Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

The Koda Kumi Plurality

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Judging by album sales and general media attention, Koda Kumi is the “biggest” female pop star in Japan at the moment. From the late 1960s onward, this was one of the most astute positions to attain in the entertainment world hierarchy. A couple of months into her Pop Queen reign, a young singer would start to enjoy the rewards — myriad product endorsements, unbridled cultural influence, and eventually, male lust, and a permanent place in the grand narrative of music history. Okinawan dance-pop idol Amuro Namie’s fame in the mid-1990s was not just limited to the world of music; she used the platform of pop to usher in a programme révolutionnaire of chapatsu brown hair and mini-skirts for teenage girls all across Japan.

Since peaking in 1999, however, the Japanese music market has experienced yearly negative growth and a weakened position in the public sphere. Even with the general economic growth of recent years, the music industry (including musical instruments and records) suffered one of the only negative growth rates among consumer product industries in 2006 (according to Nikkei’s Marketing Journal). The only industry performing even less robustly was gofuku (呉服) — traditional Japanese clothing like yukatas and kimonos. Does this mean that J-Pop too is a relic of a previous cultural era? And does it follow that the Pop Princess crown is a meaningless heirloom of a past empire?

The best-sellers of today require only a fraction of sales that the best-sellers of the mid-’90s needed to take the top spot. For example, Koda Kumi’s latest album Black Cherry has sold 998,230 copies (Oricon figure) — making her the #2 best-selling album artist after Mr. Children so far this year. In 1999, this level of sales would have placed her at #23 on the final chart for yearly album sales.

Titles, awards, and public acclaim, however, are all doled out relatively, not absolutely. The biggest stars remain the “biggest stars” — the standards are just lower. And even if the music industry is not performing well sales-wise, the J-Pop idols and singers still contribute a great deal to the entertainment world at large through their appearances as guests and actors on television programs. (A more cynical observer may comment that the Japanese music industry’s main responsibility has always been to produce general “variety television stars” and “disc-shaped fan club goods” rather than “musicians” and “CDs”). So at the end of the day, even if Koda Kumi’s sales are not as impressive as her predecessors, she has still managed to win the implicit title of “Most Important Singer” from the media, and as a result, has received her fill of product endorsement jobs from mobile phones to chu-hai alcoholic beverages. At this point in time, I think it is fair to say that the shrinkage of the music market does not seem to have an impact on general media treatment of its star artists.

Nevertheless, we should remember that the music market is so fractured and fragile that Koda’s journey to Number One did not require the levels of “mass support” previously necessary for the top spot. In a very similar manner, most of the Top Ten Oricon Singles these days are from Johnny’s Jimusho boy bands, who understandably are reliant upon a narrow niche market for their sales. Although currently #1 in a broad sense, there is no real evidence that Koda enjoys support from a wide range of demographic groups and taste segments.

Like Hamasaki Ayumi before her, Koda Kumi fans do not include panting males but are mostly young female admirers. She is most associated with a revealing post-gal fashion look called ero-kawaii (erotic cute) often seen in ViVi, which is understood to be less about male attraction and more about female self-confidence. Overall, Koda Kumi’s fans form a plurality of total consumers rather than a majority, easily giving her the top spot through concentrated action in a sluggish marketplace.

Koda Kumi, however, is not just quietly tolerated by the remaining social majority — she is widely scorned and loathed. Although not an objective indicator, she was voted the #1 “Celebrity I Want to Go Away” on Internet gossip site Tantei File in 2007. Shukan Bunshun included her in a list of recent female celebrities who are not considered attractive by the older generation (“Doko ga ii no?” Imadoki no Bijoron, 8/2/07).

Koda represents a commodity that should be quite common in the near future — the “mass star” who has widespread recognition but only appeals to a specific niche. While the quantity of Koda Kumi’s activities in product promotion are on schedule with her predecessors, the quality of her roles bespeaks a different advertising usage. Her core fans come from a singular taste culture. Therefore she is not used by companies to breed general goodwill for a product but to specifically target a product to her narrow plurality of rabid female fans. This may explain why Koda very prominently works with kimono manufacturer Nishizen Shoji to produce a special line of high-priced Koda Kumi Collection kimonos.

More telling is Koda’s new personal model of Sankyo pachinko machines called “FEVER LIVE IN HALL.” Although Koda Kumi’s public persona generally channels a low culture chic close to the world of pachinko (when her Best Of album hit 1 million sales in late 2005, she rented a small bar in Ginza and became the “mama” for the night in celebration — an act that rooted her even closer to her mizu shobai-esque image),1 Sankyo must be plotting this tie-up to lure in younger female customers.2 More mass-marketed singers may have held reservations about creating brand associations between themselves and what is widely-understood as a gauche and gaudy gambling playtime for a less sophisticated spectrum of society, but this was a good match for Koda Kumi. Those who would be turned off by her pachinko sponsorship aren’t fans anyway.

