Azusa Sakamoto Barbie’s Brand Superfan
She is Azusa and she is Barbie. Imported to West Hollywood from Japan just like the original Mattel doll, she lives the all American way of life in the vein of Barbie’s philosophy. Which, all in all, is not just Barbie’s because, who doesn’t want to be positive, strong, independent and in complete charge of their own destiny? Raise your hands.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 15th issue of ODDA Magazine.
Your name is Azusa Barbie, and you are an impressive Barbie collector, but is she part of your name because you are her embodiment too?
No! Actually I didn’t start calling myself “Barbie”, but my friends or sometimes strangers started calling me because I was always wearing outfits that had Barbie logos on them. Then it simply became like my nickname!
Why are you so fascinated by Barbie rather than any other doll?
Because Barbie is simply the most stylish, sassy, and classy icon to me. More than any others.
In previous interviews you stated that as a little girl you didn’t know about Barbie. Did you have an iconic doll you identified with before bumping into the all American blonde inspiration?
So, when I was the age like starting playing with dolls, it was exactly during the term when Mattel once quit selling Barbie in Japan. That’s why I didn’t own Barbie when I was little. However, I still liked playing with Japanese fashion dolls Jenny and Licca. Jenny was sold in Japan but actually she was a blonde girl.
You grew up in Japan, where pop culture and daily customs are fairly different from the Western ones. Were you influenced by American aesthetics and lifestyle back then?
Absolutely. When I was born, in 1981, I think almost any Japanese pop culture was somehow influenced by others. So, I always grew up with them naturally. Japan has both extreme sides: ‘conservative tradition’ and ‘crazy modern.’ I think it helped me to have no preconceptions but accept new cultures.
“PEOPLE SOMETIMES SAID TO ME, “OH, ACTUALLY, YOU’RE SMARTER THAN HOW YOU LOOK…” I MEAN, EXCUSE ME?” – AZUSA BARBIE
In the 90s, Fruits magazine and Harajuku subcultures were raging in Japan and became a peculiar part of the Nipponese extravagant folklore worldwide. Does your look take inspiration from that, too?
Actually not. When I was a teenager, my fashion was more like ‘Gyaru’ style. Well, please don’t judge me, it was another trend back in 90s. I think we have many options for fashion in Japan. Not only one genre, you know.
Is Azusa Barbie also a Japanese kawaii Lolita?
No, I’m not. I know sometimes people get confused if my style is kind of Lolita, Harajuku, or Anime influenced. But, actually, I’m none of those. I like Barbie as a fashion brand, I’m not cosplaying.
Despite being commercially closely related, Japan and U.S. are two very different countries, and sometimes diametrically opposite realities in the ethnic and the social environment average people live in. Do you still feel attached to your Japanese roots, despite being so dedicated into emulating the epitome of American beauty and way of life?
Oh my God… yes totally! I’m proud of being Japanese and really respect our culture although I love American cultures and stuff as well. I think we can’t deny our origins, but should accept and appreciate. Any country has both good and bad points, but sometimes you don’t even appreciate truly good points till you experience other worlds. And, when you know multiple cultures, then you can make things work better in my opinion.
In 2016 I went to a massive Barbie exhibit in Paris that showed a colossal retrospective on Barbie’s history and socio-cultural meaning and action in the societal pattern of 20th century. Why do you think Barbie managed to be so influential in the shaping of the new generations such as yours?
I think people pretty much know what “genuine is” in any situation. Anything might get popular for once, but only real genuine things stay popular and famous forever and that’s exactly how Barbie is. She’s always herself, not apologetic for being herself, not wearing clothes for guys but for herself. Aren’t those enough reasons?
Some of the historical criticism to the Mattel industry is the controversy that, not only Barbie is an undeniably beautiful girl, but also her idealistic body is an objectification of the female figure from a male’s perspective, such as her pin-up look in 1959. As a teenage girl, when you first got to know about Barbie, did you feel the pressure of the body perfection Mattel is often accused of promoting?
I would say no. Even if I didn’t have Barbie when I was little, I still played with other fashion dolls. However, I never felt that those dolls are giving me any pressure of not having an idealistic body. Because for me as a child, I already knew they were dolls but not real human! Actually it meant totally opposite to me. Since they didn’t have too realistic features, I knew they were dolls. Do you know what I’m saying? Dolls are dolls, humans are humans. Why do we mix up? If we need to expect toys to be more realistic, any super hero kind of toys can’t transform or fly the sky or show incredible ability for saving people? Again, I never felt any pressure about my appearance because of Barbie. If I had felt some in the past, actually it was coming more from some pretty thin models on cool magazines or when I saw some guys preferring particular types of girls. Because they were real humans, young silly Azusa might think like “Ugh… she’s so pretty. Are we really same human being?” Well, but not anymore… I’m old enough to accept how I am, fortunately.
Barbie is definitely famous for her flawless looks but, more than that, she is generally a positive figure in complete charge of her own life, career and future. Do you find yourself in this deeper and all-business aspect?
Absolutely! That’s another reason why I’m into her. Not just about her looks but also inside: smart, independent and positive. I feel some deep empathy. I used to get people sometimes said to me, “Oh, actually, you’re smarter than how you look…” I mean, excuse me? Well, I never got upset but took it as a compliment. However, it really showed me how many people unfortunately judge things by how they look. And I see some people see Barbie in same way as those people who gave me “compliments” used to see me.
Do you think it is possible to follow Barbie’s advice about “faber est quisque fortunae”, aka “everyone is the creator of their own destiny” in this world?
Yes, I do. Unfortunately, this world is not fair to everyone sometimes in different ways or different situations. However, I still believe we all have options to be happy in various ways. I got a brain tumor when I was 17 years old and was told I might die in 3 months. It was not easy to go through but that crazy experience totally made me tough, strong, and even more optimistic. Luckily I didn’t die like I was told, and since then I decided to do whatever I wanted to do as long as I’m not hurting anyone because I really know that you’ll never know what will happen in your life tomorrow.
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