Exclusive Interview: Atsushi Matsushima of Lightning Magazine, Japan

Ei Publishing is a massive operation in Japan. Ei is the umbrella company for many popular magazines including Lightning (best known outside Japan), 2nd, and their newest magazine launched earlier this year, Clutch. Alongside these titles sit publications dedicated to golf (EVEN), surfing (Surftrip Journal), cycling (Bicycle Plus, Bicycle Club), and of course motorcycling (Club Harley, Riders Club, Ducati Magazine). The company publishes over 36 magazines per year and puts out over 400 magazines in total.

Atsushi Matsushima has been with Lightning for well over 10 years and is a passionate and well known figure in the denim and casualwear market in both Japan and worldwide. He can count players such as Rin Tanaka, Nigel CabournChristophe Loiron, and Zip Stevenson as some of his international friends and has been the driving force behind establishing the Japanese denim scene and promoting its brands to the world. Some would even say that he is the reason denim heads have become familiar with Japanese brands such as Momotaro, Full Count, and Pure Blue Japan. His launch of the Denim Byers Guide in Lightning has certainly helped obsessives gain more information on little-known brands tucked away in the areas of Kojima and Okayama.

We traveled to the Lightning offices last week to explore Atsushi’s jam-packed office (full of overflowing shoe racks, piles of denim, and rails of clothes), talk about his love for vintage, casualwear, and denim, and hear his thoughts on the industry both in Japan and worldwide.

When did Lightning come about?

Lightning came about in 1997 and was under a different publisher before being taken on by A Publishing. I have been with Lightning since 1999. Beforehand, I worked at a different publishing company working on a racehorse magazine. Denim and vintage have been my hobbies since high school, but at that time vintage was really big, very popular, and expensive. I was the first assistant editor at Lightning and later became editor. Then in 2006, I started 2nd Magazine.

Tell us about 2nd Magazine.

Lightning is more lifestyle and 2nd is predominantly fashion, with  a younger vibe too. It wasn’t intended to be younger, but it has turned out that way.

How do you think that Japanese magazines differ from American and Euro publications?

Japanese magazines are more detailed with more product photos and a better representation of the garment details. Japanese are generally more interested in the details and we try to respect that. But even in Japan we think that what Lightning and 2nd do is more detailed than other Japanese mags. I’ve also noticed a few other European  magazines emerging with more of that vibe, specifically Men’s File.

Magazines like Lightning have recently become more popular and cool outside of Japan and are stocked in stores such as Self Edge in the US and Present in London. Why do you think that is?

Japanese magazines don’t make as much money from advertising as Western magazines do. This means we have less adverts, more content, and have to focus more on large convenience stores to stock our magazines. Recently, we have been trying to stock our magazines outside of Japan and overseas. With our newest magazine Clutch, released this February, we are aiming to feature more global brands such as Engineered Garments, a London based illustrator, Zip Stevenson, and Christophe Loiron (AKA Mister Freedom). If I feature these guys, word of mouth will spread about Clutch to the people who we know will care. We will not be using Tom Cruise on our cover, as Tom Cruise would not do that! Five years ago the cover would have been Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp, but things have changed!

In Japan, do all the denim brands look after each other? Is there a tight community?

The Japanese denim community was actually first established through Lightning magazine. I went around to all the small denim companies who I liked and admired and featured them in the magazine. Nobody had done that before so gradually a community emerged. We then went a step further and launched our denim issue: The Denim Byers Guide.

Do you think that people are becoming more knowledgeable about denim than they used to be?

Yes, definitely. In our Denim Byers Guide issues, we list all the details of the jean including the place the fabric was woven, where the jean was made, the detailed measurements, and whether it was a lefthand twill. When we did all this, shops’ staff started using the magazine as a guide to help them actually sell the jean. So it grew from being a buyer’s guide to a seller’s guide too! The shops’ staff would have the guide at their stores, customers would see the magazine, and then want to buy it for themselves. It benefitted everyone: the customer, the seller, the brand, and us.

You have a strong passion for denim, so what are your favorite denim brands?

Okay, this is a hard question. I love so many denim brands for so many different reasons so picking out just a few doesn’t mean I dislike the others. For me, I have things I look for in a brand. I go for cleaner darker denim that keeps its color longer. I go for cuts and fits that make my legs look longer, so for silhouette I would go with Ferrels. For a vintage look, Warehouse does the best replica. I like Japanese Evisu, but not so much the American or European Evisu. I really respect the Evisu designer in Japan. Currently, Stevenson is the brand I wear the most. I like the pocket shapes and detailing. I also really respect Nigel Cabourn; the jeans I am wearing right now are cotton linen by Nigel Cabourn. I bought so many garments from him in Berlin – boots, jeans, two jackets, two knit vest, bags, and more. He is a very good salesman! He makes you try everything on and says it looks amazing!

How many pairs of jeans do you own?

Actually not so many, maybe 50.

Tell me about the Inazuma festival.

We started Inazuma festival eight years ago, simply because we wanted to meet our readers. We wanted to provide an event for readers to connect with the magazine and each other and to see what kinds of people were interested in our content. It’s in Odiba, just outside Tokyo. Earlier this year, we collaborated with the people of Kojima and held an event down there to celebrate and support the area of Okayama and Kojima. But the annual event in Odiba is really huge now, with over 20,000 visitors attending the festival. It is happening in November and we’re really excited about it.

Do you think the amount of denim heads is growing?

As far as Japan is concerned, I think we have reached our limit with denim enthusiasts. There are so many here, but I think it is definitely growing in America and Europe. There has been so much talk about Japanese denim and I think it is shifting now over to “Made in America” denim (Roy, Telleson, Raleigh). I am very interested to see how that will go and if that industry will grow. Japanese makers really concentrate on the details (buttons, pockets, branding). The denim brands in America are more reserved in their use of detailing, but they are still doing something very interesting and artisanal.

Anything else you want to add on the subject of denim?

Yes actually, the business in Kojima is going downhill and it’s a real shame. I want to try to bring awareness to that area and help these traditional denim manufacturers, mills, and brands survive. This is just a small portion of the business. The fact that women don’t wear nearly as much denim as they used to is really effecting the market. So to help the economy in Kojima, women need to wear more denim!

Come on ladies, you heard the man!

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