Do you read print magazines anymore? These days we seem to hear a lot about famous magazine after famous magazine folding. PingMag is, of course, online but it’s also a magazine of sorts. The internet has radically changed our lifestyle and this includes a drift away from reading magazines. Do we need them in our lives today?
There is no easy solution to this. It might prove instructive, then, to go back to the origins of magazines and see how things all began.
With this in mind, PingMag has collected together some magazines from the past that blazed a path through Japanese media history. Magazines come in all shapes and sizes, so this time we’ve narrowed it down to just women’s magazines. It goes without saying that women are very sensitive to fashions. What were they looking for back when magazines first came about? We tried to find out.
Meiji: The Dawn of Magazines
To unravel the history of magazines in Japan we have to go back to the Meiji period (1868-1912). At first the idea of the magazine was to be educational material for intellectual readers, sharing theories and doctrines on lofty topics. This led to the birth of magazines that dealt with literature, such as philosophical and political novels. Magazines in the early period were restricted to more learned readers, and weren’t bought by regular consumers like today. In the same way, women’s magazines were initially tools for “enlightening” women, who were yet to receive the right to vote. Later the format came to be accepted by mainstream society, and with this came an evolution of the content from not only political or philosophical subjects, to lifestyle and fashion as well.
A large number of the ratherly serene covers feature illustrations, and perhaps we can see here how at the time a magazine was something for the upper classes. Certain publications also liked to make use of Roman alphabet and English lettering.
Articles were high-brow, philosophical and thought-provoking. Fujingaho was slightly lighter, with news-like articles that used photographs. Refinement meant not only learning and knowledge: With fashion and the latest trends you could also be a real “lady”.
Taisho: Becoming a Media for the Masses
As Meiji gave way to the Taisho period (1912-1926), magazines became less something with lofty discourse for an elite and more focused on worldly topics for larger numbers of ordinary readers.
Now we start to see lots of magazines with design to pique readers with more informal tastes. Putting aside the use of illustration in place of photography, we can actually already see the foundations of today’s magazine design emerging. However, article copy as we know it was yet to develop fully and the magazines still retained a sense of the highbrow.
Rather than erudite topics, now there are articles useful for everyday life, along with gossip-style pieces. There is also a notable increase in pages with photographs and color, looking to create a publication that was interesting and fun for average people to read.
Magazines and journals specializing in certain topics, like fashion, also start to appear around now, beginning the war of the magazines!
Early Showa to Pre-War
As we enter the Showa period (1926-1989), women’s magazines had become such an element of everyday life that they could be purchased easily at convenience stores. And as magazines began to become viable in a business sense, so too did advertising in them then also become standard, along with photography and other elements that made magazines fun and enjoyable forms of entertainment. From around this time we also start to see calendars and booklets included with issues as giveaways to increase sales.
There aren’t such big changes to the cover itself. From around this time it had become the norm for the magazine title to be placed over a full-sheet illustration.
The majority of the content is made up of advertisements, serialized novels and gossip-style articles. By this point, the fundamental form of the magazine had become fixed. The content of the articles also compares not too badly with contemporary publications.
Well, that was a whirlwind tour — but we hope you’ll agree that magazines from the past actually already resemble today’s magazines from a surprisingly early stage. And there’s not a world of difference between the topics and themes they deal with and those featured in publications today. While naturally reflecting the background of their respective eras, nonetheless the information that readers want in a magazine seems essentially to always be mostly the same. We haven’t answered the question of what magazines should now do in order to survive the media crisis, but at PingMag we still keep up our own efforts in the media!