Sophians Talk about Japan and the World

Magazines Have Potential to Create Communities Leading to New Business

Yuki Yamamoto
(Magazine Editor)

Department of Journalism Fostered Social Interest and Ambition

Yuki Yamamoto Magazine Editor

I decided that my future lay in the media when I was still a kid. My father was originally an eager newspaper journalist, but later he was transferred to the non-newspaper division and I saw him going to work at a leisurely hour in the morning and coming home by taxi at night after he'd been out drinking. So I thought working in the media was an easy job where you didn't have to ride on crowded commuter trains [laughs]. Regardless of my motivation, Dad was delighted when I chose to study journalism, and it was my last chance to do something nice for him.

Once I entered the Department of Journalism I found it offered a broad selection of courses covering the entire media field, and we were free to study according to our own inclinations and ideas. Since most of the teachers had front-line experience, we could really live and breathe journalism in our classes. In such an environment students couldn't remain detached from society, and we were all ambitious to achieve something. This atmosphere was the very essence of the Department of Journalism.

Belatedly I got into reading, and in those days nonfiction works by writers like Katsuichi Honda sparked an adolescent sense of justice in me. Driven by a desire to find myself and become something, I gathered some friends for a one-off venture and we wrote our own script and staged a play at the auditorium of Building No. 1.

I don't know if this triggered anything, but quite a few of the cast from the play are still active on stage and screen, including my classmate Chiyo Abe who played the lead and is now an announcer on Fuji Television. At the time I too had my sights set on broadcasting and started studying screenplays and so on.

Ultimately I decided to become an editor, but I gained a huge amount from my four years at Sophia, including the study required to write such stories and inspirations from my friends. I feel like I've applied what I had gained during that time to my work over the years.

Recently I've had more chances to meet Sophia graduates, and that has reminded me that they march to the beat of their own drums. They are really free and independent, and I love that.

One Word That Changed Women's Lives

Yuki Yamamoto Magazine Editor

When I was job-hunting all hopes of working in broadcasting were shuttered, and I joined the publisher Kobunsha. I was assigned to Josei Jishin, a weekly women's magazine, but I had no interest in celebrity gossip and I found the old hands, who were already drunk around lunchtime, a pretty scary bunch [laughs]. To be honest, I soon wanted to quit.

On my first day on the job, my immediate supervisor told me not to come into the office. He didn't care if I went to the movies or gambled, as long as I went out to see the world, identified the trends, and found something newsworthy. It was a shock, but later that became my basic approach to work. As it happens, since then I really never have commuted on crowded trains [laughs].

Despite never having wanted to work in that place originally, after three years in the job I started to find it interesting. Eventually I spent 16 years there, experiencing all kinds of culture shocks and building the core skills I would need to become a true editor.

Naturally I wanted to gain experience of editing magazines in various fields. I moved to Story, a newly launched fashion magazine targeted at women around 40 and older, and was soon appointed chief editor.

A focus group with readers of the magazine triggered a new idea. Once women get past 45, to preserve their youth they spend money on beauty treatments rather than clothes. Fashion is about consumption, but preserving beauty is an investment. I also realized that there were beautiful women who transcended the rigors of age as if they were using magic spells.

This insight prompted me to launch Bi-Story (Beauty story), which was later renamed Bi-ST, and simultaneously to coin the term bi-majo (beauty witch). Encapsulating a phenomenon in a catchphrase is a favorite technique of weekly magazine editors, and this too is where I was able to put my experience to use.

Since this term had the power to change attitudes toward beauty held by women aged around 40, I wanted it to be used not only by readers of the magazine, but also more widely throughout society. To this end, we ran a "People's Bi-majo Contest" each year and gained plenty of media exposure for the winners. Although the term was a registered trademark, we wanted people to use it as freely and widely as possible.

The results surpassed my intentions. Throughout Japan there was a steady rise in the number of bi-majo who wanted to stay young and beautiful forever and enjoy life. I really felt that one word had changed their lives.

Where Magazines Can Beat Digital Media

Yuki Yamamoto Magazine Editor

I hardly need to point out that print media continue to be overwhelmed by the Internet and other forms of digital media. As magazine sales in bookstores fall and advertising revenue shrinks, one title after another is being suspended or discontinued.

In this environment, one thing I am keeping a sharp eye on is "owned media," where a business publishes a magazine at its own expense. If commercial magazines become too idiosyncratic their sales decline, so they all have to be edited in a similar way. Conversely, publications designed to be handed out free give editors more freedom and can enable them to work in sounder, more interesting ways. I believe that if they are not aimed simply at advertising, but rather at communicating a particular culture and creating a network of people who sympathize with it, they can open up new possibilities.

Of course, I also believe that there are some things only commercial magazines can do. In an age when people naturally think information costs nothing, they still make a special trip to the bookstore, pay money, and carry home a heavy bundle of paper. The degree of loyalty required to overcome such double and triple handicaps and get an issue into the hands of the reader is the strength of the magazine medium.

If such readers can be skillfully organized, a community can be created where the members' attributes are clear and each of them takes a positive view of their participation. Even if that community only has around 10,000 members, it can display tremendous power, one of a kind which is not possible in communities of a million or more created by the mega-media.

The club activities I set up for readers of Dress magazine stem from this idea. The magazine offers a lifestyle with a "third place" that is neither work nor home, building a community around that place. I want to link this to business for a new era.

I have a concept of moving away from the magazine in the future and devising a mechanism that coordinates a range of club activities in workplaces and local areas. I can't yet announce details, but if the idea comes to fruition, we will be able to do all kinds of more interesting things than we can at present. Please look forward to my new challenges.

Yuki Yamamoto Magazine Editor
Yuki Yamamoto
Magazine Editor

Graduated from the Sophia University Department of Journalism in 1986. After joining the publisher Kobunsha and working as a weekly magazine editor, became deputy chief editor in conjunction with the launch of Story magazine. Appointed chief editor in 2005. Launched Bi-Story (now Bi-ST) in 2008, acting as chief editor for both titles. Subsequently held the annual "People's Bi-majo Contest," sparking the bi-majo boom. Established gift inc. in September 2013. Launched Dress, a monthly magazine targeting independent women around 40, in April 2013. Currently involved in disseminating information to create a society where women are free to shine.

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