Another Monday, another trend piece about seemingly-strange Japanese subculture. Today it's "girly men" — young guys who may be straight but still enjoy baking and wearing bras.
According to the Times of London, Japan is in the midst of a veritable explosion of such "girly men," men who don't live up to traditional Japanese standards of masculinity. Of this group, also called "herbivorous males," Richard Lloyd Parry writes,
Definitions vary, but the new herbivores could be described as metrosexuals without the testosterone. Although most of them are not homosexual they have in common a disdain for the traditional accoutrements of Japanese manhood, and a taste for things formerly regarded as exclusively female. Girly men have no interest in fast cars, career success, designer labels and trophy women. Instead, they hold down humble jobs, cultivate women as friends rather than conquests and spend their free time shopping at small boutiques and pursuing in Japan what is regarded as a profoundly feminine pastime: eating cakes.
And supposedly they're a Big Deal. A Japanese designer is marketing a line of skirts and "lacy tops" for men. Another company is selling a line of men's bras, although apparently some gender divisions persist — Parry describes the bras as "designed with manly simplicity, free of lace and frills." And Megumi Ushikubo, author of Herbivorous Girly Men Are Changing Japan thinks two thirds of Japanese men between 20 and 34 have "herbivorous tendencies."
Of course, half the point of a trend piece is to record and perhaps stir up terror at the trend's inevitable destruction of society, and Japan's girly men are no exception. Parry quotes sociologist Masahiro Yamada, who says, "I worry that herbivorous boys are the future of Japan. As young Japanese men become more timid and more averse to taking risks, it will affect the energy and vitality of the society." But the epidemic of girly men, if epidemic it is, may have more specific and more interesting consequences than a loss of "vitality." Slate's Alexandra Harney was actually on the case back in June, and she writes that "grass-eating men are alarming because they are the nexus between two of the biggest challenges facing Japanese society: the declining birth rate and anemic consumption."
Girly men are supposedly uninterested in sex, though some speculate that they simply have bad "communication skills" caused by too many video games and not enough family interaction. Whatever the cause, no sex means no babies, and Japan is suffering because of its shrinking population. Girly men also don't buy a lot of expensive things. It's interesting that a love for "designer labels" is seen in Japan as traditionally male — Harney says herbivores are "more likely to buy little luxuries than big-ticket items." Much like America's vaunted post-recession frugality craze, girly men are scary for Japan's economy — if they won't buy expensive shit, who will?
When you look at it this way, being a girly man seems like a kind of rebellion. Self-identified herbivore Yoto Hosho tells Harney, "We don't care at all what people think about how we live," and his lifestyle does seem like a reaction against certain social pressures. Make money, buy cars, have a kid — it's a pretty familiar prescription for a mainstream existence, whether here or in Japan, but its steps may be geared more toward a particular idea of a healthy society than toward actual personal fulfillment. After all, shoring up a declining birthrate doesn't sound like the most compelling reason to have a family. And now that making money has become more difficult for Japanese men, it's no wonder they're not as enthusiastic about spending it. Maki Fukasawa, an editor and writer who coined the term "herbivorous male," says,
When the economy was good, Japanese men had only one lifestyle choice: They joined a company after they graduated from college, got married, bought a car, and regularly replaced it with a new one. Men today simply can't live that stereotypical 'happy' life.
Sound a lot like what's happening in America. The recession and dwindling job security have made certain male roles — provider, consumer, progenitor — more difficult to step into. In Japan, men are responding by rejecting those roles. Maybe rather than trying to return to a bygone era of buying and babies, Japan and America should accept a more frugal, perhaps smaller population and new definitions of success. The girly men, it seems, already have.
Girly Men Of Japan Just Want To Have Fun [TimesOnline]
Related: The Herbivore's Dilemma [Slate]