Trends in Japan

Top Picks || Arts & Entertainment || Business & Economy || Education & Society ||
Science & Technology || Sports & Fashion || Search || Back Numbers

Old Celebrity Photos Fetching Big Money

January 27, 1999

Collectors have long looked for unusual objects in the pursuit of their hobby. Now rare photos of female celebrities before they gained fame are starting to be coveted as collectors' items. "Antiques" no longer refer just to traditional family heirlooms and the like: Some old issues of Playboy can fetch prices comparable to old swords passed down through generations.

Source of Identity for 30-something Males
An issue of a sports magazine published 13 years ago appearing at first glance to be nothing more than fodder for the wastebasket is worth 20,000 yen (174 dollars at 115 yen to the dollar). An unassuming empty pen case is valued at 30,000 yen (260 dollars). To outsiders these may seem like outlandish prices, but because they feature old pictures of celebrities, they have become sought after by collectors. Items like swimsuit photos of a famous actress at the time of her debut or pictures of a female heartthrob before she gained popularity have escalated in value.

Many magazines emblazon almost every issue with headlines claiming the latest discovery of rare photos from a celebrity's past. Stores overflowing with "treasures" like old magazines, photo collections, calendars, and even telephone cards carrying such pictures are blossoming, and there are now at least 10 magazines that release special editions featuring old photo collections on a regular basis.

Men in their thirties are the main force behind this rage. This is the generation that spent their adolescence during the unprecedented celebrity boom some 15 years ago. The chief editor of one of the photo collection magazines says, "For most of our readers, celebrities are the only common topic of conversation they have. The photos represent a shared memory that reinforces their identity." Many also collect the pictures as a way of affirming that they have been loyal fans from the very beginning.

One collector expresses mixed feelings about the surge in popularity: "Ten years ago celebrity mania was dismissed as idiotic, but now it has come to be recognized as a legitimate hobby. With so many more people jumping on the bandwagon, though, I can't afford the prices these collectibles are fetching these days."

Nude Revival
The photo collectibles fad has even reached middle-aged males. Youthful pictures of same-generation actresses are in high demand. These photos, many of them taken some 20 years ago, are quite sedate compared to those that grace today's magazines. But because they become scarce supply after they go out of print, their value can skyrocket. One out-of-print collection of these photos with a list price of 3,000 yen (26 dollars) is being traded among collectors for as much as 50,000 yen (435 dollars). It is in such high demand that the display shelves holding it at some bookstores are equipped with a sensor to guard against shoplifting.

Another recently published collection of an actress now in her forties featuring nude photos from her teens and early twenties has also become a hot item. Even though the shots do not show public hair and offer no seductive poses, over 200,000 copies have been sold. One buyer in his fifties remarked, "When I look at those photos and then see her on television, I think to myself, 'Look how vibrant she still is. I need to get myself in gear.'"

For the men who collect them, these pictures serve as sentimental links to days of youth gone by. While there may be something curious about grown-up men finding solace in old images of stars, the tamer photos from celebrities' past are still a welcome antidote to the barrage of exhibitionistic nudes flooding the senses today.

Back to Main Index

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Japan Information Network