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?