With no need to impress the masses, Koda Kumi can forgo being bland, un-threatening, or over-trendy like past idols and just constantly re-affirm her personal taste culture to shape herself as a finely-honed marketing weapon. Overall low sales in an important media market can bring the niche star into the limelight  — thus becoming an icon for one specific taste culture, market segment, or demographic group rather than the blunt instrument of the widely-beloved pop stars of yore.


1She also claimed that she would have also liked to have been a bar “mama” in another life.

2The Cohan Research Group in April 2006 reported that:

Women currently form over 20%+ of the total user base. The population of women is higher than men in Japan (65 million women compared to 62 million men in 2005). This offers an opportunity for pachinko operators to increase the participation of women in the game. Furthermore, the average days of participation of female players in the game are 32 days per year, as compared to 45 days per year by male players. The improved public image of pachinko and the availability of exciting new machines provide operators with the opportunity to grow their women customer base. According to Tokyo-based Yano Research Institute Limited, women spend about ¥2,000 more than men per visit to the pachinko parlor.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Non•no vs. CanCam: Girls’ Girls vs. Boys’ Girls

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Non•no faced a rough lead-up to the 21st century. From a peak circulation of 971,020 in the second-half of 1995, the famed biweekly female fashion magazine bled readers until reaching 324,736 in the bottom of 2005 (Audit Bureau of Circulation figures). After adding Tanaka Miho (田中美保) as mascot model in early 2006, however, Non•no appears to have stopped the readership hemorrhaging and has successfully moved back up to a 440,870 circulation (2007 printer-certified). The June 22 copy of daily fashion newspaper Senken Shimbun featured the front page article “Feminine & Layered: Young Brands are Recovering,” citing Non•no‘s revival and Tanaka’s popularity as key reasons behind the increased sales of young women’s casual brands.

Thanks to the tried-and-true technique of using senzoku models to create relatable personages who represent the magazine, Non•no has again become competitive to the “red-letter” (赤文字系) magazine genre represented by CanCam, JJ, and Ray. While the Non•no average reader age does not differ much from that of CanCam, the former attracts a broader range of readers than the narrow band of college students and OLs who read the latter. According to Senken, the brands featured in Non•no still attract women in their 30s who enjoyed a similar style of layered street fashion in the 1990s.

In terms of content and editorial, however, there could not be a wider gulf between the two magazines. Non•no has no clear overarching narrative in the way that the serious pursuit of an affluent boyfriend/husband underlies every single page of CanCam. There are almost no references to boys in an entire issue of Non•no. For example, two of the main Non•no models  visit Disneyland in the July 5 issue for an advertorial spread as a pair — rather than on a date. Overall, the contents of Non•no tend to create a private consumer world for young women where boys, occupation, and social pressure do not intrude.

This sets the tone for the fashion pages: Non•no mostly concentrates on “cute” but ultimately casual outfits, where skill is demonstrated through a mastery of complex layering techniques. The CanCam buzzword “elegance” is not an appropriate descriptor. There is a total lack of European luxury brands in Non•no, which almost seems to protect readers from such adult issues as social status and socioeconomic class. If CanCam is about the proper ascent into adulthood, Non•no is about the quiet avoidance of growing up. All in all, the editors of Non•no seem completely unconcerned with advising their readers on how to conform to the standards and tastes of other parties, organizations, or individuals. Girls just want to be girls. Wardrobes don’t fulfill functional roles of work or love — they just are fun.

Tanaka Miho perfectly embodies this more nonchalant and personal approach to fashion and lifestyle. She may not top the lists of Japanese men’s favorite model, but she is not positioned for such competition. She’s a girl’s girl. If Ebihara Yuri from CanCam represents the “perfect embodiment of Japanese men’s desires,” Tanaka Miho is the standout “every girl” who is cute in her “everyday way.” The Non•no look is often described as “feminine” — but this suggests “female-consumed ideas of femininity” rather than a construct for men’s desires. CanCam readers imitate Ebi-chan in their aspiration to reach her powerful levels of attractiveness, but Non•no readers gain self-confidence and respite from seeing Tanaka Miho’s unassuming charm as one close to their own.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Fashion Magazines and Regional Readership

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Tokyo so overwhelmingly dominates the transmission of media messages related to fashion both inside and outside of Japan that it is easy to ignore the regional differences in style across the archipelago. Osaka fashion sense, for example, is often said to be more “individualistic” and “flamboyant” than Tokyo fashion sense. While there are some Kansai-based fashion magazines produced exclusively for Kansai-area readers, the editorial departments of fashion magazines with national distribution are almost completely based in Tokyo. Since fashion consumption follows magazine direction to an extremely close degree, the Japanese capital possesses an unrivaled authority in this market. A trend may start in Nagoya or Kobe, but unless it gets picked up and legitimized in the Tokyo media, that trend will find a hard-time becoming “national.”

