Japanese Ivy Artists: Part Three, Yasuhiko Kobayashi


This is the W. David Marx’s last installment in his series on the original magazine illustrators who depicted the Ivy League Look when it first reached Japan.

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Yasuhiko Kobayashi (b. 1935) is the missing link between Ivy League style in Japan and the post-hippie West Coast style that followed in the 1970s. Kobayashi was the son of a ninth-generation Tokyo wagashi Japanese sweets maker, but when his father died after the war, the family moved to Yokohama so his mother could make ends meet by managing rental properties for elite American officers. When those officers moved away, Kobayashi and his writer brother Nobuhiko raided the empty apartments for issues of New Yorker and Good Housekeeping as well as Sears-Roebuck mail order catalogs.

Encouraged to be an artist, Kobayashi experimented with an expressionist line drawing style similar to the social realist work of Lithuanian-American artist Ben Shahn. He later attended the prestigious Musashino Art School, and on the side, he worked as a designer and illustrator to create the official Japanese translation of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

Kobayashi loved clothing as an extension of pop culture, and he fell in love with Men’s Club — the only magazine at the time covering jazz and the American lifestyle. In Fall 1962, the editors asked him to do something the other Men’s Club illustrators knew little about — draw a pair of American-style blue jeans. From there, Kobayashi became a core member of the illustration staff.

While his roots are in Ivy style, Kobayashi made a name for himself in Japan years later with his “lllustrated Reportage” column in Heibon Punch documenting the counterculture in the US and UK (such as the illustration below of Columbia University in 1967). He introduced the country to the psychedelic movement, hippies, backpacking, organic foods, jogging, and the Whole Earth Catalog. Kobayashi later became the patron saint of 1970s publications Made in U.S.A. Catalog and Popeye, and spearheaded the outdoor clothing boom Heavy Duty through his work in Men’s Club.


While Heavy Duty’s rough functionality may seem like an opposite to Ivy’s urbane chic, Kobayashi believed that they were two sides of the same coin. In the introduction to his Heavy Duty Book, Kobayashi wrote, “I call Heavy Duty ‘traditional’ because it’s the outdoor or country part of the trad clothing system. You could even say that it’s the outdoor version of Ivy.” And it was his work on Heavy Duty that helped revive Ivy in Japan. For a piece in Men’s Club, he combined the two styles for something he called “Heavy Duty Ivy.” Within a year, teens dropped the “heavy duty” part and started to dress again like East Coast preps.

Today Kobayashi’s work focuses on his passion for outdoor sports and travel, and you can often find his work on the cover of mountaineering magazine Mountains and Canyons. — W. DAVID MARX

1 Comment on "Japanese Ivy Artists: Part Three, Yasuhiko Kobayashi"

  1. elder prep | March 31, 2019 at 9:35 pm |

    I find it interesting that an Asian nation, such as Japan, jumped onto the ivy style bandwagon so completely and not nations closer to the American cultural experience, such as Germany, France or the Scandinavian nations.

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