I’m guessing that I’m not alone in buying stacks of Japanese language publications. They’re rarely cheap (unless you actually visit Japan, postage or the markup in UK stores can be brutal) and can, unless you stick to your favourite titles and their myriad spinoffs and specials, be a let down once they arrive. But generally, with a mood of all-pervading geekery and a single niche taking up the first chunk of pages, these men’s clothing bibles are a triumph of obsession, covering territory that few western editors would ever dare tread, unless they were looking to bruise their already sensitive circulation. Fortunately, the language of unfiltered nerdery is global and singular. I wait for my Amazon Japan delivery in the knowledge that I’m not going to be able to sit and absorb every word. In fact, I’m probably not going to find a single sentence in there that I can decipher. But I’ll get flawless photography, detail shots, a sense of history—because origin years of a garment will be included— and, as a bonus, there’ll be some excitable captions in English.
If you’re really into the same kind of things as many Japanese consumers—good coats, vintage clobber and things you didn’t know you needed, but are so aesthetically pleasing that they’re necessary—then you’ll always be happy with Lightning, 2nd (Lightning’s younger brother, geared at a younger crowd), Free & Easy, and the tens of other titles that appear each month. ibought magazine takes consumerism to its compelling conclusion with page after page of stuff people bought recently, while GO OUT is the place to see unexpectedly awesome things like big branded GORE-TEX New Eras and costly rucksacks. Sometimes, a cartel of magazine editors unite to create a Whole Earth Catalog style paean to expendable income book stuff called, appropriately, Stuff, with sequels like Stuff Returns. The notion of being able to wander to a 7-11 style store near your house and find a 200 plus page tribute to Americana that examines the minutiae of denim rivets seems otherworldly, yet in many Japanese cities, it’s a norm. Minimal advertising, vast distribution and king-like levels of content means that, to quote Dave Gahan, words are very unnecessary. Every now and again you get stung for 15 quid by buying something completely uninspiring, but you would have blown that on something grass-fed in a bun that didn’t deliver anyway.
The Japanese approach to over analysing and cataloguing sports footwear appeals to me, because it’s a lane of its own that isn’t a youthful preoccupation with six or so silhouettes, nor old man griping over the shape/price/materials/availability, or whatever this month’s moan is. Boon Extra editions from the mid to late 1990s are still my favourite books on the topic, even if the copy could be calling me a bellend for all I know. Japan’s age-old fanaticism for shoes is something that resonates with me. They were up into the high 990s and four digit masterpieces from New Balance before the inevitable slow crawl of hype made the alternative to the bullshit—shoes that are still masterpieces—into another item caught in the bot and queue crossfire. I still feel that some shoes, like the reissue of 1996’s 999 that you only ever seemed to see in Asia, and the MT580, should never have had a release in the western world. We’re not built to appreciate them like we should. We should be observing from afar and making the pilgrimage to bring them back for ourselves and friends with flattened boxes and a not-guilty walk when it comes to NOTHING TO DECLARE.
2nd’s New Balance Book is the third solid NB mook I’ve seen over the years, and while the text is Japanese again, there’s enough imagery of grey suede and nubuck running shoes, factory imagery and history (the 1995 M585 and original M580 from 1992 are useful to see) to make it a worthy pickup. Many will find something new in there and the know-it-all will pick it up anyway because they’re too far gone with this collector thing, and bask in the knowledge that they have the knowledge when it comes to this sprawling, occasionally illogical secret society of numbers on tongues. You’ll probably pay some extra loot to get it, but this is comprehensive enough, despite not trawling some of the rarer releases or delving deep beyond running — like all the other good Japanese publications, it’s best used in tandem with other far eastern records of archive excavation. You could use Google, but it’s so awash with crappy content for content’s sake, and depressingly devoid of all those great little Geocities fan pages, that pricey paper is still your best bet.