On the New Japanese Tokion

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I am not sure any single magazine has seen so many reincarnations in the last few years than Tokion. Started in 1996 by two Americans living in Japan — Lucas Badtke-Berkow and Adam Glickman — the bilingual magazine went from being an oversized, overgrown zine primarily covering the Japanese cultural explosion of the late ’90s to being a glossy “national geographic for the pop culture generation.”

The interpretation of the latter statement became a point of contention between the two founders once Adam moved to L.A. to publish the magazine in America: Lucas and the Japan team started moving more and more into “soft” themes like animals and travel, where Adam’s interest lay more in the burgeoning street culture and graffiti art scenes. Once Tokion U.S. trucked the whole operation to the Lower East Side in New York, the focus mismatch was so great as to cause formal dissolution. For a couple of issues in 2001, there were two Tokions with completely different content published on opposite sides of the world.

Then the Japan-based Tokion morphed into Paper Sky — a travel-culture magazine only published in Japan. Tokion in the U.S. became more and more engulfed in the excitement of post-’01 “Downtown New York” and thematically moved away from Japan. As an editor and writer there at the time, my job was to do the token Japan article every issue to keep a bit of the old spirit alive. But in general, we were having trouble finding a steady stream of new artists and creators coming out of Japan. From what we heard across the sea, the cultural wave of the late ’90s had reached its peak and new things still seemed to be radiating from the already famous. Tokion (U.S.) eventually got rid of the Japanese text to make more room for articles and look more proper to distributors. This was a difficult decision: Even though no one actually read the Japanese text, most of the readers liked seeing it on the page.

In 2003 things got confusing again as Tokion (U.S.) opened Tokion Japan in Japan using a lot of the original Tokion staff who did not fly over to Paper Sky. For the most part, the new magazine was just a direct translation of the American version with some inconspicuous local features. Then last year, the rights to Tokion Japan were sold to Infas Publishing, making it a sister publication to Studio Voice and Ryuukou Tsuushin. Then in a surprise move, Adam Glickman sold the American Tokion to another company, meaning that both Tokions are presently owned by separate parties who have little to nothing to do with the original founders. Quite a testament to the original brand image that other people would come in and want to continue on the legacy of what is basically a niche title.

As the American version dropped beloved design guru Deanne Cheuk‘s revolutionary layout and focused more and more on mainstream Western creators, the content no longer had much obvious appeal to Japanese readers. Now free from the chains of history, Infas has decided to scrap the original template for Tokion Japan and begin again. So debuting last Saturday: the first issue of the all new Tokion Japan.

Old Tokion purists will no doubt question the whole operation from the start: These are not the original “Tokion” people behind the magazine. But I am quite intrigued by the gust of fresh air. In fact, the new magazine seems to hark back to the old spirit behind the first issues — a group of youngsters bringing a distinctly individual editorial eye to the world around them. The new voice of Tokion is French Tokyo-resident Cyril Duval, who acts as both Fashion Director and mascot model. Having the staff on the cover of the magazine may strike some as being a bit narcissistic, but Lucas B-B could almost be credited with starting the tactic back with his ubiquitous appearances in the early issues.

Overall, the content seems to focus on high-fashion, artsy sides of consumer and cultural life — half-fashionista catalog, half-profiles, and half-fashion spreads (You got a problem with 3/2?). In fact, the new magazine lacks the straight interview style of past Tokions (although they include some translations of the latest Tokion U.S. content in a little booklet). Another fun feature is a close-up on luxury items from LV, Gucci, and all the other usual suspects — but Cyril has chosen the most extravagant and ridiculous goods from these brands’ collections and displayed each item individually upon the page in an ironic celebration of luxury’s gratuitous existence.

I find it interesting how non-informative the magazine is — unlike oppressive monthly art bible Studio Voice, the new Tokion goes down the Western media route and teaches you very little about how to be “in” yourself.