The Magazine Advertising Fee Table (雑誌広告掲載料金表) published by the Japanese Magazine Advertising Association provides demographic statistics for the readership of Japan’s major fashion magazines, breaking down geographical spread by individual prefecture as well as larger regional area (i.e., Kinki, Chubu, Kanto, Tohoku, etc.). In order to understand the regional biases of fashion in Japan and which magazines (and subsequently, which fashion market segments) are “regional” and which are more “Tokyo,” we first have to compare each magazine’s readership distribution against the national population distribution to locate the areas of over- and under-representation for certain titles. We used official population statistics from 2003 in the following analysis.

The graphs below illustrate the difference between the readership distribution percentage and the population breakdown for each region. The X-axis indicates the region, and the Y-axis measures the difference between the percentage of readers in a certain area and the standard population breakdown for that area. (For reference, Tokyo and Yokohama are located in Kanto, Nagoya is located in Chubu, and Kobe, Osaka, and Kyoto are located in Kinki.)

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Notes:

1) Fashion is primarily an urban phenomena. No surprise in that statement, but the high-population density, relative wealth, and high media usage for urban populations creates the much deeper needs for living up to the proper fashion standard that drive magazine readership. As a result, most fashion magazines are generally biased towards a Kanto/Tokyo readership. Fashion magazines with readership distribution similar to the total population (a flatter line on the graph) are relatively non-Tokyo in focus.

2) Fashion magazines for men are more Tokyo-centric than those for women. In general, men’s fashion magazines have significantly lower readership than women’s fashion magazines, and the males who show high involvement with fashion appear to be primarily located in the Kanto area. That being said, there are regional differences — with Tokyo men being more interested in high-fashion than their counterparts in the country. The “hi-end style magazine” Huge has over 50% of its readers just in the Kanto area. However, a “rougher” and more masculine magazine like Men’s Joker has only 26.2% of its readers in the Kanto area. On average, however, men’s magazines have greater Tokyo-centered readerships than their sister publications.

3) Fashion magazines become more Tokyo-centered as the average readership age increases. Adolescents have little in the way of personal mobility, but those in their 20s and 30s who have an interest in fashion or have jobs requiring more fashion sensibility are likely to relocate to the urban centers (especially Tokyo) after graduation from high school, university, or trade school.

CanCam, for example, is directed at office ladies in their early 20s at large companies, and needless to say, these firms are mostly located in Japan’s big cities. The magazine’s readership spikes around the main urban hubs of Kanto and Kinki. Despite such a limited geographical appeal, however, CanCam is still the best selling female fashion magazine. This reiterates our obvious insight that “fashion is an urban phenomenon,” but it’s important to not to overlook how much consumer needs for fashion weaken for women in rural areas once they reach their 20s. It is also important to note that women’s access to the brands featured in CanCam or JJ decreases as they move away from urban areas, although internet retail sites like FashionWalker.com are dramatically changing this.

Magazines for women in their 30s like Oggi, Domani, and Nikita have readerships comprised of 53.5%, 54%, and 44.5% Kanto residents, respectively. Although values towards gender roles are changing, we can assume that the traditional expectation for women to leave the workforce after marriage to become mothers and housewives — something that happens earlier outside of urban areas — means that there is an inverse relation between age and high involvement in fashion for Japanese women. Those still with high involvement towards fashion in their 30s and 40s are likely to be professionals in Tokyo. (Women in their 50s and 60s in high income households most likely return to high levels of fashion consumption, but it is unclear whether they are as dependent upon the media for making product choices as much as young women are.)

4) Readership distribution for teenage girls matches general population distribution, but there are regional differences in style. For the teen fashion magazines featured in the bottom two graphs, readerships of all three stick very close to the national distribution average — meaning they are relatively un-Tokyo-centric compared to the magazines for older women. The “gyaru” look of Cawaii!, however, tends to be even less urban than the more artsy style represented in CUTiE and Zipper. The gyaru look does relatively well in Kanto, but underperforms in Kanagawa and Tokyo (see the bottom graph) — which are understood to be the most expensive residential areas in the region. This lends credence to the stereotype that “gyaru” fashion is primarily a lower class subculture. The colorful alternagirls of CUTiE have much greater presence in Tokyo but this look has almost no traction in the Kinki/Kansai region. While the Cawaii gals seem to be living in the less wealthy suburbs outside of Tokyo, the CUTiE readers increase in proportion the closer you get to the capital.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Dokusha Models and Charisma Clerks: Transferring the Aura of Authority

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

In a very large number of cases, Japanese mass consumer culture diffuses in a top-down manner. Manufacturer conglomerates work closely with oligopolistic ad agencies and shadowy production companies to determine the It Girls and Hit Products of the Year. There are, however, many contradictions and complications that challenge the singularity of that conspiratorial narrative. Very little may rise straight to the top in a grass-roots manner, but the presence of dokusha model (読者モデル) and charisma clerks (カリスマ店員) shows that the top needs to recruit those at the bottom to speak their message more directly to the target audience.

