I just last week returned from a visit to Tokyo, where I did what I always do there: shop for magazines. Despite not paying the magazine shelves a whole lot of attention in Korea, where I live, and practically none at all in America, where I'm from, I can't resist lingering for hours over the ones in Japan, a country whose print publishing industry seems much stronger than that of any other, and whose publications showcase the culture's formidable design sensibility that has only grown more compelling over the centuries.
Will Schofield, who runs the international and historical book design blog 50 Watts, knows this, and he also knows that Japanese design has been making magazine covers interesting since Japan first had magazines to cover. The images here come from two of his posts, Extraordinary early 20th century magazine covers from Japan and 25 Vintage Magazine Covers from Japan. The earlier ones, which he describes as a mixture of "charming children's covers with the creepy modernist covers," come from Bookcover Design in Japan 1910s-40s. "Published in 2005 by PIE Books," writes Schofield, "this incredible book is already out-of-print and becoming hard to find (it was actually hard for me to find and I spend hours per day searching for rare books)."
As for the more recent post, he writes that it "began as a compilation of magazine covers from the website of a Japanese antiquarian dealer. I dug through all 1500 or so images and saved (like a good little digital hoarder) hundreds to feature, though only 8 made the first cut."
Both posts together present a curated collection of nearly 50 mostly prewar Japanese magazine covers, still vivid and of a decidedly high artistic standards these 70 to 103 years later. On my own shopping trip, I picked up an issue of Free & Easy, my favorite men's style magazine published anywhere — its final issue, incidentally, and one whose cover, despite depicting no less an American icon than Dick Tracy, admirably carries this tradition of Japanese magazine art one step further.
For more vintage Japanese magazine covers, see: Extraordinary early 20th century magazine covers from Japan and 25 Vintage Magazine Covers from Japan.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.