Editor In Chief and Creative Director, Lucas Badtke-Berkow

Papersky magazines

Papersky magazine covers

Lucas with photographer and model Suilen Higashino on the Papersky Denmark visit

Book 246 shop in Aoyama and Knee High Publishing titles The Void and We Are Animals

Planted issues 1 and 2

Planted covers

Plants+ and Yahoo Japan Traveling Seed Project

Plants+ and Yahoo Japan Traveling Seed Project

Plants+, the world's first online television network

The new look Papersky magazine

Porter × Papersky tote bag

Porter × Papersky journal case

Reebok × Papersky travel shoes

A history in print—from Zine's Mate exhibition (Tokyo 2010)

The latest issues of Mammoth and Papersky



The In Sound from Way Out, part 3

21 January 2011

Continued from part 2


Knee High continued to pursue their dreams of producing work that was relevant to where they were at, still rooting for the little guy, the underdogs and the unknown. The first outcome of this progression was Papersky, ‘The In-Flight Magazine For The Ground’. In a way it was Tokion but more mature, wiser and a little more inclusive of the world as a whole. The name Papersky is part of  a concept of bringing the world’s culture to everybody in an interesting, friendly and down-to-earth way, with a sense that we are all travellers and that everything is possible for the readers. As Tramnesia put it, “Knee High always manages to avoid the cliquish elitism that dooms other magazines, perhaps because it lacks cynicism and self-importance.” The magazine aims to be educational and inspirational in a way that is typical of Knee High; beautiful design, intriguing photography and an enthusiasm for things that draws you in to their world. You want to be there exploring these places, transported into another world of rich and colourful sights, sounds, tastes and people.

The whole ethos of the title is trying to be local and global at the same time, partly inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion map which appears on every cover and doesn’t distort the scale of any countries or show the world in any specific orientation through cultural bias. The map shows the world as an almost single continent surrounded by one great ocean, on a scale more accurate then any other. The idea of this one-island Earth, where the world’s local cultures are celebrated and shared with one another, is something that has been at the core of Lucas’s vision from the beginning. And wanting to send out the right message from the outset, sustainability was a key factor in creating Papersky, using only soy ink on recycled paper.

The magazine started as a bilingual publication, a natural progression from Tokion. But after twelve issues and the realisation that a fully bilingual magazine for a 95% Japanese reader base doesn’t really make sense, translating everything at such a high level is both costly and time consuming. There is only one part of the magazine that has remained consistently bilingual, the section by Motoyuki Shibata, one of Japan’s most respected translators of English literature. In each issue Motoyuki selects an English-language story, translates it into Japanese and introduces it to Papersky’s home audience for the first time, with a list that includes high-profile authors such as Steven Millhauser, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Paul Auster, in addition to some complete unknowns. Each story is accompanied by specially commissioned illustrations, and a book of the collected stories was published in 2006. (Indeed, books are another thing Knee High have a great interest in, producing book store Book 246 in Tokyo’s Aoyama district in 2004 and publishing the children’s book We Are Animals in 2002 and, in 2005, Naoki Ishikawa’s first photography title The Void, which focuses on the sacred land of New Zealand’s Maori people.)


In 2006, Knee High were approached by another large publishing company, this time to create a gardening magazine, something Lucas knew nothing of at the time and didn’t really want to embark on competing with a group of well-established titles in an already saturated market. His drive has always been for something new, to create magazines with ideas and approaches that didn’t previously exist and being a small company, originality is what keeps them going. “As soon as you’re not able to think of the next idea—you’re gone! All we have is our ideas and the inspiration our projects offer people”. He went back to the company with a firm no to the gardening magazine, but he did have a new idea to show them: a lifestyle magazine about plants and how plants relate to our everyday lives. Planted. Surprisingly, they said yes.

