TOKYO • Aged just 17 and still living with her family, Rina Fukushi has seen more of the world than most Japanese schoolgirls.
She is the newest model sensation in Europe and New York, wowing on the runway for the likes of Miu Miu and Marc Jacobs when not chowing down on hamburgers or playing with her little brother.
Discovered at 14 and hailed by Vogue as "ultra-cool" and "eye- catching" with her enormous eyes, thick eyebrows and bee-stung lips, she is already the veteran of seasons in Paris, Milan and New York - giving American models Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner a run for their money, AFP reported.
"I always believed I could be a star from the moment I was scouted. But at the same time, I still can't believe it's real," says Fukushi, delightfully friendly and giggly, yet equally self-assured for her age.
She takes time out from her packed schedule at Tokyo Fashion Week for her interview with AFP.
Tokyo Fashion Week saw Japanese designers mostly shun Asian models in favour of white Western girls, although catwalks in Europe and New York are under increasing pressure to show diversity.
"I like myself and I have confidence. What is wrong about being Asian or Japanese?" she says.
Quick to laugh, she is a dab hand at sign language to ease gaps lost in Japanese-English translation, yet both shy and vivacious, faultlessly polite and totally absorbed in the world of fashion.
Described as "exotic" by the Japanese fashion press, Fukushi is the daughter of a Spanish-Filipino mother and a Japanese-American father. Born in Manila, the family returned to Japan when she was a baby, and she grew up in Tokyo, although she also speaks Tagalog.
"I thought she had the perfect proportions," says her agent, Ms Mayumi Kozakura, one of three scouts who spotted her while she was shopping in Tokyo's Harajuku.
At 176 cm tall, Fukushi is short for a runway model, by Western standards. Yet, she was shortlisted as one of the new models to watch this season by TMagazine.com, a style magazine under New York Times.
Fukushi, who made her international debut for Louis Vuitton, was quoted as saying in the magazine: "If I weren't modelling, I would have loved to be an actress. Modelling comes close to becoming a character though."