The Anatomy of the Herbivore Boy

Throwback Thursday drops by again, this time with a piece on the supposed herbivore phenomenon in Japan, which is still getting press both domestically and internationally.

 Note: This post was first published in August 2009 as a script for the Nandeyanen Podcast (a project my friend Vix and I started when we both lived in Kansai and continued for a while after moving overseas. It’s currently on a semi-permanent hiatus.). Some links may not longer be active, and personal opinions may have (read: definitely) changed since it was written. I will be doing a follow up to this post regarding a different perspective on herbivore boys soon.

herbivore parfait

Matcha parfaitーsomething a herbivore boy would eat?


Episode 17: No  Lovin’ Please, We’re Herbivores

Hello and welcome to the first episode back from the Nandeyanen super summer break! Although not nearly exciting as it sounds, some things have changed. I’ve moved away from my cozy quarters terrorised by the motor scooter gang in the Japanese countryside, back home to the grand land of Canadia! We’ll be doing a show on repatriation and post traumatic stress that comes from it in the next few episodes, so look forward to that. I’m not the only one with a new home and a new life though – our writer, Ri, has also relocated. She’s still in Sweden, albeit further north. We’re both all set for a new season of Nandeyanen, bringing you hot news, weird stories and relevant reviews. So let’s get started!

A couple of months ago you could read on our blog a short blurb about so-called herbivore men in Japan. Well, we thought it was only right to look into the matter more deeply. For those of you who missed that post (as well as middle school biology lessons), we’ll do a short summary: A herbivore, in general animal kingdom terms means a creature that only eats vegetables, roots, leaves etc. Animals like sheep, horses and cows are all herbivores. On the other end of the scale we have the carnivores, the meat eaters. These include lions, tigers and…actually, not bears. But cats!

So herbivore MEN you ask? Does this mean they’re vegetarian or vegan? Alas, no. It’s a term coined by Fukasawa Maki, author and pop culture expert. She first used the term in 2006 when she wrote an article describing an increasing number of men who were, in their own way, changing the views on what is or isn’t masculine. She noticed men who had an increasing interest in their own personal looks and fashion, but conversely uninterested in dating and status symbols like cars and high income jobs. So the herbivore terms comes from a lack of interest in ‘flesh’ and the active pursuing of the opposite sex.

These ‘soushoku danshi’, literally grass-eating young men, Fukusawa says are a result of the 1990’s recession; they see the lives their parents have lived and want something different. In particular with the volatility of today’s economic situation and lack of long term security at larger firms; something that was a certainty in previous generations but has now all but disappeared.

Ushikubo Megumi, a marketing expert, says there are other factors that have aided in the rise of herbivorous men: with more families only having one or two children, there is less sibling rivalry or peer pressure to compete for good grades or do well in sports.  Ushikubo also mentions that after the Livedoor scandal of 2006 where the then successful and famous Horie Takafumi was arrested, men are worried about sticking out and are more willing to settle for less. She also mentions the changing of roles between men and women. As women have begun to enter the workforce and become more aggressive to get what they want, the balance has tipped, allowing men to behave in a more traditionally feminine manner.

All these theories aside, the next question is: what’s the big deal? Metrosexuals are nothing new and if you read Shoujo manga these guys are everywhere. Asuka-san from Otomen is a classic example – he’s a pro at judo and kendo, but also likes to spend his time cooking and sewing cute things. In fact the manga title is a play on words: otome means young lady, and has been changed to incorporate the English word men. So essentially, young lady man. But back on topic. The problem isn’t the herbivorous men per se, but that their behaviour is aggravating an already difficult situation: Japan already has a low birth rate, and with more men seemingly less interested in the traditional route of love, marriage and babies, the problem increases. They’re also not high end consumers, which would otherwise be a helpful ticket out of the economic recession. So suddenly a relatively innocent and harmless lifestyle choice has become an issue affecting the whole nation’s economic situation, as well as future survival population wise. Wow. That’s a pretty hefty domino effect. I’m glad I’m not part of that demographic, or I’d sure feel some pressure!

However, it may be interesting to note that although Fukusawa gave rise to the term herbivores after noticing some young men’s adjusted habits and lifestyle, she doesn’t think this is anything unnatural or odd. Quite the reverse, in fact. She’s says that this group of about 20% of Japan’s male population is actually a return to pre World War II behaviour, pointing out that older literature describes men with temperaments similar to the herbivorous men of our time.

What do you all think of this? Is it good, bad or do you not give a toss? Is it relevant to you and the way you live your life? Is your dream man Asuma-kun from the manga Otomen who is both a manly man and metro with a fondness for cute things? Or is he more in line with Bleach’s Captain Zaraki Kenpachi; all buffed up and adrenaline pumped, ready to fight his next opponent? Is it neither? Have you already dated a herbivore? Why not write and tell us! Email us at nandeyanenpodcast(at)gmail.com or leave a comment at nandeyanenyo.podbean.com. Better yet, start following our blog at nandeyanenpodcast.blogspot.com and on Twitter at nandeyanenpod.  Please leave a comment or send us a note! Thanks for listening, and let us know your thoughts!

“I will walk together, the future not promised.” (<-Weird English of the week)


CNN World



The Mainichi


Huffington Post

The Independent


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