Forty years ago, four Japanese writers and photographers came to town and invented Los Angeles. Or rather, they invented an image of Los Angeles they could distill, package, and sell — first to Japan, then to the rest of the world — with the debut issue of Popeye, published July 1976. Described in its own subtitle as the “Magazine for City Boys,” Popeye would go on to stake out and ultimately dominate its territory in the world of Japanese men’s style print media, one of the most internationally visible branches of that country’s still shockingly robust print media ecosystem.
Popeye celebrated its 40th anniversary this year with a special 831st issue that contained a complete reprint of the first, with its extensive report on the lifestyles of the young and Californian, including instructions on how to jog, surf, skateboard, and hang-glide; seven pages of nothing but sneakers; and, most in-depth of all, a 27-page feature on the campus of a distant school called the University of California, Los Angeles. “It was all totally new,” the magazine’s first editor Yoshihisa Kinameri recalled to the Los Angeles Times. “In Japan at the time, students had maybe two kinds of sneakers, and they were cheap and not stylish at all. […] In Los Angeles, people looked happy and cheerful. It was magical; it was like heaven.”
The issue raised Japanese interest in UCLA to such a pitch that the bookstore in Ackerman Union, the subject of its own two-page spread, had to put up Japanese-language signage in order to handle the flow of tourists desperate for letterman jackets and gym shorts in blue and gold. This localized craze foreshadowed corporate Japan’s buying spree across the United States in the late 1980s, which was to be fueled by the asset bubble that briefly enriched the Japanese beyond even their own wildest dreams. It also came as a colorful moment in the story of Japan’s interest in American clothing, and specifically menswear, which W. David Marx tells in Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style.
Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.