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Natsuki Maeda

by Judit Kawaguchi

Shop clerk Natsuki Maeda, 19, is a charismatic fashion leader in Tokyo’s world-famous Shibuya 109 building, the epicenter of cool threads for girls and for women who, regardless of their age, would like to look as young as they feel. Working in one of the 100 shops here is synonymous with celebrity status, as sales staff don’t just sell clothes at 109 — they create trends that are followed by millions, not only in Japan but all over Asia and beyond. All through high school, Maeda adored the clothes at baby Shoop, a brand known for its sexy hip-hop B-girl style. Now, having gotten a job at its 109 shop six months ago, she feels like she’s in a dream that she has no desire to wake up from.

If you want to get a job, do something different so the people in charge of hiring will remember you. My high-school teacher, Mr. Uehara, told me this when I was asking for advice on how I could beat the competition. I wrote a two page handwritten letter explaining why I loved the baby Shoop brand so much and how much I wanted to work here. I begged them to interview me and they gave me a chance.

Listen to your parents, or better yet, your grandparents. My mom married my dad against her and his parents’ wishes and they divorced soon after I was born. My step-dad had the same experience with his first wife: both sets of parents were against their union and they promptly divorced. Yet when my mother and stepfather wanted to get married, everyone supported them. The elders were right: they are a great match, and my stepfather is the best parent I could ever ask for. The lesson here is that both of them could have saved a lot of trouble by following their parents’ advice. I will try to keep that in mind when I am ready to settle down.

109 girls are no fools, even though we may look it. Many people underestimate Shibuya girls as easy and silly, but those who survive at 109 are strong, responsible and serious. Getting a job here is so difficult, not to mention reaching the high sales targets. Managing the tough schedule while prancing around in high heels and sexy getups in an open-floor environment — where each store blasts its own super-loud music like in a club complex — requires iron nerves.

Business schools can’t beat real work experience. I went to a private school but it never occurred to me to apply for university. I knew that one day I would like to own a store, so working at 109 is the best choice for me: 30,000 customers visit this store a year and among our 17 branch shops we have the highest sales. At 109 I can become more adult and responsible and develop a mind for business and beauty.

Great people inspire others to follow in their steps. I used to come to 109 after school, and although I had so little money, the staff were always so nice to me. They taught me how to mix the one piece I could buy with my other clothes. I just loved all of them and always thought that I wanted to be as nice and as sexy and knowledgeable about fashion as they were. Now I am in their shoes, and let me tell you, my feet hurt! Just kidding, but I feel proud, and also filled with responsibility. I am still a student, yet I am already teaching.

People who have less to start with try harder — and often end up more attractive than natural-born beauties. Japanese girls are the cutest and most well put-together in the world because we have so many complexes about our bodies since our faces are rounder than other ethnic groups and our legs tend to be shorter. So we make a lot more effort to look gorgeous. I say it’s working!

You can’t tell a shopper by their looks. Many kinds of people stop by our store and I put all my energy into each customer, regardless of their age or looks. I just want to introduce our brand, show them how fun it is and try to find a look that suits them. I am not pushing them to buy, but there is no way to predict who will fall in love with our line and purchase lots of clothes.

Men should take care of women much more. I see many young single moms whose boyfriends or husbands ran away from the responsibility of taking care of a wife and raising a child. My dad’s generation were much more responsible than today’s men. I guess these young guys were spoiled by their parents, so they are children even though they’re in their 30s. It’s time they grew up.

Girls need to protect themselves more. Japanese women are not taught to think that way, so most girls never buy condoms and let boys easily get away with not using one.

Party while you can. My limit is age 20: after Coming-of-Age Day on Jan. 15, I will make more of an effort to be responsible. Step one is to help my parents, to start paying some rent and cook for them a few times a week. I am already learning from my mother and can make a good oyakodon (egg and chicken on rice), which is my favorite.

Dress according to who you’re with. When I see my grandma or go out with my parents, I look very different and dress more simply and more conservatively. I don’t want them to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable because of my hair or clothes. It’s just good manners to adjust to the people and the place and not stick out. But in Shibuya, anything goes, so I feel great wearing sexy clothes at work.

Men and women have very different taste. My dad and my boyfriend like me without makeup, and they both prefer me dressed in simpler, less sexy outfits. But my girlfriends love my Shibuya 109 look. So when I go out with guys, I adjust to their taste and tone down my colors.

Falling in love is great, but when you make a mistake, you have to have your parents to fall back on: They’ll never let you down. My friend is 22 and has a 3-year-old child. She’s already divorced and her parents are raising her baby. Another friend is 23 and has a 6-year-old son. In both cases, although their parents opposed the relationships, when their kids were in a jam, the parents ended up coming through and taking care of them.

When we have a dream, we barely need sleep. I live with my parents in Chiba, a good two-hour commute from 109. I get home usually after 1 a.m., eat dinner, take a bath, and it’s already at least 3 a.m. before I go to bed. I’m up at 6 a.m., get ready and come back to Shibuya. That is my life five or six days a week. My skin is in such bad condition from the lack of sleep, but I feel so happy working here that I never feel tired.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Out & About.” Learn more at: juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/