What is Gravure?

What is Gravure?

Across Japan and much of Asia, the modeling and idol industries have become present in nearly every facet of everyday life. Throughout this massive industry, there are a wide variety of subgroups and idol types to fill each niche, such as AV idols, band idols, and even virtual idols, with almost every genre you can think of having its own dedicated idol subset. Within these groups exist gravure idols; and while the term and presence of gravure idols is enormous in Japanese day-to-day life, the term and industry is virtually non-existent overseas. So what exactly is gravure?

What Is Gravure?

The term “gravure” actually originates from the English term “rotogravure”, or occasionally “photogravure”, which is a rotary printing process used in the production of magazines, postcards, newspapers, and more. The process was incredibly important in printing photographs and other visual media onto paper, and during the 1960s and 1970s, Japanese magazines and publications utilizing the process began to have their photo pages referred to as “front-page gravure”, or simply “gravure page”.

Many magazines at the time were already publishing images of attractive women, often in provocative or sensual clothing or poses, like Playboy and GORO. These images were often major selling points for these magazines, so as their popularity increased, fans began referring to the idols and models decorating these pages as “gravure idols”.

What are Gravure Idols?

While gravure and gravure idols specifically have found their origin in Japan, the overall concept can be likened to pin-up models or bikini idols overseas. Unlike mainstream pop idols, gravure idols are known for their more innocent and sensual image that emphasizes glamor, beauty, and sensuality without explicit nudity or sexual acts.

Gravure idols pose for various media outlets, including magazines, photo books, DVDs, and television shows, showcasing their charm and charisma in addition to their intimate physical appearance, plus in-person appearances to be the face of companies or events. The industry is targeted primarily towards a male audience and can be summarized overall as intimate, often suggestive photos of charming women in various revealing outfits or scenarios.

There also exist a variety of sub-categories and even scenarios that relate to each model’s specific body type or aesthetic, such as iyashi-kei (癒し系), which focuses on girls soft, comforting nature, loli (ロリ), which focuses on younger-looking models, chisei-ha (知性派) which emphasizes a girl’s intelligence by her demeanor and vocabulary, bakunyū (爆乳) which emphasizes a woman’s large breasts, and miizugi-ero (着エロ) which is all about girls in swimsuits.

The Evolution of the Gravure Industry

While the origin of the term “gravure” finds its roots in the 1970s and 1980s, it wasn’t until 1995 that the term was officially coined to describe model and actress Akiko Hinagata. The gravure idol industry continued to evolve over the decades, adapting to changing societal norms and technological advancements, as the photogravure printing process after which the industry got its name had been replaced in favor of offset printing. In the 1980s and 1990s, it gained further prominence with the rise of idol culture as a whole and the proliferation of television variety shows and magazines, often drawing more viewers by showcasing a popular gravure idol.

The 2000s marked a significant shift in the industry as gravure idols began to transition into the digital realm. With the advent of the internet, gravure idols could reach a global audience through websites, social media platforms, and online communities. This digital transformation expanded their fan base and allowed for more diversified content, as models in the gravure industry often went on to pursue careers in singing, acting, and online influencer marketing.

While initially gravure idols worked with publication or management companies, gravure idols in the present day may also work freelance, many of which sell their own photobooks, DVDs, polaroid photos (often called cheki in Japan), and other goods at events or online. This gives fans an even more intimate experience, as these products can help fans feel even closer to their favorite idols and support them directly. There even exist two age groups when it comes to who can consume gravure content: 15+ and 18+, with the only difference being that gravure content in the 15+ category simply covers the idol’s body 30% or more.

The Gravure Industry and Japan

Gorgeous models with charming personalities showcasing themselves is the foundation of the gravure industry and continues to thrive in Japan through just about every form of media available. From interacting with fans on an intimate level to being the face of an event or company, gravure idols are slowly gaining worldwide attention outside of Japan, and to this day many launch their careers from their experience in the gravure industry.

With outfits, scenarios, and niches covering just about any category a fan of gravure might be looking for, the intimacy of the gravure industry and its idols continues to grow and draw fans even to this day. Why not see which gravure idol you’ll fall in love with?


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