Dokusha models (literally, “reader models”) are amateur models used in youth fashion magazines. They are either scouted on the streets or chosen from readers who have sent in letters to editors offering their services. Dokusha models are as likely to be aspiring hairdressers, stylists, and artists with good fashion sense as aspiring “models.”

Magazines like to use these models for several reasons. First, they are much cheaper than “real” models. Second, they usually lack management, which makes them much easier to work with. Third, they give readers “life-sized” idols onto whom they may project themselves. Fourth, they can sometimes break these models as “stars” which reflects very well back upon the status of the magazine.

Charisma clerks are members of a popular store’s staff (usually sales, but sometimes PR) who become famous from their appearances in the media. This became a particularly big boom in the young women’s fashion based around Shibuya 109 — with girls flocking to stores to meet these minor celebrities in the flesh.

Some dokusha model and charisma clerks have been able to make the leap from amateurs to professionals. Most famously, the charisma clerk Yoco Morimoto went on to form her own brand Moussy and several other spinoffs. Kaela Kimura became the face of Seventeen and then a successful Sony recording artist. Visual artist Asami Kiyokawa was often seen in issues of CUTiE in the late 1990s.

Even those dokusha models and lowly clerks who do not end up using their sudden fame as a way to jump to the big time generally experience a very intense celebrity with magazine readers. Part of the idea of “charisma” is that kids show up at stores and ask the charisma clerk to pick out their wardrobe — relinquishing most decision-making to the famed store employee who could not possibly do them wrong. In this way, “charisma” has little to do with the Western meaning of “being charismatic” and is more about the possession of petite authority within a specific sphere.

The charisma clerks and dokusha models generally benefit everyone in the commercial chain. The semi-celebrities themselves enjoy the respect and fame, especially those in trendy low-level jobs that do not offer high financial rewards. (Here is a guide book for aspiring dokusha models hoping to be “discovered.”) Young consumers like having normal, “everyday” celebrities who they have a good chance of meeting in person and asking for shopping advice. Or at worst, they can least steal practical styling tips from afar.

Manufacturers and brands also see the value in giving the dokusha models celebrity status. Senken Shimbun reported that popular male dokusha model Yuya Nara can no longer go into his favorite stores without the staff offering to give him items for free (4/18/07 「親しみ覚える選択眼」). By using these readers as human billboards, brands hope to legitimize their own products through these free agents without dipping into the promotional budget. Media always win points for identifying trend-makers before they blow up, and they get extra points for creating fame out of thin air. So by picking individuals who embody the styles they champion, they can create an army of closely-related comrades who keep the magazine’s curatorial ethic alive and well within their target audience community.

Everybody wins, but it hinges upon a consumer base accepting these non-celebrities as possessing a certain amount of authority and stature. This may seem somewhat difficult to achieve in the West, but in Japan, the dokusha models and charisma clerks fit nicely into a systematic hierarchy of style and consumption.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

AneCan: Media Leads Production and Consumption

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

The auspicious launch of AneCan magazine may have appeared at first as the simple spread of CanCam‘s conserva-cute culture up to an older female demographic. But the inauguration did not just concern the birth of a single publication: AneCam worked with apparel makers and department stores in a coordinated effort to create a whole new market segment.

Last year,  CanCam‘s publisher Shogakukan released a special Oneesan-kei CanCam (Older Sister CanCam) issue to test the waters for starting a more “elegant” version of the magazine that would target women in their late 20s. Sales were superb, and decisions were made to push towards a regularly-publishing separate monthly magazine for this audience. The effort culminated in AneCan‘s March debut.

While Shogakukan experimented with an older audience, domestic apparel makers who supply the specific brands featured in CanCam started working towards a new set of brands that would represent  the AneCan style. For example, the following companies created the new brands:

The first issue of AneCan apparently sold almost 90% of its projected 320,000 copies in five days. To correspond with the magazine launch, Isetan department stores held a special exhibition of the main “AneCan” brands for a week period in their seven stores across Japan. In just that short time, the six brands sold ¥35 million. Between other stores and online sales, the brands all reported amazing sales (Arpege had ¥7 million sales in just one week), and many reported that their items specifically featured in AneCan sold out completely. From the perspectives of the publisher, the apparel makers, and the retailers, the AneCan launch was a massive success, and they gave form to a new market segment to which they could continue to sell products.

General lessons to learn from this successful media-manufacturer-retailer coordination:

  1. Japanese magazines often define markets rather than respond to them. In this case, a successful magazine did not “curate” or style its own look out of pre-existing brands but instead coordinated the creation of new brands appropriate for its readership.
  2. Consumers will gravitate towards the purchase of specific items featured in the magazine as these are seen as perfectly “safe.”
  3. Consumers want clarity in branding: i.e., these brands are “AneCan” brands featured in an “AneCan” retail space. Everything from all angles lined up to make the purchase an easy choice.

