They're glamorous. They're gorgeous. They're alarmingly big-breasted. They're the Kano sisters -- two women who rule the celebrity circuit in Japan, with seemingly little else to commend them but their traffic-stopping looks. That's not so baffling in Japan, where the only real job requirement for a tarento, or talent, is showing up in front of the TV cameras. What's bizarre is that while their main assets suggest centerfold fame, the sisters' huge fan base consists almost entirely of women. They look Baywatch but talk Oprah. Calling themselves "lifestyle consultants," they dispense advice on inner beauty, relationships and self-esteem while lolling mostly nude in videos, books and magazines snapped up by female buyers. But the adulation of one nation is not enough; the Kanos, reportedly 38 and 33 (they refuse to confirm their ages), plan to conquer the world. Over a five-course dinner in a private room at their favorite Tokyo restaurant, they tell us how.
TIME: You look lovely today.
Mika Kano (younger sister, wearing a pale yellow linen pants suit and revealing, sequined tank top): Thank you.
Kyoko Kano (older sister, in a ruffly magenta top, slinky black pants and a 24-carat diamond ring): People look to us as style leaders. But this is one more aspect in which we simply do what we please. We never follow fads; we create them.
Mika: My sister has the uncanny ability to spot clothing or accessories abroad that within the year become the rage in Japan.
Kyoko: It's true. Japanese women are followers. They simply try to suit the Japanese man's ideal. Take our bodies. Most men here are entirely intimidated by us. Japanese men are skinny and short, so that's how they want their women. We're not, and we refuse to try to become what we're not. Japanese women must learn to have a sense of wanting to be beautiful for themselves.
TIME: Are you all about female empowerment?
Kyoko: We want to give women a hint of what it's like to think another way. Take relationships. In Japan, many women are with a man just for the sake of being with a man. They depend on the man to complete themselves. But who knows when the man will leave? This kind of behavior is unthinkable for us. We get fan letters from women saying we've changed their lives, now they're finally able to get a divorce or whatever. We derive energy from this, like radio waves.
TIME: So when you pose nude, it's actually an
Kyoko: Yes. In nude portraits, there's porn and there's art. We consider what we do art, and we think of ourselves as art objects. I direct all our projects, do the styling myself, pick photographers and locations. No nipples, no pubic hair. We think we happen to look more beautiful with our clothes off than on. And we don't really care if others approve. To the Japanese, we look like anime characters anyway. Most stars here look like the girls next door. But Mika looks more like Lara Croft from the "Tomb Raider" video games.
TIME: Um, are they real?
Mika: This is my natural body. I'm 170 cm tall; my bust is 96 cm around, my waist 57 cm, hips 91 cm. I know that's unusual for a Japanese woman. I used to hate the way I looked when everyone else is so skinny. I dieted so much that my periods stopped. Finally my sister convinced me to be what I am.
Kyoko: If you're asking about plastic surgery: Our feeling is that it's not a bad thing if it makes you feel better about yourself. But in Japan, there is still a strong stigma against it. So we don't want to say whether we have or haven't had any, although I realize that will make you think we have.
In any case, I'm 169 cm tall, bust 96 cm, waist 58 cm, hips 91 cm. Other Japanese stars are like half of us. We usually eat double this amount.
TIME: Why do you want to leave Japan?
Kyoko: Our fame is suffocating for us. Journalists will write anything about us because they know our names will sell magazines. Just this week, a weekly magazine said it had a huge scoop about Mika -- and it turned out to be a publicity photo of her swinging a golf club at a charity tournament, in which you could see a faint outline of her nipples. Some scoop. Japan is a small country. People can't help but be obsessed with what other people are thinking or doing. The media asks us what we think about things, and so we answer -- and the public thinks it's marvelous and strange that we actually say what we think.
Kyoko: Certainly. There are many U.S. movies we admire -- Jackie Brown, the 007 series -- and we'd love to work in that realm. 20th Century Fox made us "honorary Bond girls" to promote its last film; the director of "Rush Hour" says he may want to cast us in the next installment [which may be partially set in Japan]. I would say the star we most admire is Sophia Loren. We have attended four Academy Awards shows, Cannes, and others, and we have seen her at some of them. She has an unbelievable aura. But we are not limiting ourselves to Hollywood. We are going to Korea to film a TV special and appear in a magazine layout; we have also appeared in Chinese magazines. But what we would really like is to take our roles as lifestyle consultants global.
TIME: What exactly would that involve?
Kyoko: The melding the Asian and Western cultures, is maybe the best way to put it. Our work could extend to food, store or restaurant design, selling a line of cosmetics, using our tastes. Like your Martha Stewart, but not, obviously, so domestic. In Japan, they call us "gorgeous" like that's part of our name. But we want to be known as more than just beauties. We realize that in the U.S., it's not enough just to be beautiful. We know we'll be asked, What can you do? I would say: We can show you the beauty of Japan, in many different ways.