Working together with friend Ito Seiko, one time Japanese hip hop pioneer and city gardening author, the concept they came up with was life with plants on this planet, looking at all of the ways beyond gardening that plants are part of our lives; from the clothes we wear, the furniture we use, the tea, juice and alcohol we drink, even the air we breathe and the paper that books and magazines are printed on. The more they became involved in producing the magazine, the more interested everyone became in the realisation that the majority of city dwellers across the globe had become separated from a connection to plants in their lives and the knowledge that it is plants that keep us and our planet alive and well, something that needed to be shared.

Unfortunately in 2009 Planted became another casualty of the global economy as the parent company began to scale things down. However, the team did not want to let the title die and soon began work on another first, the first ever TV station devoted to plants. Reborn as Plants+, widening the outlook of plants as an online television station, there’s a great team of collaborators involved creating live broadcasts once a month, with a wide catalogue of programmes covering various plant related topics like macrobiotic cooking, how to make your own bonsai and guerilla gardening in Tokyo, programmes that you can watch again and again, anywhere in the world.

The Plants+ project doesn’t end with television: there are real-world projects, talks and most recently a collaboration with Argentinian couple Mejune. This was to produce three handmade characters, each based on a natural Japanese material: rice (kome), Japanese cypress (hinoki) and bamboo (take). The figures are each filled with seeds then passed from one person to another and each recipient takes a seed to grow themselves and passes it on. There’s a hope that this interaction in growing a plant from a small seed will ignite something in people, that they will find the beauty of interacting with something natural. Lucas explains that “once people get hooked on plants they become better people, paying more attention to the planet as well as to the people around them.”

Back to Papersky

Coming towards the end of 2009 there was a significant redesign of Papersky, most notably the introduction of just enough English to enable non Japanese speakers a chance to get a basic insight into the content, design and photography of the magazine. There are also two sections now which are completely bilingual, one of them devoted to the parts of very traditional Japanese life which are now beginning to fade. From public baths to artists who hand paint flags for fishermen, these are beautiful insights into small parts of people’s lives not usually presented to the outside world. The result is that this updated form of the magazine has actually got a lot of new people interested in what Knee High are doing recently, more now than when the magazine was fully bilingual, which also helps to reinforce that this is a local magazine with a global perspective. There are many subtle and not so subtle local elements to the magazine, something they wanted to increase with the renewal, sending a message out about the people who were creating the magazine and sharing their way of thinking and being—that this is a very special global travel magazine—but one that has its heart in Japan. One of the more subtle local influences is the use of traditional Japanese colours throughout the magazine for all of the graphic elements. They’re the kind of colours you will find in old books, originally made from plants native to Japan and therefore unique colours to the island, but more recently they are simply being forgotten, like so many other traditional skills.

Along with the renewal of Papersky, Knee High have recently concentrated on their online presence, which serves as a scaled-down version of the magazine with stories in Japanese and English focusing on the people behind the places they visit. They’ve adopted the idea of linking their activities with the outside world through Papersky Clubs which their readers can get involved with: Books, Mountain, Bicycle, Japan and Food. Its through these clubs that readers have a real opportunity to meet and enjoy spending time together. Lucas describes it perfectly: “Magazines shouldn’t create fake worlds, they should help make the world we live in a better place.”

Forward looking

Knee High is very interested in publishing international editions of Papersky, Mammoth, and Plants+, but until a good partner is found there is currently a clear emphasis on the international section of the Papersky blog, with a hope that the website will be used as a navigation system for people making their way around Japan and the world. A tool for people who aren’t interested in tourist spots but all of the unique places and people that make travel rewarding and inspiring.

Knee High have undeniably evolved over the years, with Lucas, Kaori and a love of magazines being the consistent driving force behind it all. Together they bring a perfect balance to the company, with male and female, Japanese and foreign perspectives which enable them to see things from a uniquely balanced point of view. They’re able to bounce ideas around and between them know when something feels right, in tune with themselves and the rest of the world. They bring a lot to the table collectively, a key factor in the development of the company and its foresight to see ahead and keep moving. Its this constant movement, being small enough to adapt and change, but staying true to your ideas rather than following short lived trends that has kept Knee High relevant in a world where magazines are becoming an endangered species.