Small-circulation, self-published works known as "zines" are quietly gaining traction in Japan, as a growing number of writers and artists are moving away from showcasing their creations on social media and are instead gravitating toward making more community-driven content.
Specialty shops that stock troves of literature, comics, and art in zine format have been holding specialist events for fans in recent years, with the movement growing particularly among the social media generation due to its ability to bring together small community subcultures with specific interests.
Typically produced in limited batches by writers and creative artists with a small-scale audience in mind, the format spans many genres -- including art, poetry, photography, writing and other forms of expression to share common ideas and subjects.
On a Saturday in early June, a small group of men and women from the Zine Farm Tokyo shop in Musashino, western Tokyo, were hard at work, producing zines using a printing press capable of generating unique colors.
Ko Nakanishi, 44, owner of the store, began organizing the Kichijoji Zine Festival in 2021. With a wide selection of publications, including novels, poem anthologies and photo collections, each event draws some 1,500 people, including many from abroad, he said.
The word "zine" originated in the United States during the 1940s after science fiction fans began using the term as shorthand for "fan magazine." Due to Japan's rich self-publishing history and culture, the format has developed significantly since the 1960s.
Zines are distinctive from coterie magazines, which are related to manga, given the versatility of their subject matter and have proliferated at specialty shops and events over the past five years.
Last year, Keisuke Nagura, a 29-year-old company employee residing in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, published a zine chronicling his time working as a barista in Melbourne, Australia, for a year.
"I didn't want to end it by just posting on social media, but instead, I wanted to leave people with something they can hold in their hands," he said.
Having had no previous editorial experience before undertaking the project, Nagura lost many hours of sleep to complete the work. Because he had used expensive printing paper and other materials to make the publication, it was ultimately an unprofitable venture, but he managed to sell about 50 copies.
For Nagura, the costs were less important than the fact that he had created something he could share that was tangible. "It reaffirmed my love for coffee culture and the joy of having something I can hold in my hands and share with others," he said.
For the past six years, Takako Masuki, a 49-year-old graphic designer living in Akishima, Tokyo, has been making zines by compiling illustrations of Asian cuisine, which she sells at events both at home and abroad.
Masuki says she likes the freedom provided by the format, which allows her to decide on all of the content herself, unlike in regular publishing, where a lot of the creative process is done in line with the initial publication offer. "I love the fact that I can decide everything, from the theme to the designs," she said.
Akiko Horii, 51, of Misato, Saitama Prefecture, publishes zines about board games from around the world. Though Horii used to post her work on social media, she failed to see the point in displaying her content to a random mass of people on the internet, something she likened to throwing it "into a bottomless well."
Publishing zines, on the other hand, is a completely different experience. "I can see the faces of my readers, and see first-hand that my work has reached them," she said.
In recent years at "Bungaku Furima," an organization that runs literature flea market events where authors can sell their own work, there has been an increase in zines with niche and unique research topics.
As people become more skeptical about social media while growing more distrustful of more traditional media formats, zines are becoming increasingly popular in Japan, said Tomohiko Mochizuki, 42, Bungaku Furima's event organizer representative director.
A record 1,400 stalls featuring zines appeared at a Tokyo literature exhibition event attended by as many as 8,400 people in May, up from 600 stalls in 2015, according to the organization.
As far as Mochizuki is concerned, the rising popularity of zines is something that is only set to continue.