Hawaiian Eye

Hawaiian Eye

Model Brenda brings her warm sense of style to Japan


Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on January 2010

Photo by Julio Shiiki

Photo by Julio Shiiki

Anyone who has glanced at the covers of magazines like JJ, Classy, More, Voce, Figaro Japan, Miss, Baila, Very, Maquia or Marisol will no doubt recognize the vibrant face of Hawaii-based model Brenda. The multitalented 37-year-old has also done an extensive number of commercials for companies such as Coca Cola, Kao, Wacoal, JAL, P&G, Subaru, Onward, ABC Mart and Kirin Lemon.

“I never thought I would get into modeling,” Brenda says during a recent visit to Tokyo. “I wanted to be a reporter. I used to do these mock interviews with every single member of my family, complete with tape recorder, note pads and pencil behind my ear. Before that, I think I wanted to be a hairstylist or designer. I used to cut the hair on all my dolls and I would make them clothes out of old scarves or rags. I had the ugliest, worst-dressed Barbies on the block.”

When she was 10, Brenda moved with her family from Seattle to Hawaii—“rain to rainbows” is how she puts it. “I was a senior in high school when a model scout requested to meet with me after seeing my photos at my agency. He wanted me to leave for Japan as soon as possible, but I wasn’t interested in dropping out of school, so I waited until after graduation. I was a very curious and impressionable teenager, and there was always something about the Japanese that fascinated me. Going to Japan was mainly to indulge that curiosity. The plan was to stay for the length of my summer break, because I was to attend college that fall. But I fell in love with the city, the people and the perilous adventure of being on my own.”

Brenda started modeling for JJ women’s magazine while studying at Temple University Japan, then returned to Hawaii to finish college. “A few years later, I came back to Japan and resumed modeling for more mature high-fashion magazines,” she says. “One thing that stands out in my mind about working in Japan is the way they treat you. Often in this line of work, you are handled like an object and many times denied an opinion or voice. In Tokyo, whether you are a supermodel or on your very first job, you are so well looked after, and treated with the utmost kindness and respect.”

Unlike many models, Brenda says it wasn’t a battle keeping her weight down. “Actually, it’s only recently that I control my portions and make a conscious effort to eat healthily. In my youth, I ate guiltlessly and never gained weight. There were times when I was stick-thin, and then there were times when I was an average weight. I never really liked being too thin because I didn’t feel very feminine and didn’t like the way certain clothes fit, though the magazines seemed to like it. I never really denied myself one of the best pleasures in life: food. Anyway, the key is moderation and a little exercise. How many times have we all heard that?”

Among her other endeavors, Brenda came out with a book, Aloha to Zen, in 2004, and since 2005 has produced and designed for Japanese clothing brand Mimi and Roger. She is currently living in Hawaii with her husband and child but visits Japan regularly. “I knew that if I stayed in Japan, I would have prioritized my work first and my personal life second. I wanted to try to switch those two things around for the time being and see how things would turn out. When I’m not traveling to Japan, I am working from home.” She also writes a monthly lifestyle column for Baila magazine, and from April will appear on the cover of Marisol magazine each month for a year.

When she’s not working, Brenda indulges her passion for photography and making jewelry, which she gives away as gifts. “I also enjoy hiking, running, tennis and biking,” she says. And what does she miss most about Japan? “I’d have to say that Japan has the best customer service. The level surpasses that of any other country… and you don’t even have to tip. That blows me away.”

For info on Mimi and Roger, see www.mimiandroger.com.


Chris Betros is the editor of Japan Today (www.japantoday.com).