Sources: 『売れる「姉キャン」系ブランド30代もつかむ』繊研新聞平 成19 4月4日

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Model Agency Media

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Can Can may have skillfully connected with the most important consumer trends in the Japanese market to achieve its amazing success, but I find it hard to ignore the fact that its three most famous exclusive models — Ebihara Yuri, Yamada Yu, and Oshikiri Moe — all come from the same powerful entertainment production company K DASH. Yamada is officially a K DASH talent, but Ebihara and Oshikiri are managed by a subsidiary modeling agency called Pearl. (This connection may not be openly admitted, but the Wikipedia site on Pearl states that the agency’s official registration indicates a direct capital relation to K DASH.1)

The fame and ubiquity of these models has been one of the main appeals of Can Cam to readers, and K DASH’s power in the general entertainment world has allowed the girls to become “celebrities” rather than mere “magazine models.”

Looking casually at the current Can Cam line-up, the models do seem to be drawn disproportionately from the K DASH family or smaller-scale agencies without relation to K DASH competitors. Maybe this is why rival model firm Oscar Promotion teamed up with publisher Kodansha (rival to Can Cam‘s Shogakukan) to start its own fashion magazine STACOLLE using the Oscar roster of star talent as the models. For the first issue, popular model Ueto Aya graces the cover and provides an exclusive interview. A fashion feature shows how Oscar model Mori Izumi wears her Louis Vuitton so well. Other girls model outfits and demonstrate make-up tips.

This Oscar Pro/Kodansha collaboration proves that magazines in Japan can no longer gain readerships based solely on their own authority as independent media with interesting or helpful content. A successful magazine now needs exclusive “senzoku models” (専属モデル) who will also do enough inter-media work to bring fans from TV and film back to the actual print issues. Flipping traditional editorial direction on its head, STACOLLE starts with a pool of model talent as its core asset and then adds appropriate content around the personalities.

When viewed through the prism of global trends, there is no real surprise that celebrity culture has also become dominant in Japan. STACOLLE shows, however, that magazines now need exclusive partnerships with power players in the entertainment world to supply total media strategies for making the model pool into the well-known celebrities who can win the hearts and lead the tastes of readers. Models are not blank slates for styling: They must be protagonists for the lifestyle narrative. Whether this new magazine succeeds or not, the appearance of STACOLLE alone has a lot to say about how the media industry is reorganizing and what participating firms believe the secret to success with readers/consumers to be.

1 Further evidence for relations between the companies: the Pearl website was created through help of two Burning Production sub-companies – Proceed and Sweet Room. Burning is widely recognized as the most powerful force in the Japanese entertainment sector. K-Dash’s founder and chairman Kawamura Tatsuo was in the same high school class as Burning CEO Suho Ikuo, and the two companies are often assumed to be operating an informal alliance.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

AneCan: Can Cam for Your Big Sister

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Sorry to keep harping on Can Cam week after week, but if there’s a giant elephant in the room, we think it’s best to give the pachyderm detailed coverage. We could hardly ignore the news that Can Cam‘s publisher Shogakukan has started a new spin-off publication of its best-selling mag called AneCan. The first issue hit streets on March 7, accompanied by much fanfare. The name AneCan comes from adding the Japanese word for “big sister” — ane (姉) — to the “Can” of Can Cam. The magazine targets women older than 25 — giving the graduates of the standard Can Cam student/OL look a way to continue their style education well into their late 20s.

The editors have picked the 27 year-old Oshikiri Moe to be AneCan‘s sole mascot model — without the help of her peers Ebihara Yuri and Yamada Yu at the flagship Can Cam. In the former model triumvirate, Yamada was the exotic and sexy Okinawan princess and Ebihara was the textbook definition of “cute.” In contrast, Oshikiri always acted as the more accessible member of the team: She looks very literally like somebody’s older sister. When it comes to commercials from Can Cam models, Oshikiri was selling down-to-earth Dr. Scholl’s leg-related health products rather than fast food or makeup. But now as vanguard of her very own magazine, Oshikiri is being pushed by her powerful management agency to be a major media star — most notably, recently taking a job as the female host on NHK’s English language show “Eigo de Shabera Night.”

Magazines in Japan often create consumer subcultures rather than correspond to a pre-existing groups’ needs, but AneCan has gone one step further. The magazine’s launch went hand-in-hand with a coordinated retail initiative at leading department-store Isetan. On March 14, Senken Shimbun reported that the limited-edition “AneCan Style” shop had sales of 30,000,000 JPY (~$250,000 USD) in just four days. A vast majority of fashion consumers in Japan are almost totally dependent upon fashion magazines as their guides, catalogs, textbooks, and teachers. And now with the level of cooperation between media and retail seen in the AneCan launch, core readers have it even easier to buy the recommended brands and complete the look prescribed by the magazine’s stylist authorities.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Leon: The Cult of the Italian Middle-Aged Man

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

Coming in at an almost equal gross weight as Can Cam every month is Leon — a fashion magazine aimed at Japanese men in their late 30s and early 40s. The name comes from the Luc Besson film Leon to perhaps channel the good looks and charm of its French middle-aged star Jean Reno (the [now defunct] sister publication for women is naturally called Nikita.) The magazine began publication in 2002 and has attained a certain notoriety in recent years. Although it only runs at a circulation around 92,275 (2007 printer-certified figure), Leon’s identification/creation of an exciting new market segment for bad-boy middle-aged men has made it the center of much social attention.

