After working more than 10 years as editor-in-chief for a successful magazine catering to young, skinny Japanese male “hosts” who entertain female clientele at nightclubs, Norihito Kurashina made a 180-degree shift and launched a magazine targeting plump middle-aged men more like himself.
Touted as Japan’s first “fashion and lifestyle magazine of chubby men, by chubby men and for chubby men,” the first issue of Mr. Babe hit bookstores Oct. 26, with American actor Jack Black featured on the cover.
Smiling sardonically into the camera, Black forms the letter L on each side of his head using the thumb and index fingers of both hands to signify the magazine’s catchphrase — “Love and Large,” a man of big heart and big body is loved — created by the 52-year-old Kurashina who calls himself “a debu (fatso) of 25 years.”
“Our magazine is in no way encouraging people to gain weight and become chubby,” Kurashina says. “Our message is that chubby men can be attractive by making good use of what they have now while being mindful of their health so as not to become obese.”
The magazine, published by Tokyo’s Million Publishing Co., does not use debu, a Japanese word with negative connotations, to describe its readers except within quotations, as its mission is to help pudgy Japanese men rid themselves of the negativity often associated with a big belly.
It aims to boost confidence and convince readers they can lead attractive, successful lives, by offering fashion tips, health and personal grooming advice, and insightful columns on romance and marriage. Good taste in fashion, cleanliness and a bright personality are the keys to chubby men being loved, Kurashina says. “I’m feeling a good response.”
Kurashina was previously the editor-in-chief of Men’s Knuckle, a monthly fashion magazine for teenage and 20-something men working as hosts, whose hair is often dyed and coiffed as if just blown by the wind to partially cover their face.
His move to become editor-in-chief of Mr. Babe seemingly suggests his penchant for another niche magazine, but Kurashina says his new publication has the potential to turn into a big business, as being overweight is no longer a minority issue for Japanese men.
According to the health ministry’s annual National Health and Nutrition Survey, the ratio of Japanese men whose body mass index is 25 or greater, and thus categorized as overweight, stayed around 30 percent between 2003 and 2013, meaning that roughly 1 in 3 Japanese men nowadays is overweight.
The ministry says that the percentage of overweight Japanese men has been gradually rising but that the trend of overweight women — 20.3 percent in 2013 — has been on the decline.
Kurashina attributed the growing population of portly men, especially those in the middle-age brackets, to their long working hours. They go drinking after work to reduce stress and then have no time, money or energy left to train at the gym.
“Naturally, their bellies grow,” Kurashina says.
One of the major problems hefty Japanese males face is a lack of clothing to fit them, whereas tall men have little trouble finding their sizes.
“For instance, I am big horizontally, but not so tall. When I find a T-shirt that suits me horizontally, it is often too long and makes me look like someone wearing his big brother’s T-shirt,” Kurashina says.
He adds that chubby Japanese men often buy clothes simply because the garments fit them, not because their designs match their taste.
“Naturally, the situation gives them lots of stress and makes them less talkative, less sociable and more pessimistic about romance.”
The status quo, combined with Kurashina’s personal experience, made him believe that Mr. Babe can be his “life’s work.” He also sees chances that the apparel market for chubby men, once established, can grow rapidly.
The Japanese fashion scene, meanwhile, has much more to offer larger women, with a number of fashionable plus-sized female clothing brands coming into existence in recent years, including Punyus produced by Naomi Watanabe. The popular comedian, known for her imitation of pop star Beyonce Knowles, is considered a fashion icon for large women.
According to Kurashina, the Japanese apparel industry began in earnest to cater to larger women after the launch in 2013 of La Farfa, Japan’s first fashion magazine for “chubby girls.”
He hopes his magazine will similarly serve as a catalyst for positive change in the fashion lives of pudgy men, giving birth to chic clothing brands for them as well.
“Clothes are the very first items you can use to give a good impression to others. Some people can give a good impression by talking, but you won’t get to the talking stage if your appearance fails to motivate others to talk to you.”
Some 50,000 copies were printed for the first issue of Mr. Babe.
Sales numbers were not yet available, but Kurashina says he would be “more than happy” if half the copies were sold — something which in the past five years or so has served as a barometer of success in Japan where book and magazine sales have plummeted.
The next issue — the launch date of which has not yet been decided — is expected to be published between late February and early March to feature spring and summer fashions.
This is a serious matter for tubby men, says Kurashina, as it requires more creativity to look fashionable in lighter clothing than sporting jackets and coats.