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Japan, 1981

I was 21 years old when the modeling agency I worked for in San Francisco had an open casting with an agency called Friday, from Tokyo. The owner of Friday, named Junko, was there to see the models and choose who she might like to bring to Japan on a two-month contract. I was chosen. I was newly married to my first husband and while he didn’t really like this idea, he relented once he realized the money I could make in those two short months.

On the flight to Japan, I was lucky enough to get the middle seat between two little old Japanese men who spoke no English. They were friends who talked to each other for most of the seventeen-hour journey, which included a stop in Hawaii. I tried to switch seats with one of them. Please, I don’t care which, I thought. I tried my best with sign language, then asked the flight attendant to translate. They both said no, so I had a crash course in their language. In seventeen hours, I became fluent and conversed freely with them by the end of the flight.

Upon arriving, I had to take a long bus ride from the airport to the terminal. I was greeted by a young guy (I can’t remember his name) who was fluent in English and worked part-time for Friday. He accompanied me in the taxi to the apartment where I would be living in a building called Mitake Mansion. It was anything but a mansion. He told me that I would have a roommate who was another model that was brought from Los Angeles. His name was Bruce. His name, I thought. Oh, hell. This is not good. My husband will never go for this.

It was close to midnight when I was taken up to the 3rd floor of what would be my home for the next two months. It was a tiny one-bedroom apartment. There was one bed in the bedroom and a futon on the living room floor. Bruce, who wasn’t there when I arrived, had already made himself at home in the bedroom. The futon was mine. I said goodbye to my escort and fought tears as I closed the door behind him. I was exhausted, alone, and not happy about a futon on the floor with no place to put my stuff. Oh well, buck up, Jodee.

I was just about asleep when the door burst open and in walked three drunk people. They turned on the light. I sat up. It was Bruce. He was with two other models that lived one floor above us. Rebecca, who was also from San Francisco, though I had never met her, and Pam, who was from London. The four of us would become the best of friends as we navigated our way throughout Tokyo, sightseeing, eating, drinking, dancing and shopping…when we weren’t working.

The apartment was infested with cockroaches. They were mostly small ones. When you turned on a light to a darkened room, you would see them scatter. We had roach motels throughout the apartment that had to be replaced at least weekly. I was so freaked out by them when I first arrived. Because I slept on the floor, I had visions of them crawling on me at night. I slept with my entire body, including my head under the covers. After a couple of weeks, I got used to them. I became a cockroach killer. I was relentless in my torture of them. In the morning, in a kitchen lit only by the morning light of a window, I would boil a full pot of water for my tea and then pour the boiling water on the ones that were scurrying around on the kitchen counter. They died instantly.

Rebecca, Bruce and Pam at the entrance of our cockroach infested dwelling.

We worked like dogs. The longest stretch for me was 17 days straight without a day off. We spent long hours working and then we would gather in one of the apartments until the wee hours of the morning drinking sake, playing games, drawing portraits of each other, and playing truth or dare. On the weekends we would hit the nightclubs. There was very little sleep happening in those two apartments, but we always managed to drag our asses out of bed and be on time for work. On more than one occasion, I fell sound asleep during hair and make-up.

Rebecca and I, on the one occasion we worked together.

A page from my booking diary.

It was an adventure. Friday wanted to extend my contract, but I had a husband that wanted me home. I boarded the plane with over $5000 cash in my boot. That was after the agency took their cut and all my living and travel expenses were deducted, not to mention all the numerous advances I took for frivolous purchases. There was a coat I couldn’t live without that cost me $350! What I spent on the coat and the fact that I lived with a model named Bruce were two things I never discussed upon my return to California.

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