What it’s like to run a print magazine in 2022, & why Japan is a storytelling wonderland
We chat with Rachel Davies, editor and co-founder of Kyoto based indie print magazine STORIED, to learn more about the ins and outs of keeping print alive in 2022.
Print is like magic; it makes us realise the almost supernatural power of words. It’s crazy, right? For an agency run by digital natives that works mainly in the digital realm, it seems almost ironic for us to be so whimsical about a time before digital media was the ‘go-to.’
We love the internet; we couldn’t exist without it. But online media is intangible, infinite, fluid, and almost too accessible/ ubiquitous. Who desires what you can already get?
It’s been said time and time again to the point of near cliché. Nothing quite beats the feeling of cracking open the spine of a new book or magazine. But it’s a feeling that goes beyond the serotonin hit we get when we’re playing with something new. It’s — for us, at least — the concept that there’s a whole world of philosophies, art, culture, lives, and stories contained in something you can slip into your backpack.
A few squiggly lines on a page can sweep us off into a world beyond our present, without the need for clunky VR tech and the like. As you can tell, it’s fair to say that you’ll find a few stacks of books and magazines piled up around the Y+L offices; they’re our wells of inspiration, which is why we always feel so lucky for the chance to work with those keeping that print magic alive.
STORIED Magazine is one of the newest indie magazines we became fans of before we started working with them. Founded by Rachel Davies and Hana Tsukamoto, it’s a self-described “magazine-cum-journal and online platform, [that] finds inspiration in Japan’s people, places, and culture.”
Produced in Kyoto, STORIED is like the city of Kyoto itself; a magazine that balances sophisticated elegance, impeccable visual taste, and an appreciation for embracing the best of the traditional. It features some of the best Japan-based English writers and photographers in conversation with the country’s most interesting figures.
Independently launching a print magazine all about Japan in the midst of a pandemic, and managing to secure stockists across the globe, would not have been an easy feat, to say the least of the least. We spoke with the magazine’s founder, Rachel Davies, to learn more about why print is important, what goes into making a magazine in 2022, and why Japan is such a fertile ground for story harvesting.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background and how you ended up in Japan?
After studying towards a BSC in Neuroscience and an MSC in Translational Neuroimaging at the University of Nottingham, I decided that the research world was not for me and turned my hand to something more creative. I began working in PR, events, and marketing within the luxury spirits and champagne sector; primarily for start-up distilleries, though I had larger clients, the likes of Moët Hennessey.
When we (my husband and I)moved to Japan (in 2016 as he was offered a job here to help set up The Kyoto Distillery), I couldn’t continue in this role. I had no contacts and didn’t speak the language, so I transitioned into writing for editors I worked alongside in my PR role in the UK.
I love to tell stories. My dad loved books and used to read the dictionary for fun -I got my love for print/writing from him. I love listening to people’s stories too, and I always want to learn from folks more interesting than myself! I also taught myself photography and nurtured my writing style.
During the first three or four years, I worked as a freelance journalist and photographer. I mainly wrote for media in the UK and US, and I did some brand work too — copywriting and imagery. As I started to do more brand work, I began working with tourism boards, UNESCO World Heritage, etc., becoming increasingly more aware of lesser-known places in Japan, and fell in love.
I also became much more interested in Japanese craftsmanship, and I realised that there are so many incredible producers doing things here that, quite often, even people in-country don’t know. I started pitching stories about these people to the magazines I was working for, and 90% or more would be rejected as they weren’t ‘mainstream’ enough. It was so saddening to see quite a lot of the same type of content (in English) coming out covering Kyoto, Tokyo, Nara, Nikko.
I would also get really annoyed when I read so-called ‘Insider Guides’ from people who had maybe spent two weeks in Kyoto — I’ve spent five and half years here, and I’d say I was just about qualified to write one, but I know I still have a lot to learn about the city!
I wanted to work with people who know Japan, on places and topics that perhaps are new to people, to offer our readers some valuable and beautifully told stories. When the pandemic hit, I was afforded the time to bring STORIED to life because I lost all of my regular travel writing and photography gigs.
What was the evolution of STORIED, how did it begin, and where it is now?
I had the idea to start STORIED years ago, but I didn’t have the time (or the confidence!). I met my co-founder Hana Tsukamoto (also of POJ Studio and MAANA Homes — a design-led, vacation-home brand — in Kyoto). We realised that we were a perfect fit to bring STORIED to life, harnessing our combined cultural, travel and design backgrounds.
Together we have an immense love for and experience in editorial design, photography, story-telling, and considered living. We also just became great friends, and we thought, ‘why not!’
Hana does all the design side of things, and I make all of the content and sales. We’re now working on our fourth volume (it has been delayed due to the ongoing pandemic and the heavy snowfall this year in Japan, meaning some trips have been cancelled). But we’re hoping to have it out soon.
