Japan's latest IT girl is Bengali, Russian and Japanese
In celebrity-obsessed Japan with its conveyor belt of 15-minute stars, fashion icon "Rola" is blazing a meteoric trail at the forefront of a galaxy of mixed-race stars changing the DNA of Japanese pop culture.
Turn on the TV and there’s no escaping the bubbly 24-year-old of Bengali, Japanese and Russian descent – she even dominates the commercial breaks.
A marketing gold mine, Rola smiles down celestially from giant billboards, her wide eyes and girlie pout grace magazine covers and she even greets you at vending machines.
But Rola, whose father is Bangladeshi and mother is a half-Japanese, half-Russian, has done it by turning the entertainment industry on its head, her child-like bluntness slicing through the strict convention that governs Japanese society.
“Whenever people told me to speak politely, I never worried about it,” Rola, who settled in Japan when she was nine, told AFP in an interview. “I’m not talking down to anyone. I’m not a comedian, it’s just how I am. It’s just being open-hearted and trying to make people open theirs.”
Rola’s trademark puffing of the cheeks, ditzy catchphrases, infectious giggle and carefree charm have helped make Japan’s most famous ‘It Girl’ a smash hit with legions of adoring fans.
She believes the shifting landscape on race has had a positive effect on Japan.
“I used to think Japanese people weren’t open and should lighten up. But Japan has become brighter.
Rola’s eccentricities helped overcome the language barrier when young, once turning up at elementary school in pyjamas she mistook for her new uniform.
Her rise to fame mirrors a shift in attitudes in Japan, which only opened its doors to the outside world in the middle of the 19th century and where foreigners – those without Japanese nationality, even if they were born here – make up less than two percent of a population of 127 million.
Asked to sum herself up in one word, she closes her eyes and offers: “A salmon, maybe. They’re not just tasty, they swim hard up rivers, so they’re tough little critters.”