TOKYO -- Amane Yano, now 18, hears her number being called, and steps out onto a brightly lit catwalk. In the audience sit many fashion magazine writers and people from the entertainment business. It's the last round of auditions for a chance to appear at the 2017 Tokyo Girls Collection fashion show. She wears a tank top, short shorts and socks rolled up past her knees, and although she doesn't make the show, her performance is well received.
But, no one seemed to notice one other thing: her right leg is a prosthetic.
Yano has loved to put on cute clothes and makeup since early childhood, and she began modeling for apparel brands at the age of 5. When she was in the fourth grade of elementary school, she and her friends at a dance school formed an idol group. Although Yano was a shy and reserved child, she would always smile when in front of a camera. The people around her would tell her she'd be a model in the future, and it made her happy hearing them say it.
But when she was 12 years old, she developed a serious illness that inflamed her blood vessels. She came down with a fever and anemia, and her blood circulation became affected to the point that necrosis set in in her right toe. And it gradually began to spread. She spent half a year in hospital, and her right leg was amputated below the knee.
She wasn't unwilling to use a prosthetic, and when she could walk she felt happy. She learned to use it deftly enough even to ride a bike. But when she was discharged and returned to school after that long absence, she felt unable to go to her classroom, because she was worried about how people would react to her prosthesis. She was even afraid of passing people in the street. Then, in her third year of junior high school, her symptoms flared up repeatedly, and she could only actually go to school a handful of times. The effects of the medicine she took also pushed her weight up 30 kilograms, and Yano felt utterly changed. She also left her modeling agency.
Yano's prosthetic consists of a socket attached to her leg, a part at the bottom for wearing a shoe, and a pipe running between the two. She asked her prosthetist to make the socket as slim as possible, and when she attaches a sponge cover around the pipe, the whole unit has a very similar shape to a natural right leg. When she wears high socks or boots, it's almost impossible to tell she's using a prosthetic at all.
Starting about three years ago, Yano has been slowly searching for ways to get back into modeling. In doing so, she has taken part in hair and makeup events, and also appeared in music videos. But she only told a few people about her leg when doing these things.
The turning point for her came in summer 2019. Through the prosthetist Fumio Usui, 64, she was introduced to Paralympic athlete and photographer Takao Ochi, 41. She was introduced to his photo book "Ability not Disability," which features women smiling while wearing colorful clothes and prosthetics with patterns on them. Yano said she thought then that perhaps she could be like them.
Around that time, she also watched the closing ceremony for the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games. Gimico, a model with a prosthetic right leg, walked on stage wearing a dazzling outfit designed to match the music and images introducing Japan as the games' next host. Yano was taken by how cool Gimico looked, and came away with the sense that a prosthetic could be a kind of "weapon," too. It was then she started to realize what she wanted to become.
For Yano, the Paralympics seemed like a place when people with disabilities can express who they are. And the next one was going to be in Tokyo. Although she'd had almost no interest in it before, suddenly it felt like something close to her heart. She decided she wanted to go to the 2020 edition, and show her prosthesis.
But the new coronavirus has postponed the games by a year. With the headlines filled with depressing news, her resolve has only grown stronger. "Through the way I look, I want to give courage to children living in the same circumstances," she said.
The 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games had been set to begin on Aug. 25. Now, Usui and Ochi are planning a fashion show for people with prosthetics to take place on the same date. Yano has decided she will be appearing. A calendar has been made too, from which the profits will be donated to a health care group.
As far as her plans for August 2021, she expects she'll be enjoying the end of summer, walking out on the streets in a miniskirt and a spangled prosthetic. She hopes the Paralympics, which gave her so much strength, can still happen in Tokyo.
(Japanese original by Tomoko Igarashi, City News Department)