CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- Fifteen young women with aspirations for a career in entertainment experienced some of the unique aspects and challenges of Army life here as part of a reality TV program that will determine "Japan's Next Beauty." The finalists, who advanced from an initial group of more than 500 applicants, were filmed at the installation March 18 and 19 during which they met with Soldiers, toured various facilities and took part in various Army training. The footage will be used in the second episode of the series, produced by Fox International Channels Japan. Although the show's title and premise somewhat resemble that of the long-running "America's Next Top Model," the winner of "Japan's Next Beauty" will not be determined based solely on her looks or her skills on a runway, the show's senior producer said. "We're not only looking for a model; we're looking for something bigger," said Kyo Mikito. "We're looking for a young talent [who can be] an actress, musician or singer -- whatever they have a dream to be in the entertainment business." It is that search for a diverse and multitalented star that led Mikito and the show's other producers to present the contestants with experiences, such as a surprise two-day visit to a U.S. Army installation, which would gauge their ability to adapt to unique challenges.
"To make the show more interesting to the viewers," Mikito said, "we thought the American-style military training would make [the contestants] tougher physically and also mentally." The second morning of filming, known informally as the "boot camp" portion, immediately thrust the girls into a rigorous physical readiness training session. Clad in gray T-shirts, Army Combat Uniform pants and tennis shoes, they lined up in formation behind a group of Soldiers and were led through a series of warm-up stretches and exercises.
The challenges gradually became more demanding, requiring the petite contestants to carry their teammates on stretchers, flip oversized tires, climb a tall pole, and even push an armored Humvee down the road.
Day One of filming was a decidedly more low-intensity affair. The girls met with various senior military officers, were treated to a U.S. Army Japan Band performance, and even received a surprise visit from Norika Fujiwara, the host of "Japan's Next Beauty" and a hugely popular beauty queen, model and actress. So beginning Day Two on such a vastly different note was a dramatic adjustment, the contestants said. "When we first got here, we had no idea what to expect -- they wouldn't tell us anything," said one 23-year-old finalist who goes by the professional name Keke. "When we found out we had to do boot camp, I thought we wouldn't do it as hard, but, man, those Soldiers really worked us. That was really tough." "They got us training hard, but we also got to see the very awesome and cool things that everyone in the Army does," added Tokyo native Rika Tatsuno, also 23. "I think the thing that I was really inspired by was the amount of teamwork and care and passion everyone had for each other." It was tough to pack a comprehensive Army experience into only two days of filming, said USARJ Public Affairs Officer Maj. Randall Baucom, whose office helped coordinate the visit. He added, however, that this opportunity will provide the contestants -- and, ultimately, viewers of the program -- a different perspective on U.S. forces in Japan. "Some of [the contestants] have been to the United States or lived there, so they know Americans very well, but there were others who did not really understand American culture -- especially American military culture," said Baucom. "This opportunity we provided them, they're able to take this and as they move on in their entertainment careers, carry our message for us." Following the PRT session, the group moved inside Yano Fitness Center for a primer in basic Army combatives from a group of certified instructors led by Capt. Joseph Proctor, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, USARJ. Proctor and his Soldiers taught the girls basic punching, kicking and grappling techniques, then had them put on gloves and pads and practice what they learned on each other. "[This experience has] definitely taught me a lot about discipline and the value of teamwork," said Keke. "We are all rivals, but at the same time we're so close together that we become friends and we have to learn from each other." The girls' Army experience continued through the afternoon with a lunch of Meals, Ready-to-Eat and a demonstration by the Soldiers and dogs assigned to Camp Zama's recently stood-up 901st Military Working Dog Detachment. Tokyo native Jeongmi Kusakari, 23, even donned a padded "bite suit" and witnessed firsthand the speed and apprehension skills of one of the highly trained dogs. "This is an audition show, but at the same time this is a reality show," said Mikito. "We don't want to stage anything; we need everyone to compete in real situations." The events from the episode filmed at Camp Zama will "play a major role" in determining which of the contestants are eliminated, and who will move forward the final selection as Japan's Next Beauty, said Dan Smith, a 20-year military veteran and executive producer at Fox ICJ. And the title is one that each of the 15 young talents is eager to claim. "When I heard about the show, I saw it as an opportunity to pursue my passion," said Tatsuno. "Ever since I was little, I wanted to be able to represent my country in a way that expresses my personality and not just outer beauty, but inner beauty as well."