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Fashion magazine 'Nicola' a huge hit with teens seeking 'cute' overload

"Nicola," a fashion magazine growing in popularity amongst young girls ranging from elementary school to junior high school, is seen in this photo taken on July 11, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The slump in magazine sales is not an issue for fashion icon "Nicola," which serves as a guide for the modern lifestyles of Japanese teens, and is supported enormously by elementary and junior high school girls seeking "kawaii," or anything cute.

A 12-year-old girl from the city of Nagoya, busy with extracurricular activities held five times a week and ballet lessons, loves the time she spends reading Nicola. The cover is filled with pretty fashion models and catchphrases like, "The No. 1 teen magazine that makes all junior high school girls cute!" The pages are filled up with tiny letters containing a lot of information, which makes it hard for the magazine to be read in a day.

Outfits and accessories introduced in the monthly magazine are set at reasonable prices. "We always buy clothes similar to the ones in Nicola, whenever I go out shopping with my mom," the girl cheerfully stated. The magazine, which costs around 500 yen a month, is an essential item as a fashion statement.

Nicola, published since 1997 by Shinchosha Publishing Co., has seen a steady boost in business, while rival magazines continue to shut down. In the face of adversity, Nicola sold about an average of 149,000 copies a month in the first half of 2017, gaining the edge on "Seventeen," a long-running teen model magazine aiming at a slightly higher age group. It also led sales of other teen publications and ranked fifth among all women's fashion magazines. Nicola sold around 153,000 copies a month in the second half of 2017, resulting in a sales increase for three consecutive terms. The February issue released at the end of 2017 almost sold out.

When asked for the reasons for the magazine's success, Tomoka Kojima, who became the chief editor of Nicola last year after working 14 years in its editorial department, explained, "It may be because we think deeply from a readers' point of view, to create a true-to-life magazine they can relate to." Models appearing on the pages of Nicola, called "Nicomo," are the interface which supports the feeling of familiarity between readers and the magazine.

The models are chosen from among those aged from the fifth-grade of elementary school to the third-year of junior high through auditions, and they cannot be doing any show business work. After getting hired, they have to abide by the rules to prioritize their studies over other activities. Since many of the models come from regional areas, they typically gather in Tokyo on Friday evening, shoot on the weekends, and finish work on Sunday evening. Kojima commented, "I think readers may feel that regular girls are working as our models. In fact, articles featuring ordinary clothes, personal items and the daily lives of Nicomo are very popular."

One of the appealing aspects of Nicola is the cooperation between Nicomo and female editors over coordinating outfits. Surveys made up of 30 standard A4 pages on average are sent to Nicomo every month, and they reply with answers written from top to bottom.

The feelings of readers yearning to become a Nicomo someday have also played an important role in the increased sales. Last year, 14,734 teens signed up for auditions, indicating that around 10 percent of readers are applying for such roles.

Success stories of Nicomo who later became popular actress like Yui Aragaki, Non, Haruna Kawaguchi and Mei Nagano, are winning the young girls' hearts.

Rika Shiiki, having detailed knowledge on trends among young girls as a college student and also as the president of "JCJK Chosatai" (Junior and high school girls' expedition team), which sends "Japanese kawaii" to the world through the internet, stated, "Cute and sincere girls with black hair are popular. There is a demand for classical cuteness." None of these elements makes parents frown, unlike the former trend of "gyaru," with heavy makeup and dyed hair. Girls looking a bit too young to become models appear in Nicola.

Tsubasa Masuwaka, who works as a model and TV personality, was very surprised to see young models quick to find a style that appealed to all tastes. She worked as an amateur model for a teen magazine herself, and was so charismatic that outfits and accessories she wore reportedly became huge hits. However, she commented, "When we were working as models, we made many mistakes. We tried on outfits we thought looked fashionable, by gathering information from magazines and by word of mouth. But when we appeared in magazines, it ended up making us look fat, or ugly because of makeup, and was disastrous." She feels that her experience of repeated failure has really helped her. The readers at the time also supported her trial and error process.

Meanwhile, Masuwaka feels that young models and their supporters today act like professionals from the start. She stated, "Models are judged on social media by many people. There is positive feedback if they successfully express themselves, but they also receive a lot of negative comments. I believe that is why the models are happy to not do anything out of the ordinary. I think it's all right that the models waver over what to do and even take risks, to the point of being told by their mothers, 'It's so embarrassing to walk around with such a look.' It seems very difficult to make a choice that would be appreciated by many as society is overloaded with information."

Readers' parents are also playing an indispensable role in Nicola's success. Kojima commented, "Nicola sells best in bookstores at large shopping malls located in suburban areas. The outfits introduced (in the magazine) can be bought at shopping malls, but are probably bought in cooperation with the parents, since it is difficult to buy them with the girls' pocket money. Many of the young readers seem to be using the internet also under the supervision of their parents."

There is an article in the newest August issue, introducing outfits from various brands that could be bought online, aiming at teens living in rural areas. Most of the prices are set at around 10,000 yen per item.

Shiiki agrees that one of the reasons making Nicola popular is the positive relationship between parents and their daughters. "Modern-day children up to the end of high school have a close relationship with their parents. They share accessories and introduce their boyfriends or girlfriends without hesitation. Meanwhile, there are more cases where parents are using social media to promote their daughters, even in a more casual manner than mothers in the past, who acted like stage managers for their daughters working as professional entertainers. Readers of Nicola represent a positive relationship between parents and daughters," Shiiki analyzed.

Recently, there has been an atmosphere for people to shift toward the way of doing things that is seen as correct and which many others support. Teens may be trying to find hints of this through the pages of Nicola.

(Japanese original by Shoko Tamura, Evening Edition Department)

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