil—the fragrance is wonderful. Someone gave it to me during a shoot, and I’ve been hooked ever since. 

Yasuo That’s fantastic. Fingers can become quite dry, so adding oil and a nice scent to them sounds great.

Saya As for fragrance, my mother gave this to me as a present, and I’ve been using it ever since. I like it because it’s not too strong

Yasuo Is this massage oil?

Saya Yes, it’s massage oil for a Refa massager.  I take it everywhere.

Yasuo Does it work?

Saya You’re not supposed to use it every day, but it works. It’s great for your lymph nodes.

Yasuo I’ve seen so many people using it, even in various sizes. 

Saya I know. I bring it to shoots and massage my face before getting made up. I also love using it in the bath. It’s one of the many things that I do to refresh myself. I also enjoy reading in quiet cafés, doing Pilates, and practicing calligraphy. Alone time is absolutely crucial to me and allows me to focus inward on the things that matter.

Photos / Interview :  Yasuo Yoshikawa

Text :  Mikako Koyama