Many of Japan’s weekly magazines typically publish double issues from the last week in December in order to give staff some time off. Such issues can easily be identified by logos, banners or trim on their covers that appear in gold, although three magazines — Aera, Sunday Mainichi and Friday — have abstained from the practice this year.

From looking at the magazines’ contents, you’d never have guessed what a crazy year 2020 has been. However, with many station kiosks closed due to the pandemic, I suspect that their newsstand sales and ad revenues almost certainly declined, and it’s to their credit that they’re putting up a brave front for readers. Things certainly can’t be easy.

So, in recognition and appreciation of the magazines whose contents have contributed to this column over the previous 12 months, we’ve included short excerpts from all of their New Year’s issues, in order of their appearance on the newsstands.

Josei Seven (Jan. 7-14) offers sensible health and lifestyle advice for women after turning 60. It includes halting the use of medications to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar; canceling life insurance policies and fixed-term savings accounts; refraining from caring for their husband and grandchildren; and dispensing with use of eye makeup and allowing gray hairs to show.

Meanwhile, a headline in Shukan Gendai (Dec. 26 to Jan. 2) — “If they come to your home, it’s already too late” — seems to indicate that the tax office is going after earnings from web auctions and other online sales. The magazine reported that 1,680 cases in 1,877 audits were found to have failed to report earnings in 2019. Including penalties, their total taxes came to a not-inconsiderable ¥6.5 billion.

One of the unexpected side-effects of working from home, according to Weekly Playboy (Jan. 11), has been more cases of acute lower back strains or, in some cases, slipped discs. Kazuma Ito, a sports trainer, advises readers the proper ways to lift heavy objects and perform stretching exercises to strengthen one’s lower back. “If injured, apply warmth, which promotes circulation and will expedite recovery,” Ito says. “The old treatment method advised against movement, but we now know that this causes the fascia (connective tissue) to stiffen.”

Shukan Taishu (Dec. 28 to Jan. 4) looks at the rush by pharmaceutical companies to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 and asks how soon vaccinations will begin in Japan. A journalist tells them word on the street is that the first doses for front-line medical workers and seniors are expected to be available by March, but “may be as late as June.”

Shukan Post (Jan. 1-8) features a dialogue between crime writer Atsushi Mizoguchi and magazine editor Tomohiko Suzuki about customs and traditions observed by yakuza gang members at the new year.

Aera (Dec. 28 to Jan. 4) suggests that more families will be refraining from giving cash for otoshidama (customary new year gifts to children), instead stuffing the pochi-bukuro (the Japanese equivalent of a Santa’s stocking) with prepaid gift cards and other types of cashless instruments.

Veteran critic Kazuya Fukuda reviews three famous old businesses in Tokyo’s Ginza district — a restaurant, a bar and a barber shop — and marvels at their “composure and tenacity” to weather the coronavirus pandemic in Sunday Mainichi (Jan. 3-10).

Shukan Asahi (Jan. 1-8) provides crime prevention tips for seniors — particularly those receiving home care, with health concerns and living alone — who need to take extra precautions against being targeted by spurious gas-meter readers, swindlers who request appointments over the telephone and burglars.

A writer for Spa (Dec. 29 to Jan. 5) test-drives the Aion S electric car from Chinese manufacturer GAC, which in its home country sells for the equivalent of a remarkably affordable ¥422,900. (Or about ¥600,000 with optional air conditioning and 40-kilometer extended cruise length.) This considerably undersells the electric vehicle models currently available in Japan.

In Asahi Geino (Dec. 31-Jan. 7), historian Atsushi Kawaii looks at the draconian edict issued by warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 16th century, which aimed at disarming Japan’s peasants by banning them from owning swords.

Flash (Jan. 5-12) runs photos of 11 members of the National Diet (all men, with one exception) shown walking while texting on their smartphones.

Shukan Jitsuwa (Jan. 7-14) taps into the Teikoku Data Bank for a look at the characteristics of some of the 3,696 business firms that will be observing at least 100 years since their founding. The list includes the Takashimaya department store (190 years old); the maker of Ryukakusan, a stomach medication (150 years); and Seiko Holdings, whose forerunner began manufacturing timepieces 140 years ago.

What would have happened if the people snowbound for up to 52 hours on the Kan-Etsu Expressway in mid-December had been driving electric vehicles? Typically, notes Shukan Shincho (Dec. 31 to Jan. 7), the batteries in such cars lose as much as 20% of their function in subzero temperatures. And as opposed to the shorter usage (perhaps 24 hours) on a full charge, gasoline-powered vehicles on a full tank may be able to idle for between 40 to 50 hours. For the approximately 20 million people residing in the parts of Japan that are regularly hit by heavy snowfalls, electric vehicles are simply not practical.

Shukan Bunshun (Dec. 31 to Jan. 7) interviews the pseudonymous “Miss A,” the potential marriage candidate who so far has paid some 30 visits to convicted mass murderer and death row resident Takahiro Shiraishi.

Friday (Jan. 8-15) follows up on 10 major cases that have rocked Japan, several of which remain unsolved. Included are the December 2013 fatal shooting of 72-year-old Takayuki Ohigashi, president of the Gyoza no Osho restaurant chain; the disappearance of 7-year-old Misaki Ogura from a camping site in Yamanashi in September 2019; the slaying of a family of four in Tokyo’s upscale Setagaya Ward on the night of Dec. 30, 2000; and the suspicious 2018 death of 77-year-old business magnate Kosuke Nozaki, an unapologetic womanizer who reveled in his self-bestowed nickname — “the Don Juan of Wakayama.”

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.