Leon employs the 45 year-old Italian expatriate Girolamo Panzetta as its cover model and official mascot, and just like with the Can Camsenzoku models,” the suave Neapolitan appears in countless pages of the magazine to show off specific apparel items for readers. Forget the long-held strategy of selling youth to the older generation: most of the models in Leon are older men proudly displaying cases of male pattern baldness and a week’s worth of stubble. Unlike other magazines on the market, not a single Japanese model appears in Leon — except when accidentally used in adjacent advertisements. Most women’s magazine readers aspire towards Japanese celebrities who may indirectly aspire towards the West, but the Leon man’s aspirations are directly pointed towards (white) Western men (and perhaps, the young blond women on the white models’ arm). Many Japanese fashion magazines skim the streets of the world’s major cities for street snaps of the latest international trends, but Leon looks to only one specific foreign locale: Milan, Italy. The magazine is filled with photos upon photos of well-groomed Italian men, and other sections include longer interviews with Italian “experts” on various topics. Leon firmly establishes the original homeland for the self-confident, stylish middle-aged man squarely in the Apennine Peninsula.

Unlike the standard men’s magazine in the West like GQ, Esquire, or even Playboy, Leon has very little in the way of general-interest material, interviews with celebrities, or long-form articles. Almost 95% of the magazine is product information — with a majority of the content veering into unabashed advertorial “tie-up.” All the major luxury brands are represented. For suits, the range spans from Ralph Lauren to Paul Smith to obscure Italian tailors. Few items gain attention outside of apparel — only cigars and whiskeys, but even these generally appear as accessories to a wardrobe rather than areas in which the gentleman should develop expert knowledge.

Some of the content veers so much towards (Japanese perceptions of) Italian male customs that the advice may not be particularly practical within Japan. In the November 2006 issue, for example, Leon recommends spraying a little cologne on your suit jacket label — something I would guess is too aggressive for famously scent-conservative Japan. But the overall Leon styling is not interested in “classic” nor “traditional” looks to begin with. The editors create contemporary and fashionable ensembles that work to enhance the best qualities of the older, masculine male. Watches are enormous. Street wear is acceptable as long as it is classed up a bit, like hooded sweatshirts with fur inner lining. Sometimes this veers into the absurd: Their exemplar burly men often don crocodile skin vests and envelope their girlfriends in long black capes.

The Leon man is a “choi waru oyaji” — a term for a middle-aged man with a bit of a bad-boy charm. Unlike the desire for subcultural “uniforms” seen in youth fashion magazines, Leon does not offer readers a group-specified conformity. The ideal reader may not be a traditional success at a first-tier company, but Leon shows him how to set himself apart through world-class clothing and conspicuous success with younger women. Since most of the readers are men in the 40s, or at least, younger men aspiring to look older, the magazine is more interested in instructing methods of distinction rather than proscribing socially acceptable outfits. Leon readers already know fully well how to wear a blue-suit and not be seen. They are going out of their way in response to conformity to find themselves something with a little more edge. An advertorial piece for Ermenegildo Zegna in the Nov. 2006 issue has the headline “差が付く休日の過ごし方” — the way to pass time on the weekends to separate yourself from others. Leisure is no time to relax in this grand social competition!

Like the young women reading Can Cam, the Leon man feels a need to purchase luxury goods, but his two main purposes for those goods are not “fitting in” to a social standard. He wants differentiation from his peers and the ability to attract younger members of the opposite sex. Although the Leon movement does not have the readership numbers of the Can Cam explosion, that may be for the best: If all the Japanese middle-aged men became a little bit bad in this quasi-Italian imitation, that would only make it that much harder to stand out.

You may not see so many real-life “choi waru oyaji” prowling the streets of Tokyo, but Leon has made itself relevant by creating a sexy, yet plausible consumer subculture that well-reflects the spirit of our time. As Japanese society gets older and teens don’t have the spending power of the previous generation to make society-wide trends, middle-aged men have to pull up the slack. Leon lets them do this in style.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Can Cam: The Number One Fashion Magazine in Japan

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

The Japanese magazine market has seen relative decline over the last few years after peaking in 1996. Some blame the increasingly large amount of free information available on the Internet, but the sales drop began well before online media made a significant penetration into the Japanese market. Since most youth-oriented magazines in Japan are mostly “consumer guides” — with loads of product information and very little in the way of critical review — it logically follows that the decrease of consumer budgets in the recessionary environment would cause less need for consumption guidance of the latest and most fabulous items. Whether this is the main reason for decline or not, women’s fashion magazines are generally holding their position against the market turbulence compared to other categories of titles.