The cover story is on bag designer Asa. He is half-Japanese, raised in Woodstock, NY, but now lives in Tokyo. The next issue will apparently focus on OK Fred‘s Audrey and Yoshi, and in general, the magazine seems to be interested in exploring and exposing Tokyo’s “international scene” represented in the word “glocal” (global + local).

This intention strikes me as a big departure from the original magazine. Lucas-era Tokion was about two Americans in the middle of a Japanese underground explosion, raising flags of solidarity with Nigo and Cornelius in celebration of the small scene they found themselves embroiled in. Eventually, they helped export this culture to the rest of the world by being some of the first to translate it over to English and place the creators’ faces at every Tower Records from Berkeley to Providence. Lucas and Adam did not become heralds of their respective scene because they “got there first” as much as they got there at all. In the mid ’90s, foreigners living in Tokyo were mostly leftovers from the heady finance days of the ’80s, and very few had any interest in the local pop culture. Lucas and Adam were the godfathers of an entire generation who grew up respecting (non-anime) Japanese culture as internationally relevant, and now, almost anyone living in Tokyo for these cultural reasons lives in their wake.

The new Tokion is not so much about this messianic mission of exporting Japanese cool, but looking at the local culture arising from the contemporary mix between foreigners and Japanese. In some ways, the magazine could be seen as a report on “what happened in the 21st century” after the initial Tokion project succeeded. My only concern is whether “we foreign Tokyo residents” are actually so interesting or dynamic to warrant such coverage. Tokion Japan does not ignore Japanese creators to solely focus on the ex-pat fashion world, but the latter may end up providing a baseline view of the “glocal” culture. I tend to forget how much things have changed since the days when “foreigner in Japan” automatically meant “Gas Panic, Hiroo, English teaching,” and I should be authentically pleased with the character of foreigners here now: interested in mole-like submersion into the soil, trying to pick up Japanese as the “universal standard” of local communication. But I still get hung up on the “white skin privilege” — that we foreigners tend to make good magazine fodder not because of our skills but because of our visual association with the locus of pop cultural creation and decision-making in the West. (Hip hop has extended this privilege to those of African heritage, but any brown and yellow shades of skin originating from less rich countries still remain in “case by case” limbo.) Are Europeans and Americans being featured because we are actually interesting or because we resemble the interesting type who are forging into new directions overseas?

But readers are not dumb, and the success of Tokion Japan will eventually depend upon how interesting Tokyo inter-racial, inter-national “glocal” culture actually is. But, hey, if Yoshi and Audrey are the prototypes for a new Japan and a new Tokion, then count me in.

Update: This version of Tokion Japan folded, only to be resurrected as a different Tokion Japan at INFAS which seems to come out randomly if at all. Meanwhile in the U.S., Nylon Holdings bought the American Tokion license in early 2009 and then renamed it Factory in late 2010.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
September 18, 2006

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

33 Responses

  1. LSHP Says:

    Well done. I’d live it all over again.

    Tokion still contributes to culture albeit not between the pages of some glossy rag anymore. Step back and take a look at what every Tokion veteran has become. Everyone is still pushing culture. But differently and at another level. Thank Adam and Lucas for that too. The kids are all grown up now. Go figure.

  2. digiki Says:

    some comments here too.

  3. Momus Says:

    I find it interesting how non-informative the magazine is – unlike oppressive monthly art bible Studio Voice, the new Tokion goes down the Western route and teaches you very little about how to be “in” yourself.

    It’s funny how information is “oppression” when it’s in Studio Voice (a magazine you apparently don’t want to endorse) and “liberation” when it’s in Cyzo (a magazine you apparently do).

  4. marxy Says:

    Is there only one kind of information?

    What I dislike about Studio Voice – which is probably a consequence of the format more than the intention – is the general feeling of “this is the information required to be ‘into’ the subject at hand.” Or reversely, the idea that this info is not something to be gained over a lifetime of interest and study and self-research, but to be digested here and now, forever hold your peace. Kind of a blunt blow of what the Plastics called “Too Much Information.” To me anyway.

