I was on my way to work yesterday, listening to a story on National Public Radio, when I had to turn up the volume. It was the first I had heard of a cultural phenomenon in Japan called “herbivorous males.”
How refreshing! I love it.
Here’s the link to the NPR website, where you can stream the story:
And here are a few excerpts from Louisa Lim’s story, “’Herbivore’ Boys Subvert Ideas of Manhood:”
The sensitive New Age man has finally arrived in the land of the salaryman. But there is a catch — a particularly important one in Japan, where the declining birthrate has caused alarm: The new Japanese man doesn't appear to be interested in women or sex.
In Tokyo on the weekends, the trendy area of Harajuku is a melting pot of urban tribes: Lolita goths bat their fake eyelashes, while the punks glower.
Away from the strutting are the retiring wallflowers, a quiet army of sweet young men with floppy hair and skinny jeans. These young men are becoming known as Japan's "herbivores" — from the Japanese phrase for "grass-eating boys" — guys who are heterosexual but who say they aren't really interested in matters of the flesh.
They are drawn to a quieter, less competitive life, focusing on family and friends — and eschewing the macho ways of the traditional Japanese male.
Japan's top expert on herbivores, Maki Fukasawa, believes they were born from the lost decade of economic stagnation. She christened the tribe in 2006 and recently wrote a book called The Herbivore Generation, which breaks herbivores down into 23 distinct subcategories. She argues that the herbivores are rebelling against the salaryman generation of their fathers, consciously turning away from the macho mores and conspicuous consumption of that era.
Multiple recent surveys suggest that about 60 percent of young Japanese men — in their 20s and early 30s — identify themselves as herbivores. Their Sex and the City is a television show called Otomen, or Girly Guys. The lead character is a martial arts expert, the manliest guy in the whole school. But his secret passions include sewing, baking and crocheting clothes for his stuffed animals.
"I will hide my true nature," he vows in the first episode, as he sews secretly, shut away in his living room. "At all times, I will be a man — a real Japanese man," he says.
This past summer, Slate featured an Alexandra Harney article, “The Herbivore's Dilemma. Japan panics about the rise of ‘grass-eating men,’ who shun sex, don't spend money, and like taking walks:”
Ryoma Igarashi likes going for long drives through the mountains, taking photographs of Buddhist temples and exploring old neighborhoods. He's just taken up gardening, growing radishes in a planter in his apartment. Until recently, Igarashi, a 27-year-old Japanese television presenter, would have been considered effeminate, even gay. Japanese men have long been expected to live like characters on Mad Men, chasing secretaries, drinking with the boys, and splurging on watches, golf, and new cars
Today, Igarashi has a new identity (and plenty of company among young Japanese men) as one of the soushoku danshi—literally translated, "grass-eating boys." Named for their lack of interest in sex and their preference for quieter, less competitive lives, Japan's "herbivores" are provoking a national debate about how the country's economic stagnation since the early 1990s has altered men's behavior.
In Japan, "real men" don't eat pudding.
Shigeru Sakai of Media Shakers suggests that grass-eating men don't pursue women because they are bad at expressing themselves. He attributes their poor communication skills to the fact that many grew up without siblings in households where both parents worked. "Because they had TVs, stereos and game consoles in their bedrooms, it became more common for them to shut themselves in their rooms when they got home and communicate less with their families, which left them with poor communication skills," he wrote in an e-mail. (Japan has rarely needed its men to have sex as much as it does now. Low birth rates, combined with a lack of immigration, have caused the country's population to shrink every year since 2005.)
Fukasawa contends that while some grass-eating men may be gay, many are not. Nor are they metrosexuals. Rather, their behavior reflects a rejection of both the traditional Japanese definition of masculinity and what she calls the West's "commercialization" of relationships, under which men needed to be macho and purchase products to win a woman's affection.
Young Japanese men today are choosing to have less to prove.
An article in The Independent took a more sensationalized approach:
Coined by columnist Maki Fukasawa, the term soshoku-danshi (herbivorous male) has become one of those cultural buzzwords that hijacks the Japanese media every couple of years. With its implied disdain for vegetarians, the term has been popularised in a bestselling new book called The Herbivorous Ladylike Men (who) are Changing Japan by Megumi Ushikubo, president of Tokyo marketing firm Infinity. Her company claims that roughly two-thirds of all Japanese men aged 20-34 are now partial or total grass-eaters, and a very long way from the classic twin stereotypes of 20th-century Japanese masculinity: the fierce, unyielding warrior and the workaholic salary-man.
The blurring of gender boundaries has been highlighted by stories appearing to demonstrate that once proud alpha-males are being symbolically castrated in the home. Toilet-maker Matsushita Electric Works reported a survey this year suggesting that more than 40 per cent of adult men in Japan sit on the toilet when they urinate – a figure that is rising year by year.
Nagging wives are also blamed for the rise of the Tenshi no Hizamakura, or Angel's Knee Pillow, a kneeling stool with an unfortunate resemblance to a church pew that brings men closer to the bowl when they pee. Designed to stop splashing around the bowl – women after all still do the vast bulk of household cleaning – the product's arrival prompted the following headline in one media outlet "Men brought to their knees by angry housewives".
Japanese actor Tsuyoshi Kusanagi wears lipstick and make-up at a Korean television awards ceremony
Men are now leading purchasers of hair products, make-up, fashion accessories and manicures. A Tokyo-based company called WishRoom is even selling men's bras, some to middle-aged salary-men.
"They were the generation we had been told were 'manly' – they led Japan in the post-war period," WishRoom president Masayuki Tsuchiya told the Japan Times this month. He said the company had sold more than 5,000 of the bras to men who are probably reacting against the classic stereotype of stoic, silently enduring male. "They said wearing a bra just made them feel more calm, relaxed and revived."
True carnivores sigh in disgust, but could the grass-eaters be merely the latest flowering of an old tradition? Japanese culture has long had a strong element of androgyny: During the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), men played women and women dressed as men for the theatre, while erotic art celebrated bisexualism and transgender role-playing. The traditions live on in the Takarazuka Review, which features women performers in dress suits playing men, and in Kabuki theatre.
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