How The Whole Earth Catalog influenced Japanese magazine design

In 1969 a Japanese illustrator and an editor came to New York to report on American youth culture, and they happened on a copy of The Whole Earth Catalog. Neither of the men understood what the book was about but they were intrigued by the design. They brought it back and used the design as an inspiration for books and magazines that in turn influenced the design of magazines and websites around the world.

W. David Marx tells the origin story of Japanese fashion magazines in his book, Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style, and in the latest issue of the excellent newsletter Why Is This Interesting?

The Japanese illustrator Yasuhiko Kobayashi and editor Jirō Ishikawa were in New York in ’69 to do reportage on youth culture, when they came upon the Whole Earth Catalog inside the Doubleday bookstore. Kobayashi couldn’t figure out what the WEC *was* or what it was trying to achieve, but he was intrigued and brought a copy back to Japan. After puzzling over the Whole Earth Catalog for years, Kobayashi and Ishikawa finally decided to make a “Japanese version.” But instead of doing a semi-philosophical manifesto about sustainability and human civilization, they just made theirs a mock mail-order catalog of American-made products: clothing, outdoor supplies, tools etc.

Bolstered by the success of Made in USA, the same team went on to found Popeye Magazine, focused on California youth culture rather than the previous “heavy duty” mountain-y aesthetic. But they again adapted the same catalog design from the Whole Earth Catalog. Popeye’s instant success then made the “catalog magazine” format the hot design convention for all consumer goods magazines.

By the way, I recommend Craig Mod’s podcast interview with W. David Marx about the culture of fashion in Japan.

Leave a Reply