One particular magazine Can Cam has seen unmatched growth in the last few years, and broadly speaking, dominates the women’s fashion world. The name derives from an abbreviation of “I Can Campus,” reflecting the magazine’s roots as a publication for college and junior college students. Now the median reader age is 23.02 (2005 data), and more than half of the readers are employed. The publisher reports sales of 715,417 (2006 data), but even Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC)’s more conservative estimate of 594,499 for late 2005 is an astounding sales figure. (For reference, magazines with much wider general audiences and longer histories such as Shukan Bunshun and Shukan Post only hit 575,343 and 436,775 copies in the ABC data from late 2005, respectively.)

Like other magazines, Can Cam peaked in the late 1990s and saw a steady drop in readership. From the nadir of 320,135 in early 2001, sales increased and grew to the current number – entailing an 85% increase in four years. Most attribute the growth to the magazine’s innovative use of senzoku moderu (専属モデル) – a half-dozen young female models who appear exclusively within Can Cam. Each month’s fashion features employ these girls wearing the latest styles and products, and they rarely materialize in rival publications. Readers make strong associations with themselves and these female models and pick up a copy of Can Cam with the guarantee that their favorite will appear in at least 20 to 30 pages of the magazine every month. Rival publications such as Ray, and JJ offer similar content, but the exclusive celebrity models have given Can Cam an edge over the competition. (Titles JJ and ViVi targeted at a similar audience have seen sales fall in the last two years. ) Can Cam’s sales cannot be solely attributed to readership movement within the same fashion look, however. Female fashion magazines in totally different “lifestyle genres” such as non•no and Classy have also seen a decline.

Lately, the most prominent three of these models – Yamada Yu, Ebihara Yuri (aka Ebi-chan), and Oshikiri Moe – have branched out into other media like TV with the backing of their strong-armed production agencies to become stars in their own right. Ebihara in particular has been the “it girl” of the last two years and found herself as a top spokesmodel for many consumer goods.

Young Japanese consumers have always made their fashion choices through strict adherence to “manual magazines,” and the aggregation of females into the Can Cam readership has created a certain level of visual homogeny in the streets. Issues frequently hit 600 pages – almost all of the content dedicated to detailed information on mixing and matching specific apparel items. Although the mass of information presents a large number of possible arrangement options, individual permutations upon the ingredients would all lead to similar results: a style fun and young, safe for work and play. The general strategy is inexpensive clothes augmented with luxury brand accessories, such as bags and jewelry. Hairstyle and make-up advice run somewhere between a catalog (which prices and brand names off to the side) and detailed instructions for scientific experiments.

The Social Phenomenon

The Can Cam style hardly resembles a traditional “conservative” look, but its basic philosophy is fundamentally aligned with the goals of mainstream society. The core readers may want to have fun in college and in their first years serving the corporate world, but there still remains a subtext focusing upon the teleological mission of finding an appropriate husband (and less explicitly, of taking on the responsibilities of wife, then mother). Serious discussion of long-term career would be best served by another publication. For this large class of young women, the clerical assignment immediately following college or junior college is something like a set course of “quaternary education” — a period of life to be passed through as a shared experience with other girls in other firms, and Can Cam provides guidance towards its successful “graduation.” Long ago, there may have been more pressure for girls of this age range to marry earlier, but their current divergence into fun and consumption has become their de facto accepted social task — especially when other segments of society have slacked on their appropriate consumption duties. Choosing luxury brands over domestic concerns is no longer widely regarded as a deviance from the “proper” social path, and in this meaning, Can Cam is “conservative” — albeit a conservatism transformed to meet the realities of today’s society.

Opposed to the “erotic cute” of recent pop idol Koda Kumi or seen in popular lingerie catalog Peach John, Can Cam readers are less determined to use fashion to express their own individuality or show off their sexual appeal and more interested in attracting widespread interest from possible boyfriends. In Japanese, this style is called “mote-kei.” A central concept to the current milieu is the goukon (合コン) — traditional parties where an equal number of boys and girls meet at an izakaya (sit-down bar) and get to know each other. Ebihara Yuri is the golden child of the moment, precisely because of her perfect fit within the goukon paradigm. Rival Can Cam model Yamada Yu on the other hand has a more stylish, sexy image that is somewhat perceived as threatening to boys, and therefore, relatively unsafe for the dating environment. Designer fashion is also a no-no for these dates, although designer bags would not cut into the cuteness.

