John Jay on Numero Japan

For The Moment | Being Numero One

John Jay’s posts have been pretty much on target for introducing readers to some new faces from Japanese hipster culture post-Fujiwara Hiroshi and Murakami Takashi: Visvim as the best post-Ura-Harajuku fashion designer, Oki Sato/Nendo as the new, young design entrepreneur. Numero Tokyo fits well as the media equivalent, directed by charismatic and internationally-minded editor Tanaka Ako. Despite being the localized version of a French magazine, Numero Tokyo is generally Japan-focused — filling a void since the recent departures of Relax and Tokion.

The problem with all of these names, however, is that they are “big” only within the hipster taste culture niche to which John Jay, his agency, and most members of Néojaponisme’s staff belong. And while the forward-thinking creative culture we tend to advocate had a lot of influence on broader mainstream Japanese culture in the past, that is not true anymore. If there has been a narrative for this group in the last few years, it’s certainly its fall from commercial viability. Relax went under, so did excellent hipster record stores Zest and Maximum Joy (Painfully-snobby Bonjour Records exists thanks to corporate backing from the Jun fashion group). Record label Polystar called its quits. There may be a legion of fixie-riders and Mister Hollywood fans, but in general, the hipster culture of the 1990s has failed to win over the younger generation. Every time I go to an “opening” or “reception,” I find the exact same people getting older and older, not parties over-run with young people.

With this in mind, there is something inconsistent about writing the following phrase in an essay about Numero Tokyo:

It is no secret that the young women of Tokyo rule as the consumer engine, their influence and sophistication make them a highly sought after audience.

Numero Tokyo claims to print around 60,000 issues a month, but since this figure is not verified by either the Audit Bureau of Circulation or the Japanese Magazine Publishers Association, we can assume the real number to be around 30,000 or 40,000. This is absolutely tiny compared to monoliths CanCam (524,094), with (357,092), or More (414,363). So if Japanese women “lead” the market, they are clearly siding with a completely non-hipster aesthetic. Almost no part of these popular magazines’ styling or cultural guidance has “trickled-down” from somewhere like Numero Tokyo.

So, when Tanaka says, “Today there is no social movement originated by a magazine,” it’s hard to understand what she means. The CanCam girls are a social movement in a certain sense, but since it’s not one we hipsters approve of, we tend to dismiss it. Numero Tokyo is a “challenger” and possibly a positive force when viewed from our specific taste culture, but maybe what the majority of Japanese women think is “hot” and “cool” in Tokyo has nothing to do with Araki or art or skateboarding or Yonehara Yasumasa’s photography or Justice. Maybe they just like houndtooth-check coats and curly brown hair and bejeweled cell-phones. If true, that has huge implications for the entire trend-spotting, cool-hunting industry. When the fashion elite have the power and social capital to control content, but generate little interest from people outside of their small circles, are they still a real elite? Or just a very vocal taste culture floating in space?

W. David MARX
February 1, 2008

3 Responses


    i believe this is a common situation for any publication which positions itself as a ‘cutting edge’ in any way. the edgier you go, the less people will follow you. this is not a problem of tokyo or japan – this is the mankind at it’s best and ugliest.
    i suppose jay was referencing numero tokyo more as a certain check point in this business, which, let’s be honest, is a lot thing in itself – created and run by and for the people inside of this bubble and having not much value for the outer world. and such people have little interest in the outer world as well. so it’s not a surprise numero tokyo is not (and actually can’t be) the flagship of the japanese print. i would be very suprised if it were.
    people tend to make safe choices and play safe roles. and this has not much to deal with creativeness, shifting the boundaries, pushing the envelope and other fancy words we adore so much.

    having an endless pleasure of reading your blog. thank you.

  2. alin Says:

    i think a thorough validity check on some of the key terms here (magazine, hipster …) might be worth the effort,, and replace them with relative contemporary equivalents.

  3. W. David MARX Says:

    Magazine seems right for magazines, but “hipster” is the closest thing I can come to describing the specific taste culture once well-covered by Relax.