Each issue of STORIED is based around a theme — Kyoto, Islands, Cedar– why did you decide to focus it this way, not just ‘Issue #1 or Spring/ Summer’ etc?
There are so many amazing stories from across Japan that we wanted to give ourselves something to work towards — to narrow down the pool a little. Otherwise, we would have been inundated with ideas, and I think it would have been much harder to organise. This way, we can focus on one collection of stories and then move on.
What’s the process like creating an issue of STORIED? From concept to print.
It’s a mission! As I said, Japan is full of incredible stories, so the content side is not necessarily difficult, but logistics around meeting people and getting them to trust our vision and allow us to tell their story is tough. The quarterly release is also challenging, so we’re always on a ridiculous deadline! But now we’re on Volume 4 I think we have some system in place.
Generally, we set the theme in advance and start looking for story ideas, reach out to collaborators, commission shoots and interviews, then we start piecing it all together. When the content is done and signed off, the design happens. Then to print, and we sell, sell in those two weeks when it’s at the printer. Then it happens all over again!
What do you find so personally and creatively inspiring about Japan?
Japan is a beautiful place; there’s no denying it. The traditional architecture and the natural scenery are mind-blowing. Couple that with the cultural history and the intertwining of Shintoism/Buddhism in everyday life. Even though not everyone is devoutly religious anymore — there’s still very much an effect that is ever-present in people’s daily living.I think it makes Japan a very interesting place, and so different to the UK.
STORIED is a celebration of what you call “slow and sustainable journalism,” can you explain the concept a little bit?
We try to keep our content ‘timeless’ so that you can pick up one of our volumes in three years, and the stories will be as relevant then as they are today. We want to get to know the people we interview or the places we visit.
We want to tell stories with meaning and hopefully teach our readers something they didn’t know, or perhaps make them look at the world a little differently.
Living in Kyoto, I saw the effects of over-tourism firsthand. I want to inspire people to travel differently, think about where they’re going and why, and not just turn up to the same old place every guidebook suggests.
I want travel to be more responsible and sustainable, along with many other aspects of life — we have a duty to the planet, the country, and its people to encourage this.
Why do you think Japan is a country for which this form of journalism works well?
There are a lot of incredible stories here — be it craft or travel-related. The culture has endured for millennia, and traditions are upheld as they were a thousand years ago. It just makes sense to slow down and take time to take it all in here.
What other forms/ publications of “slow and sustainable journalism” do you really appreciate?
STORIED is stocked in some pretty impressive locations around the world; how was it finding stockists, and what’s been the response to the magazine internationally?
I am really into print — I live for it. I have been a reader of indie mags for years, and I hunt down an indie bookstore everywhere I go.
I knew a lot of places well, and I also love to research (I spend hours on it), so I put together a list and started reaching out. I’d send info, and once we published the first mag, we printed 500 extra copies that we could use as ‘marketing’ to send samples to places. We really believed in what we were creating, so we thought they’d buy it if people could see it. We’ve had great feedback, and we have some amazing retailers that we work with now.
Are there other innovators/ makers/ creators in Japan from whom you draw inspiration? Who are they? Why do you find them so interesting/ inspirational?
Everyone I’ve interviewed for STORIED! It sounds cliché but it really is true. They’re all doing incredible things — Imada-san from Woodworks CUE (Vol. 2), and Kawai-san from SOMA (Vol. 3) stick out — I was really in awe of not only the things that they create but their attitudes towards sustainability and work. Hana, my co-founder, too — what she did with MAANA was really amazing to me.
In your opinion, what makes a great story, photo, or interview subject?
This is tricky, but I appreciate stories that teach me something new. Things that are also not usually told, or a different angle on a story that’s been told before. I like to think that we do that with our stories. For example, in Vol. 3, we had a piece about shinrinyoku, which has been done to death, so we focused on the community benefits and the sustainability aspects for the actual forest locations.
How has the process been creating a physical publication in this day and age? How do you think it’s been received?
It’s really tough, to be honest! It’s incredibly expensive; it’s very time-consuming, everything takes much longer than anticipated and then you have to be so sure before going to print — that’s it — it’s permanent. Online can be changed easily and updated, not so with print. But I love creating something beautiful that can be held. I really am a technophobe — I hate computers.
Where do you see the role of print media in 2022 and beyond?
It’s a dying industry, and I can see why. Though, indie mags are the only sector of the industry still in growth. I’m not sure it will last — it’s a really difficult market.
What plans/ambitions do you have for STORIED in the future?
We’re moving away from quarterly release — we have something else in the pipeline, but for now, the details are under wraps until we release Vol. 4!
Original photography for this piece was supplied by STORIED.