What is the winning prize in the goukon game? From the looks of Cam Cam’s photographic-comic series “Double Fantasy” (starring Ebihara), dream boyfriends may have stubble and designer haircuts, but they are still in suits. Things have not changed so much since the ’80s when “the Sankou” (tall, well-educated, high salary) was the ideal. Young women, however, may be less “realistic” than their ’80s counterparts, who usually “settled” for a nearby opportunity at their own companies. Can Cam now suggests widespread social desires where liberation is celebrated through brand consumption and communal dreams are upwardly-mobile.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Japanese Magazines in Freefall

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

On February 1, 2007, the Asahi Shimbun ran an article about the decline in Japanese magazine sales over the last nine years. Total 2006 sales were down 4.4% compared to 2005 — the largest single drop since 1999. As examples of the trend, Asahi offered the following sales comparisons between 1996 and 2006 for several magazines from the Audit Bureau of Circulation:

Shukan Gendai (weekly news magazine): 720K –> 440K

Shukan Post (weekly news magazine): 860K –> 400K

non•no (monthly young women’s fashion and lifestyle magazine): 940K –> 340K

with (monthly women’s fashion and lifestyle magazine): 740K –> 360K

Tokyo Walker (local information magazine): 400K –> 80K

Why is the Japanese market for magazines declining?

Conventional wisdom in the Japanese publishing industry blames the rise of the internet. They fear that readers are gradually moving over to the internet to obtain free information instead of relying on magazines. The problem with this theory, however, is that magazine sales started to decline at a serious rate long before the internet made any sort of serious penetration in Japan. Most titles peaked around 1995 to 1996 and have been free-falling ever since. The internet never really reached significant diffusion rates in Japan until the early 21st century, by which time, magazines had already been in decline for a half-decade. Most importantly, the rates of decline for the titles above were steady show no serious dips once the internet kicks in.

In general, comparing “the internet” and “magazines” is difficult since there are hardly any “web magazines” in Japan that can claim to provide the same kind of information as magazines at the same high quality. In the case of Tokyo Walker, the internet does a fantastic job at putting movie timetables and restaurant maps at right your fingertips — making the print magazine less efficient and basically irrelevant. For fashion magazines, however, it’s a different story. Internet media has yet to prove an authoritarian status. More than just kids wanting to see the latest styles in fashion magazines, they wanted to know which styles have the blessing of the editors — and as an extention, society at large. Internet rivals to non•no may be popping up somewhere, but at this point, brand new web-magazines with the same content would have a hard time convincing young female readers that their consumption guidance is as “safe” as the old printed standard.

The second reason often stated for decline is a heterogenization of tastes. The Asahi article notes that magazines with and non•no are “general” young female readership magazines and do not have specialized audiences. Dentsu magazine analyst Kira Toshihiko is quoted in Asahi as stating that “In the past, it was ‘I will read this because others are reading it.’ Now ‘a me different from others’ has made a presence, and this plays into magazine selection.” Essentially, this theory posits that readers are turning away from magazines, because the identity created through adherence to a specific magazine lifestyle would create a result to close to the identities of others.

Certainly, the Japanese consumer has become less hesitant towards individual preference over time, but the recent success of the young women’s fashion magazine Can Cam strongly challenges a wide application of Kira’s idea. Sales have risen for Can Cam in the last few years at the expense of rival titles. Between the high issue sales, the ubiquity of the “Can Cam look on the streets, and the widespread popularity of the magazine’s models Ebihara Yuri and Yamada Yu, the total popularity of the consumer lifestyle shows that a certain segment of Japanese society — mostly junior college students, university students, and first-year OLs — want to be a part of a fashion lifestyle with lots and lots of other people. The Can Cam reader may not be specifically attracted to the magazine because of the look’s massive presence in the market, but surely they are not reading it because they want to create more distinction between themselves and others.

So what is the reason for a decline in magazine sales? Most definitely, the population decline means less young people, and this has hurt almost all of the major content industries which depend on young consumers. We should also consider the idea that the drop in consumer budgets during this long recessionary and weak economic period caused consumers to need less in guidance in where to spend their discretionary income. Other than the stable “young single female market” that makes up the Can Cam subculture, young people are no longer the leaders in Japanese consumption. Things may have gotten so bad that kids don’t even want to drop ¥600 on the magazine itself, but moreover, who needs fashion guides to construct ¥100,000 outfits of all the hottest brands when you don’t have ¥100,000 lying around? For most of the fashion and lifestyle magazines in Japan, the content is almost exclusively informational guides to products and services rather than essays, articles, interviews, or critique. Magazines are thus entertaining — like window-shopping — but also highly educational in regards to the latest trends, the proper way to style clothes, and which particular brands and items are “essential” for the season. Without the pocket money to act upon this practical guidance, however, these magazines are certainly not worth their cover price.

Although this theory cannot explain the drop in the weekly news and gossip shukanshi‘s sales, one cannot ignore the fact that the fashion and magazine markets peaked at the exact same time — in 1996 — and have been falling steadily ever since. Fashion consumption and fashion magazines have always gone hand-in-hand in Japan, and their decline should thus also be related.

Whatever the case, Japanese magazine publishers have an uphill battle to keep themselves relevant and prospering in an increasingly diverse and desperate market. Clearly, one solution is to follow the success stories of Can Cam and men’s magazine Leon in creating a solid brand identity that matches perfectly with a specific market segment flush with spending money. Otherwise the current market trends are going to sweep the unfocused and unbranded titles right away to sea.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.