1980s Japanese Pop Magazines – First Impressions

As I discussed in a previous post – British/European/American Music in Japan – I am conducting some research about ‘Western’ music in Japan. This research began as I am working on a book related to Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Japan was one of the few countries outside of Europe that they toured. Japanese versions of their releases are also popular with collectors (a topic for another post).

I have now obtained a collection of 1980s Japanese pop music magazines. All of them have some contents related to Frankie, but as some of my work in this area will broaden to look at other Western groups, I’ll be looking through in detail to see what else in there, particularly if it includes any mention of acts such as Berlin, Pet Shop Boys, and Thompson Twins.

I got hold of copies of four different titles – Takarajima, Music Life, rockin’on, and FM Shukan.

The first thing I noticed about Takarajima (which is also known as Wonderland), of which I have two issues, is how thick it is – both copies have 226 pages (predominantly paper). Compared to magazines that I was getting back in the 1980s like Smash Hits and Number 1, the difference is really apparent. Rather, Takarajima is much more like your standard Japanese monthly magazine – the pages aren’t that big, but there are a lot of them and there’s a lot of text with feature articles and interviews. There are also a lot of photographs. But the magazine isn’t only about music – with articles on food and fashion, for example. There’s even some manga in there. In one there’s an article about when “Frankie Comes To Tokyo”, including some photos of concerts there and a picture of the band in which Brian Nash looks particularly relaxed. The other has an article detailing some aspects of the band and an interview with Paul Rutherford.

Music Life – of which I also have two editions – is even bigger than Takarajima. Again, it is a monthly magazine, but the pages are bigger and there are over 300 of them (about half of which are glossy, the rest being standard paper). Unlike Takarajima, this magazines opens and works with the pages as a British magazine would rather than the more traditional (and, in my view, easier to turn) version of Takarajima. Music Life is purely focussed on music – with a range of articles, photographs, interviews, and even a page of stickers. In terms of Frankie, in one, there are some photos taken (by three Japanese photographers) of a concert in London in early 1985. While in the other there is an article – featuring an interview with all the band members – of when Frankie were in Japan (the photos look as though it was taken at the same place as the Takarajima photo shoot).

Compared to the previous two, the monthly magazine rockin’on has noticeably less pages. Although the page size is the same as Music Life, there are only about 120 of them – though at an original retail price of 280 Yen (which even at the current exchange rate is less than £2, and would have been much less back in 1985 (keeping in mind that there’s been almost no inflation in Japan in the intervening time) is very good value (Takarajima and Music Life retailed at 350 Yen and 550 Yen respectively). I only have one copy of rockin’on. It has a fairly even split between paper and glossy pages, with a range of articles, interviews, and pictures. There also seem to be a lot of adverts (which feature, of course, in the other magazines too, but seem disproportionately high in number in this magazine). The magazine predominantly works in the traditional right to left order, although two page articles are sometimes left to right, just to keep readers on their toes! In terms of Frankie – there is an article (the first article in the magazine) that has been translated from the Daily Mirror syndication, which was presumably chosen to be published when to coincide with when Frankie would be in Japan.

The final magazine is FM Shukan, a weekly magazine that retailed at 220 Yen and is read from right to left. I have three editions of this magazine. Although the pages are the same height as Music Life and rockin’on, it is slightly wider. Despite being a weekly magazine it runs to around 130 pages, although the last 30 pages of this primarily details TV and radio listings. FM Shukan seems to be only concerned with music and has a range of articles, interviews and photographs on a combination of paper and glossy pictures. In terms of Frankie, the first one has a short article with photos of a concert in London and confirmation that they will be touring Japan. The second has Frankie on the front cover (most of the band look a bit jet-lagged or, at least, worn out) as well as an article including interviews and photos. This includes a list of the most popular questions which readers wanted to ask the band and the subsequent answers – some things for my book here! The final edition is from 1986 and the part on Frankie relates to the release of their second album, Liverpool, in a section called ‘Big Star’. It includes a large picture of the band in concert with the chorus of Rage Hard included – I mention this purely because as I write this, coincidentally, Rage Hard has started playing on my music system (I don’t only listen to Frankie, I promise).

Other than the few lyrics mentioned above, compared to British pop music magazines, the one thing that stands out from all four Japanese magazines, appears to be a lack of song lyrics. I’ll need to go through in more detail at some point and double check – but I didn’t spot any. But I wasn’t expecting to. One of the features of Japanese music releases is that they will contain the lyrics on the cover or an inlay card – that these are included in Japanese versions of non-Japanese acts’ releases is one of the reasons why (a) it takes them longer to be released, (b) they are more expensive, and (c) they become collectables (even for those who can’t read the Japanese translations).

In relation to my earlier comment about other groups – I haven’t spotted, through a quick skim, the groups that I mentioned, but Strawberry Switchblade did seem to appear in a few issues. Somehow I am not surprised that they were (relatively) popular in Japan!

Anyway, this research will be continuing for at least a few more months. In the meantime, I would be keen to hear from people who can tell me more about the popularity of Western pop music in Japan and the role that magazines such as these played.

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