Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2010

Japan’s fashion mags have been hit hard in recent years. As consumers tightened their designer belts and spent less on apparel, monthlies that had traditionally served as shopping guides suddenly became less relevant. However, the industry is bouncing back, lowering cover prices, collaborating with popular brands to include furoku (freebies) such as one-off canvas bags, and giving readers sartorial inspiration rather than a list of must-buy items. It’s still a huge market, with the top 45 magazines enjoying a combined monthly circulation of 7.2 million copies. But with so many choices, where should the style-conscious start? Metropolis takes a look at the more interesting publications…


The Reality Show

Genre: High fashion
Published: Biannually
Price: ¥2,100

Finally—an intelligent, bilingual magazine celebrating the world of Japanese fashion! Recently founded by Tokyo-based fashion writer and consultant Tiffany Godoy and designer Tomoyuki Yonezu, The Reality Show is a beautifully printed oversized journal—think of it as a lavish coffee table book published in installments. The inaugural issue features local style icons such as supermodel Ai Tominaga and DJ Mademoiselle Yulia in outfits they devised themselves, all presented in sleek black-and-white photography.


So-en

Genre: High fashion, fashion industry
Published: 28th of each month
Price: ¥580

So-en boasts an impeccable pedigree: founded in 1936 by Bunka Fashion College, which counts the likes of Nigo and Yohji Yamamoto as alumni, it’s Japan’s oldest fashion magazine. While many publications target extremely narrow demographics, So-en is for anyone with an interest in Japanese and international fashion as an industry or culture. The current issue includes profiles of top fashion schools in New York and a spread by photographer Shunya Arai featuring women’s clothes inspired by Victorian gentlemen’s styles, à la Sherlock Holmes.


Fruits

Genre: Street
Published: 23rd of each month
Price: ¥540

Fruits is one of Japan’s best-known fashion mags overseas, thanks in large part to its simple and consistent format. Each page features a full body shot of a fashion-forward girl, or occasionally a couple, with minimal text that details the brand of each piece in her ensemble. Sister publications Tune and Street cover Japanese guys and fashionistas in other major cities around the world, respectively.


WWD for Japan

Genre: High fashion, fashion industry
Published: Every Monday
Price: ¥300

While many Japanese fashion mags essentially function as coordination guides, giving readers step-by-step instructions on how to put together a certain look, Women’s Wear Daily for Japan is more about the business and industry behind the finished product. Coverage tends to focus on the major fashion houses of London, Paris and Milan, although Japanese brands are included when deemed newsworthy. The listings of upcoming fashion events are valuable, but this text-heavy journal will be of limited use to kanji-averse readers.


SWAK (Sealed With A Kiss)

Genre: Ladies
Published: Quarterly
Price: Price varies, current issue ¥300

Founded last year by famed art photographer Mika Ninagawa, SWAK focuses on “real clothes” and casual apparel for young women, while also introducing beauty and wellness products and services. Ninagawa serves as the art director and regularly contributes photography, making for a visually sumptuous offering that can be enjoyed without reading a word of Japanese. The current issue includes a photo spread of Erika Sawajiri shot by Ninagawa in Australia’s Byron Bay, and a feature dissecting the style of international celebs like Katie Holmes and Jessica Alba.


Harajuku La Donna

Genre: Ladies
Published: Quarterly
Price: ¥480

Now in its second issue, the recently launched Harajuku La Donna is yet another urahara (backstreet Harajuku) bible. While there are plenty of street snaps alongside the photo spreads, the styles are more mature and less outré than the ones featured in publications like Fruits, with looks that are affordable and easy to pull off. The uninitiated will also appreciate the photo-illustrated shop maps of Harajuku.


Fudge & Men’s Fudge

Genre: Ladies & men’s
Published: 12th of each month (Fudge); 24th of each month (Men’s Fudge)
Price: ¥580

Fudge attempts to break dress-by-numbers syndrome by encouraging readers to formulate their own style. Each issue introduces a wide variety of Japanese and international brands, and features street snaps shot in London, New York, Paris and Milan, rather than the same well-trodden patch of Harajuku. The approach has proved a success: Fudge is now in its seventh year, and Men’s Fudge was launched two years ago—quite an achievement in a fickle market where many publications fold almost as soon as they’ve started.