A Look Back

Carter Witt Looks Back on THE ALIEN, Japanzine, NAGMAG and More

 

30 years is a long time to do anything, and in the 30 years we have been publishing a monthly magazine we have done and experienced and changed a lot. Japan has changed a lot too.

When we started out as THE ALIEN there was no internet. These were the bubble years and English-teachers were filthy stinking rich. People used international phone cards (sometimes illegal ones) to call home, which was expensive. We wrote letters. We lived in “Gaijin Houses”, computers were scarce. Our first issue was hand-written (badly) and it wasn’t until we got a word processor that things started to look a bit more like a real magazine.

But in reality we were just a rag. The gaijin telegraph.

THE ALIEN got started after I saw a sign at Narita airport that said “Aliens This Way.” I thought that would be a funny name for a zine. I had been living in London and was a fan of Private Eye so that was my inspiration.

Although THE ALIEN never came close to reaching the epic levels of scathing humor that Private Eye has, we had our share of fun, all illustrated by the awsome artist Wayne Wilson.

Charisma man was born (NEMESIS – Western Woman!) and we threw a few gigs for bands at The Underground (THE club of the day) and one EPIC – if disastrous – Halloween party at Diamond Hall in which one gaijin got in a fight with a Japanese guy when he tried to pick up the Japanese guy’s girlfriend. That ended in concrete blocks being thrown down a glass enclosed staircase, and one hurt gaijin ego.

Good times were had. Santa Barbara was the place to hang, just one of many gaijin bars that have come and now gone.

The magazine grew to Kansai reaching Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto and then we took the leap to Tokyo.


There had been a lot of discussion about the name of our publication. And some opinions were pretty legitimate. Many people considered THE ALIEN to be antagonistic and anti-Japanese. The humor was admittedly straight from a frat house and predominantly catered to a male audience. So against my best instincts – but relenting to pressure from my partner, a talented and witty writer named Neil Garscadden – we re-branded ourselves as Japanzine.

Alas internal strife about the direction we were going and competition from slicker publications like Kansai Scene and Metropolis ultimately led to a new direction for our black and white rag. Our partnership dissolved and a new team of designers and writers brought us firmly into the 2000’s.

Japanzine went full color and started churning out top-quality content with a monthly feature and humor as well.

Kazuhide was born – much to the amusement of anyone who got a chance to read his decidedly politically incorrect humor. Spleen upset and beguiled his many readers with his ongoing sagas of filthy people doing horrible things. We published an annual “Gaijin Eye” photo competition and produced the “Gaijin Sounds” contest and concerts.

We had a lot going on.

Unfortunately we were stretched too thin – printing three local editions and distributing nationwide to places as far away as Sapporo and Fukuoka. And we had a lackluster approach to online readers.

We did try however. We had streaming videos and started a job site. But being based in Nagoya was just too much of a hindrance. When local competition threatened our ad base the time came to downsize and focus on Nagoya. Viola NAGMAG!
NAGMAG brought us back to our roots. It was aimed at a digital audience and had an effective social media strategy. We started a weekly podcast, then a weekly live stream. Daniel Ostrander handled the music scene with alacrity and with sometimes trenchant commentary.

More importantly NAGMAG was focused on our community. We did our best to support bands and musicians, artists and designers, writers, actors and directors and almost anyone who was putting on an event that we thought improved the local or international community.

We became more integrated with Japanese businesses and readers. Our annual Burger Issue was so popular that it seems now you couldn’t cover every shop that sells a burger anymore. And who can forget The Sexy Parties? The annual Halloween rivalry was always a temptation to try and out-do the competition.

NAGMAG has done a lot in its time. And I think that we accomplished pretty much what we set out to achieve. Nagoya itself has become a big city and a good one at that – a safe and busy place where the international community gives back.

For proof no one need look any farther than what was accomplished in the aftermath of the March 11th Earthquake and Tsunami.

Our local community came together and found all manner of ways to help, gathering supplies at the space generously granted to us by The Hilton Nagoya. Chris Glenn and his helicopter, Lowell Sheppard and HOPE on their trips to the disaster zone, H&R and Interlink, Oaklawn Marketing and all the companies and people that gave and gave of their time and resources. All were an inspiration.

And the rest of us. Donating food and water and diapers and blankets and anything we could do to help. It was a hard time to decide to stay in Japan. But those who did, and those who volunteered, accomplished a lot. I’m proud of what small part NAGMAG played to help support those efforts and it was a defining moment in our community and for the magazine.

We came together. We have pretty much stayed together. It was an affirming moment at a difficult time.
In the years since, NAGMAG has enjoyed great success and I’ve made great friends. It’s been fun running a magazine. But time takes its toll on you, life changes. Over 30 years we have changed and adapted and changed and adapted. Over and over we remade ourselves and re-thought what we have been doing.

Now comes the realization that we are better for what we have done but the time has come to go on and do other things.
So that’s our story of a gaijin magazine. Thank you all! It has been a blast!
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