  5. Digiki Says:

    Plastics !!!!
    ok, Im overexcited with that band.

  6. Damhave Says:

    Dude, I’m coming to tokyo next week..this is the only way i knew to get in touch with you..so hit me up..and we’ll kick it… matthewdamhave@hotmail.com.. hope to see you..speak about new projects and shit.

  7. alin Says:

    Tokion was an amazing mag until about the issue where the crew travels around the country, a very old one indeed. After that one would wish the`d stop the farce and call themself Nylon japan, Sped Tribes or something more appropriate. Infas can`t do any damage to tokion.
    (I didn`t know Deanne had become a guru. I thought she was a big fan of design guru david carson and among the first 30 or so % in the late 20th century vector graphic armageddon.)

  8. alin Says:

    and i really wish zyappu magazine had kept it`s momentum

  9. Momus Says:

    I’m interested in the subtle critique Marxy is making of the new Tokion here. I’m assuming there’s a touch of critique in the stuff about white skin privilege and wondering just how interesting the average Japanese reader is going to find the doings of Audrey and Yoshi.

    But I think the racial part of that critique is not key. What’s key is the cliquey “me and my friends” part. Now, Matthew Damhave, who leaves a message a couple of lines above mine here, has recently set up a New York magazine which is very much a “me and my friends” magazine (his friends are NY hipsters like Dash Snow).

    There’s no racial element there. But what is very much there is the whole idea of “me and my friends” being exemplary because other people are less interesting, even to other people themselves. This is where the whole idea gets sketchy. Audrey was skating on thin ice when she told Japan Times last week:

    “When we take our daughter Liliyo to parties, like the opening of an exhibition or shop, and it’s full of people that are unbelievably dull, I see some of them really change when looking at Liliyo’s smile.”

    I think you can see the same pattern there. My people are interesting, yours are dull. This gets problematical when you’re actually trying to sell a product to the people you think are dull. That problem then gets compounded when there’s also a racial divide between the “interesting” and the “dull”. I think Japanese readers will find this, as Marxy seems to be implying rather more politely than I am, distasteful. It’s not the 80s any more.

  10. Momus Says:

    It’s not the 80s any more.

    And I think what I mean by this is that it’s Japan’s turn to be narcissistic. We’ve all noticed it. Japan loves itself right now. And a result of that is that it wants less desperately than it did in the past to be someone or something else, or to define itself willingly (and masochistically) as “dull”.

  11. Zoey Says:

    Dear Marxy,
    Your blog is always so interesting, and it’s in my favorites. Thanks so much for your insight and humor.
    I didn’t know you used to work for Tokion… Are you in touch with Daisuke Nishimura? If so, could you ask him to e-mail his old roommate, Zoey?
    There’s something I’m particularly interested in, and I wonder if you have any info on it. Punk-type ikebana using found objects (not necessarily flowers)– Do you know the word for this movement? Daisuke had at least one friend involved in it. I’d be very grateful for any info you or anyone could give me.

  12. marxy Says:

    We’ve all noticed it. Japan loves itself right now.

    I think we are talking about the same thing but using different language.

    To clarify my point, there has always been a contingent of foreigners living in Japan who believe whatever they were doing is more important than what the locals were doing, when in fact, foreigners were living in a (vastly uncooler) parallel society without access to the exclusive Japanese scene. My question is whether these two scenes have actually merged, and if there is enough interplay at the moment to warrant at least looking into the idea. Can they show that this “international scene” in Tokyo is real and vital and have it play out for the whole life of the magazine? We’ll have to wait and see.

    What’s key is the cliquey “me and my friends” part.

    But this is all magazines and media, including my blog and your blog. Magazines just seem much more convincing. What I find distasteful in general is when this “my friends are cooler than you” is used to push consumption through creating insecurity and false aspiration.

    Audrey was skating on thin ice when she told Japan Times last week

    She was interviewed in a standard way, and it was complied into that format. I can understand why that sounded better in context than out of context.

