Japanese Magazine for Aging Lads Offers a Lot of Cool for a Little Cash

Masami Kanno is the editor of OilyBoy, a slick new Japanese magazine designed to induce elder players to save less and spend more, especially on clothing.
Masami Kanno is the editor of OilyBoy, a slick new Japanese magazine designed to induce elder players to save less and spend more, especially on clothing. (By Blaine Harden -- The Washington Post)
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By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

TOKYO, Dec, 16 For 12 straight years, sales have fallen in Japanese department stores, with clothing sales -- t he most important category for revenue and profits -- driving the slide.

Behind the sagging rag trade is demography. Young spenders are increasingly rare. And there are swelling herds of older savers.

Enter OilyBoy -- a slick new magazine designed to excite consumption among "elder boys."

Weathered, wrinkled and bald though they may be, the aging Japanese lads who read OilyBoy are still out on the town, drinking. Or up in the mountains, backpacking. Or down at the beach, surfing.

And -- advertisers hope -- they can still be tempted to buy clothes, shoes, watches and accessories.

"We don't think we have become elderly people," said Masami Kanno, 52, editor of OilyBoy, which appeared on newsstands this fall and is selling briskly. "We think we are players, even if we are 50 or 60 or 70."

OilyBoy is a title that requires some explanation. To non-cognoscenti, it might evoke images of kinky behavior. But that is certainly not what the editors had in mind when they created the magazine.

"Oily Boy" is the actual nickname of the late Jiro Shirasu, once the coolest guy in Japan.

Tall, rich and movie-star handsome, Shirasu was educated at Cambridge University, where he drove a Bentley. After Japan's defeat in World War II, his excellent English and smooth demeanor helped when he was called on to negotiate the terms of the U.S. occupation with Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Shirasu was one of the first Japanese men of substance to allow himself to be photographed while hanging out in jeans. He owned and often tinkered with fine automobiles. On social occasions, his pants and shirts were sometimes stained with oil.

"That kind of man never forgets the 'boy' in him," says the OilyBoy Declaration, which can be found in the magazine's first edition. "The boys became not adults, but 'elder boys.' And that is why we cry out loud: We are Oily Boys."

Kanno concedes that OilyBoy is not a perfect name for a fashion magazine aimed at 50-plus men. Not everyone of that vintage remembers Shirasu or his nickname or his cool. In fact, Kanno's first choice as a name for the magazine was "Old Boy," but a trademark dispute nixed that.

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