Reader Education in Japanese Magazines

Posted by: on Feb 22, 2012 | 2 Comments

It’s no secret that the Japanese menswear magazines far exceed anything available in the United States.  Just from the sheer variety of niche publications.  But it’s not just a numbers game.  The American magazines have their place and I’m not trash-talking, but the Japanese magazines educate their readers on a completely different level.

A few weeks ago when I was in New York I picked up recent issues of Leon, Free & Easy, and Men’s Ex, three of the best-known Japanese men’s magazines.  Immediately I was struck by how thick they are and how little advertising there is.  I really don’t know how they survive.  I’ve kind of accepted it as nature of the beast that glossies will be ad-packed.  But for what it’s worth, the content to ad ratio is crazy high in all three cases.

Now, I’ll warn you in advance, I don’t read Japanese, so I’m working on a limited framework here.  But when is the last time you saw diagrams of trouser rise and waistband length in a magazine?  Never?  Yeah, I thought so.  Or how about the cross-section of a shoe’s toe, showing how a welt actually works and the components that compose a sole?  Again, I thought so.

My assessment is that basically American magazines are concerned with giving you a certain point of view, having you assume that point of view is more knowing than your own, and then making sure you do what they recommend.  For most guys, that works just fine.  They don’t really want to get too into their clothes, they just don’t want to look foolish.  Fine.  But for those of us looking for something more, we’re kind of at a loss.

In contrast, these magazines seem targeted at the guy who wants to learn something.  I consider myself reasonably knowledgable when it comes to clothing – no expert by any standard, but above average – and I was learning things from the magazines.  I can’t even read them and I learned something.  Not bad.


The “Dad’s Style” issue of Free & Easy is dedicated to what we might consider preppy/Ivy clothes, but there is a tremendous amount of variation amongst the guys they profile.  It’s clear that they’re not just trying to sell you the latest hook-vent jacket, but rather get you excited about the range of possibilities and personal twists that can be put on something which from the outside seems homogenous.

They’re not clothing magazines, but style magazines.  And their desire to get customers thinking and learning, not just buying and wearing, is to be commended.


  1. Derek Guy
    February 22, 2012

    Regarding why Japanese magazines are more sophisticated than American ones, I think a lot of it has to do with the demand. The Japanese market is just more interested in fashion and style, and things such as construction and quality happen to be la mode. In the 1990s, the Japanese market was obsessed with streetwear, so there were a few magazines catering to that (and, similarly, none here). It’s a much more fashion/ style obsessed country.

    I’ve sometimes wondered why. I think part of it is that they have a higher standard of living for the middle class, and many people don’t have to pay for things such as cars, gas, and mortgage. This probably translates to more disposable income, and that income has to go somewhere.

    Plus, I imagine most of them don’t make the mistake of majoring in the humanities or social science. Or making the double mistake of going to grad school for it (like us).

    Ah, to be poor …

    • Stephen
      February 22, 2012

      I think your comments are spot on Derek. Additionally, I think American culture is generally less supportive of connoisseur culture. There is an inherent suspicion associated with those sorts of impulses, the source of which we could probably have a very interesting conversation about. For whatever reason, Japan doesn’t seem burdened by the same stigma. At least that is how it looks to me as an outsider.

      The grad student paradox – knowing too much and earning too little.


Leave a Reply to Derek Guy

Cancel Reply