  13. marxy Says:

    But I think the racial part of that critique is not key.

    I still think that all the “80s-ness” of uncritically worshipping the West does have a visual trigger in white skin.

  14. Momus Says:

    Well, it doesn’t seem to be working for the white jet trash you see selling jewelry on Omote Sando, trying to raise the plane fare to get back to Sydney. The Japanese walk right past without a glance.

  15. marxy Says:

    They are too obvious in their occupations. I thought most of those jewlery hawkers were Israeli.

    The taller ones probably still get scouted to be models, no?

  16. Chris_B Says:

    AFAIK the jewlery hawkers work for the Israli mafia who are of course in league with the yakuza.

    But back on topic, m&M are in rare good form here. I knew nothing about the subject before and am finding this to be qute educational. I’m going to guess that once again I never was the target audience for any of this stuff so I can be completely detatched reading this thread.

  17. Mulboyne Says:

    Marxy wrote: “Lucas and Adam did not become heralds of their respective scene because they “got there first” as much as they got there at all. In the mid 90s, foreigners living in Tokyo were mostly leftovers from the heady finance days of the 80s, and very few had any interest in the local pop culture.”

    I don’t know Tokion well enough to comment on how well they did in promoting the scene but, reading your account, I’ve got a good deal of respect for what they achieved.

    I don’t agree, though, with your picture of Tokyo in the mid-90s as a place full of foreign cultural philistines (however you might define them) compared with today. There was enormous new overseas interest in Japanese pop culture during the bubble and if you had any claim to be a Japan hand then you needed to know about it. The foreign commentators who acted as conduits for that interest didn’t disappear: they were also more likely to stay in Japan than the finance guys who saw a last big clear out after the Kobe earthquake and Aum underground attack. They did get older, though.

  18. check Says:

    Although mostly oblivious to the topic at hand, I would concur that Marxy’s (indirect) question seems to be spot-on, in this situation.

    Can Tokion sell international as interesting to the local?

  19. marxy Says:

    I don’t agree, though, with your picture of Tokyo in the mid-90s as a place full of foreign cultural philistines (however you might define them) compared with today.

    I wasn’t here at the time but they don’t seem to have left much of a mark.

  20. Momus Says:

    I cover this same story (quoting liberally from Marxy’s more authoritative account) on Click Opera today.

    The difference in our accounts seems to be that Marxy feels a certain amount of “white man’s guilt” about attention to Japan-based foreigners in Japanese-language magazines, whereas I see a sort of synthetic “third culture” emerging, a mukokuseki diaspora in which Japanese and foreigners work — and make beige babies — together.

    The new Tokion might do well as a standard-bearer for this “third culture”, a culture which makes “white man’s guilt” irrelevant (because nobody’s going to stay white long in the melting pot) and can also break down the increasing provincialism of Japan.

    The question does remain, though, whether there are enough of these diasporans to keep a magazine going, and whether there’s an untapped pool of interest from domestic Japanese in becoming mukokuseki — in other words, is becoming stateless really something anyone other than the odd black sheep art student actually aspires to these days?

    The other big question is, will the J-diaspora implode because of the rivalries and backstabbing we know so well from all the episodes of GAIJIN ROYALE we’ve watched?

  21. check Says:

    Are these individuals really without nationality…?

    Or do they simply strive to appear as such?

    Everyone wants to feel special…

  22. Momus Says:

    Are these individuals really without nationality…?

    Well, “synthetic third culture” is perhaps a better term than “mukokuseki”, which implies statelessness. The third culture is the sum of two cultures. It can be inside Japan or outside it (hence the “diaspora” part), and it can contain Japanese and non-Japanese in pretty much any combination. Nobody is stripped of their nationality, but the “thesis” of the West and the “antithesis” of Japan produce a “synthesis” which is more than the sum of its parts, almost a new, portable state (a state of mind).

