Reiko Kato Reflects on the Golden Age of Gravure as a Clarion Girl | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Reiko Kato Reflects on the Golden Age of Gravure as a Clarion Girl

I had no time to play, no time to sleep, and no time for photo shoots.

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I was very resistant to the high-leg, fluorescent, glittering swimsuits at first, and in the end I couldn’t get used to them all the way to the end. When I look back at pictures of myself from that time, I still have that kind of look on my face (laughs). (Laughs.) But now that I think about it, that kind of reserved expression may have “stuck” with the men of the world.

The one who answers a little shyly with a glamorous expression is Reiko Katou (55), who dominated the gravure world in the 1990s.

Her debut in the entertainment world was triggered by a single photograph. When she was a junior college student, a photographer approached her in Shibuya and took a picture, which caught the eye of Yoshiharu Noda, 78, the president of Yellow Cab at the time. In 1989, she was chosen as the 16th Clarion Girl, and her popularity was so great that 50,000 posters were made, five times more than in previous years, making her a big breakthrough. The following year, she was chosen as the image girl for Asahi Beer. She recalls, “It was a good time in the gravure world,” when women in swimsuits were used in corporate advertisements.

Reiko Katoh was born in 1969. She made her gravure debut as a sophomore at a junior college and became a legendary gravure model.

At that time, it was commonplace to see swimsuits on posters for beer breweries. (Laughs.) I wonder if a woman in a bathing suit holding a beer mug on the beach would have been effective in stirring up the male psyche. (laugh) It may be unthinkable now, but I loved those days. I think I was able to come of age in those good times, and I am proud to have been able to do this job.

Although she was called the “strongest gradol in the Heisei era,” Katoh herself reveals that her F-cup breasts were a complex for her. Despite her resistance to wearing swimsuits, Noda persuaded her to try gravure. She quickly won the hearts of men around the world. Noda, who calls himself a “big-breasted fool for a lifetime,” had a keen eye.

I’m very thankful that I’m so busy,” he said. I only had one day off every three months, and I had to take naps between assignments. In those days, gravure photographers were encouraged to go abroad rather than shoot in Japan, so I went to Hawaii, Guam, Saipan, etc., at least once a month, and often every week. But because my schedule was not available, three or four magazine publishers would share the same location, and the staff changed rapidly.

The pay system was a standard “salary system. When asked about the specific amount, he replied, “It’s a secret. But I was paid enough to be satisfied,” she smiled.

For Katou, gravure work was not always her forte. Even so, she has been involved in numerous productions, including 15 photo books and 14 image video appearances. The reason she was able to overcome her busy schedule was because she was rewarding herself.

She says, “At the time, I didn’t have time to hang out with friends or go on dates with boyfriends, so the only thing I had to look forward to was eating. Gravure is all about proportions, but Ms. Noda was the type of person who told me to ‘eat, eat,’ and I don’t recall being forced to make too much effort. I would look for good food on location, and after work I would reward myself for my hard work by eating a lot of yakiniku (grilled meat). That’s why I was so chubby back then (laughs).

After that, her work was not limited to gravure, but she was offered all kinds of jobs, including variety shows, TV dramas, and singing shows. In the variety shows, she had many opportunities to work with popular young comedians such as Uccchan Nanchan and Hiromi. Katoh recalls that the experiences of those days are still relevant today.

In the ’90s, the entertainment industry was truly a “multi-talented generation. Whether it was variety, drama, or gravure, they did whatever they were asked to do. I think that is why I am still getting a variety of jobs today. Hiromi-san was more sharp-tongued then than he is now, but he was a very kind person when we talked. I used her as a reference for how to treat people.

From the photo collection “Secret Love” (photo by Tadayasu Ozawa) released in 1993. Her bold swimsuit, wheat-colored arms and legs, and cute smile captivate men around the world.

From Gravure to America

In 2001, she married professional golfer Kaname Yokoo, 51, and gave birth to their first daughter in 2003. After that, she decided to take a break from show business and move to the U.S. to support Yokoo, who was planning to enter a U.S. tour.

–However, life in the U.S. was tougher than she had imagined.

I liked performing, but I wanted to support my husband, and I didn’t want to be stuck between family and work,” Yokoo said. Life in the U.S. was tough anyway. It is a big country, and sometimes it took half a day just to get from the airport to the golf course, which was physically demanding. I also had to do all the housework, including laundry and cooking, by myself. It was during my 30s that I really felt the gratitude of my manager.

After returning to Japan in 2012, when her child was in elementary school, she received an offer from a TV program by chance. Feeling a connection with the exquisite timing, she decided to return to show business. During her time away, the age range of the TV station’s staff and the way of doing things on the spot changed drastically, and Katoh says she was perplexed at first, but now she accepts the changes and spends her days fulfilled in her work and private life.

She says, “I was worried about whether I would be able to do it, because it was a new entertainment industry for me, with no trace of the ’90s. But I am taking it as a positive that I can enjoy the change and adapt to it. What if your child wants to be in show business? They are already adults, so I won’t stop them. But I think my husband would be opposed to gravure (laughs).

The last time Katoh did gravure work was 26 years ago. Even so, she is still receiving offers from numerous publishers for photo books, which is surprising.

I am still very happy to receive offers,” she says. It’s just a matter of getting a great offer at the right time, I guess. I would be very honored to be invited back to Friday’s again.

The queen who has created a whirlwind in gravure should make her name known in Reiwa as well.

Katoh poses with a row of cherry blossom trees in the background, as if she had grown accustomed to the scene. It has been 12 years since her return to show business, and she has recently appeared in many variety shows.
Reiko Katoh looks back on the “Golden Age of Gravure in the Heisei Era” in a special interview.
Reiko Katou looks back on the “Golden Age of Gravure in the Heisei Era” in a special interview.
Unpublished cuts from Reiko Katou’s “Golden Age of Gravure in the Heisei Era” Special Interview
Reiko Katou looks back on the “Golden Age of Gravure in the Heisei Era” in a special interview.

From theMay10 and 17, 2024 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Takehiko Kohiyama

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