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An Era of Lesser Tastes


I went down to Cow Books in Nakameguro on Saturday night and browsed through some old Popeye magazines from the late ’70s/early ’80s. For as long as I’ve been coming to Japan, Popeye has mainly been a subdued street-fashion magazine, but it was the mag for “city boys” and urban culture back in the day.

I’ve written before on their American college issue, and looking through other issues from that era, I was surprised about how relatively “masculine” the themes were. Instead of pansy dress-up and step-by-step fashion assembly, Popeye‘s editors tackled things such as rugby, American football, water sports, hockey, car racing, stereo equipment, and “cheap” travel. The general sphere of hobbies deviated very little from American influences, and I would guess that this continued up until the mid-1990s. 1981’s Tanaka Yasuo novella Nantonaku, Crystal may suggest an über-snobby consumerism was bubbling up, but these Popeye‘s remind us that guys were into “guy” things until very recently.

I also looked at a huge stack of old American and Canadian postcards, some of which had been actually sent from one person to another before somehow ending up in Japan. All the handwriting from the ’50s and ’60s looks uniformly like my mother and grandmother’s good penmanship, and I found a great one from the early ’60s that read something like:

Dear Ruth, Here on the tour bus, there are only seven other girls named Ruth! Quite a name it was when we were born. Sincerely, Ruth.

I then found a card sent from a father to his family who live(d) about five minutes from my house in Florida. Small world. There was also a “humorous postcard” featuring a horribly racist cartoon about a black couple that has (thankfully) long been out of production.

What’s most striking about this collection is the relative insignificance of the tourist destinations pictures on the postcards: churches in the Midwest, a citrus tower in South Florida, nursing colleges, Dartmouth, small towns in Massachusetts, a shopping mall in Mississippi, St. Louis. We tend to forget that back when stepping aboard an airplane was “jetsetting,” couples would happily vacation in middle Ameirca, and send postcards of the local shopping plaza back home. Look at us now, shooting digital photos of Gibraltar and Angkor Wat and zooming them across electronic channels to our loved ones back home. All our hi-tech info technology may be spiffy, but we aren’t creating huge archives of physical objects. Fifty years from now, what will Cow Books 3000 sell in place of old postcards? Who will read my dispatches and laugh at my provincial travels?

W. David MARX (Marxy)
November 14, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

5 Responses

  1. Carl Says:

    someday, someone will make a fortune turning old blogs into fancy looking hard copies

  2. Momus Says:

    Hey, where’s the “Japan in decline” line gone? Now I don’t have anything to complain about! If you need some suggestions, how about:

    * If Japan declines further, as seems inevitable, Cow Books in Nakameguro will certainly go out of business, and with it a valuable archive of Americana will be lost to the world.

    * If Japan declines further, as seems inevitable, every bookstore in Japan will be a secondhand one, like Cow Books, selling so much Americana that the continental US will be locust-stripped of its own heritage.

  3. Graham Says:

    Rest assured, Momus, that American midwest thrift stores have a limitless supply of old postcards and crap (and lamps!!). Because, as my Japanese friends like to point out, the US is huge. Cow Books and its buddies will never have enough room.

  4. Abiola Lapite Says:

    “What’s most striking about this collection is the relative insignificance of the tourist destinations pictures on the postcards … Dartmouth”
    Hold on there, old chap! “It is, sir, as I have said, a small college, and yet there are those who love it” … (We Hanoverians can be touchy about these things).

  5. marxy Says:

    Ha ha. Dartmouth is no doubt an excellent college, but perhaps not the most grand tourist destintation.