    I spent today with a Japanese friend. We ate at a Japanese deli (leafing through Fudge’s “World Snap” special — a collection of recognizably Japanese photos of shop assistants in Milan, Paris and London), watched a DVD of some Tujiko Noriko videos made by a German film-maker, then visited a record / book store on my street run by a German who specializes in selling the most obscure Japanese indie label CDs and underground mangas.

    We did all this in Germany, not Japan. We spent most of the day in a place that was both German and Japanese, and yet something more than either of them: that agreeable, synthetic place, the Japanese diaspora.

  23. nate Says:

    I think momus is projecting his own mukokuseki ambitions on the rest of us, despite the fact that he wears his “not japan” nationality more proudly than any of us on the rare occasions he’s here.

    anyway…some of the people around here certainly have mixi memberships. Anyone care to share an invite with me? I have a yahoo.com address: notnato

  24. mexist Says:

    Yeah they seemed to get glossier every year. The magazine feels pretty devoid of new content or ideas now, just more interviews withpop culture icons.

    Did anyone ever follow colors magazine? I used to love that magazine, but as soon as Tibor Kalman departed, the same thing happened. I guess it goes to show how important it is for the editors to really have a vision for the publication. Putting filler articles and beauty shots just dilutes what it was.

    This dutch magazine Dot Dot Dot has pretty good content on visual culture, sans the trends of the moment.

    http://www.dot-dot-dot.nl/

  25. Momus Says:

    I second that emotion! (And not just because they published my “Metaphysical Masochism of the Capitalist Creative” essay!)

  26. marxy Says:

    a collection of recognizably Japanese photos of shop assistants in Milan, Paris and London

    Japan is the only place where brand authority extends to the clerks – or at least, they started it.

  27. fabian Says:

    I dunno, the mag didnt do it for me. Even though its in Japanese I got a sense of it being a “Metropolis” magazine for the fashion obsessed. (Vanity, Casba) I somehow think it will be ignored by the municipal crowd.

    While having the obligatory mentions/shots of Grafitti, Colette,Bless,Kaws,etc.. It lacks the duende of the original spirit of Tokion. (how could it capture it though, really?)
    Also, I pray to the lord that you are just exaggerating about Cyril being the mascot model of the mag. All we need is need is another version of LEON or UOMO etc..

    Its always embarassing to me when foreign designers/artists succumb to the temptation of having their ego stroked in magazines here. The Japanese magazine editors and stylists sometimes are responsible for this, but in this case its self applied.
    At first glance I thought the article on Asa was a model shoot, (model posing, zooloander expressions etc..) not a story on a creative accessory designer living in Japan. (and please tell me Cyril can really skateboard… please….)

    Is it just me, or do you think they would direct the story the same way for a European or American magazine, or is it just because its here in Japan?

    -F

  28. marxy Says:

    Also, I pray to the lord that you are just exaggerating about Cyril being the mascot model of the mag. All we need is need is another version of LEON or UOMO etc..

    All magazines are moving towards the 専属モデル “mascot model” model, thanks to the wild success of Can Cam. For some of these magazines – like Leon – the “brand” and reader aspiration happens to be tied into foreign men. Maybe the next issue of Tokion will be different, but it’s actually pretty low-level at the moment when compared to a lot of purely domestic magazines.

    I got a sense of it being a “Metropolis” magazine for the fashion obsessed. (Vanity, Casba)

    Here is the dilemma: can a Japan-based magazine write about foreigners in Japan without being in the same class as Metropolis? My gut bias would say “no,” but I do hope for a time when this is not true. When foreigners are just another possible pool of local talent, not “token” add-ons.

  29. item idem Says:

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (September 16th, 2006)

    Since the heat of summer 2004, Loveless, located in Omotesando ” Champs Elysees ” in Tokyo ( in front of the 4ever post-legendary Comme des Garcons retail outlet by Future Systems X Kawakubo Rei ), has been sharping the edges of contemporary retail culture & window display installations: His youngster-type-like creative director Yuichi Yoshii is considered & observed, as one of the main opinion leaders in japan, in edgy terms of fashion selection & art direction, in the field of retail creativity.

