Last week, listening to one of favorite radio shows—KRCW‘s Press Play with Madeline Brand—we heard a piece on a Japanese men’s magazine named Popeye that was celebrating its 40th anniversary. The magazine’s debut issue hit the shelves in Japan in 1976 and it focused nearly all of its pages on California, most specifically Los Angeles.
As reporter Julie Makinen points out in her Press Play spot and her Los Angeles Times piece, Japan in the mid-70s was a far different place than it is now. Far from a trend-setting, hi-tech mecca, the country was still going through struggles and growing pains of all kinds; to most, Los Angeles looked from afar like a blissed-out, care-free paradise full of inexplicable-yet-fascinating cultural trends. As the Popeye‘s original editor—now 86-year-old Yoshihisa Kinameri—told Makinen, “In Los Angeles, people looked happy and cheerful. It was magical; it was like heaven.”
Kinameri sent four of his staffers to southern California to capture that magic and bring it back to Japan and, as Makinen points out, the now re-issued inaugural issue reads like a time capsule that evokes either a wistful nostalgia or kitsch depending on when you were born.
Amongst other topics, the first issue of Popeye—”Magazine for City Boys”—covers such subjects hang-gliding, skate-boarding (along with a “Who is the hottest?” spread), the idyllic and very un-Japanese at the time UCLA campus (complete with dorm room + dining hall visits and a full map of the campus), “Healthy Californians,” sports vans and how to airbrush them for maximum radness, and jogging, along with a detailed spread on how to jog and three spreads full of awesome running shoes of the time—according to Kinameri, “In Japan at the time, students had maybe two kinds of sneakers, and they were cheap and not stylish at all.”
The full first issue of Popeye was printed as it first appeared in 1976 (minus vintage ads being swapped out for a modern sponsor—smart) and is included in the current anniversary issue of Popeye, which takes a much less culture-shocked, very savvy look at Los Angeles and surrounding environs 40 years later, when we’ve both changed so much. And they are very on-point—not only do they feature some of our favorite spots for food in LA (Night + Market Song, Donut Friend, SQRL, Dune), they also feature some of our favorite people—shout-out to Clara from Clara Cakes and her tour of Atwater Village!
Below, some of our favorite moments in the 1976 reprint, followed by Clara, a road trip spread, and a nice illustrated map of Los Angeles in the 2016 anniversary issue.