    Asked by Tokion magazine to develop an art-related installation project for the launch of its renewal issue in Japan, item idem™ strikes again the art & retail world, and creates the first ” The Wrong Office: Loveless Lifemore “:
    Following Chris Burden 70’s earliest retainment & isolation performances, & reactivating its own illustrious conceptual simulation & relocation program of artistic, retail, & social structures called Caniche Courage™ ( http://www.canichecourage.com ), item idem™ will install, interpret, & relocate the structural appearance & functional mode of an austere office working environment inside the glass box window of one the highest representative symbol of worlwide fashion retail culture.

    ” The Wrong Office: Loveless Lifemore “:
    7 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a temperature reaching 40 Celsius degrees
    Enduring the constant curious, intrigued, & intrusive visitors’ gaze
    Simply armed with a fan, a coffee machine, & a dart game
    item idem™, as an in-vitro experience of ” the life and work of a fashion director for Tokion magazine “,
    will work & collaborate with his coworkers ( located in their own office space )
    reply to emails & develop contacts with third-part partners ( brands, photographers, stylists, artists, curators, … ) “in order to keep up with the good work ! ”
    conduct live meetings inside his new temporary office
    publish daily briefs about Tokion’s development
    welcome job interview appliers
    and finally offer his person to any question, request, solicitation coming from his own work/network environment, but also from unexpected visitors.

    Inaugurating the rise of office minimal melancholic aesthetical austerity, as a creative conceptual development project for one of the most glamourous location ever, item idem™, once again, regenerates frozen concepts & attitudes towards retail spaces’ design & supposed radical artistic involvements. yo !

    Come enjoy a cup of instant coffee at The Wrong Office: Loveless Lifemore, experience another lovely proof of Relational Aesthetics, as an art & life improvement source, apply now for a job at Tokion and meet in person its fashion director,
    all inquiries should now be addressed to:

    ————–
    Cyril Duval
    Tokion fashion director

    ” The Wrong Office ”
    c/o LOVELESS shop
    3-17-11 Minami aoyama
    Minato-ku Tokyo 107-0062 JAPAN

    Tel: +81 (0) 90 1602 6884
    Email: cyril@infaspub.co.jp
    ————————————-
    ” The Wrong Office: Loveless Lifemore ”
    September 16th to September 23rd, 2006
    episode V: The poodle ( always ) strikes back.
    ————————————————————-

  30. fabian Says:

    Chris Bovill and John Allison created the same window in 2003 for Selfridges. For a period of three weeks they conducted meetings, interviews, and worked on projects while in public view. They actually won an award for it in Creative Review Magazine.

    “Asked by Tokion magazine to develop an art-related installation project for the launch of its renewal issue in Japan, item idem™ strikes again the art & retail world, and creates the first ” The Wrong Office: Loveless Lifemore “:”

    Nothing wrong with some self-promotion I guess, but isnt Cyril involved with item idem?

    -F

  31. item idem Says:

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (April 27th, 2006)

    The Wrong Store ( 22 m2 & 3 m3 of retail excitement )
    a guerilla project by item idem™.
    Opens April 27th.
    Closes May, 27th.
    8 rue Charlot
    75003 Paris
    Exclusive selection of products & editions from Anna Lena, Bernhard Willhelm, colette, Grocery Storm, Surface to Air, Tobias Wong.
    ReFlux editions. Courtesy of Barbara Moore, Bound & Unbound, NYC.
    Packaging by colette. limited repackaged edition by item idem™.
    Exclusive Warhol Gift Wrap .
    Visual Merchandising by item idem™.
    —————-

  32. marxy Says:

    Vanity

    I talked to Cyril last night, and I should mention that he is not the creative director nor the contents editor – just the fashion director.

  33. martymartini Says:

    In the space of two posts, this Cyril managed to come off as quite a poseur, looking at his picture confirmed this thought.