By: Dominic Carter
Walking up and down the streets of Shibuya on a Saturday afternoon, Yuuji Morimoto was surprised at what he saw. Things seemed quite different to the way they were 5 years ago when he left Japan to attend university in the United States. Everywhere he looked, there were an increasing number of men wearing clothes normally seen on women, standing outside with mirrors fixing their hair, walking with heads down and headphones blaring as they let their PSPs drown out the reality around them, and sitting alone in café’s reading novels while sipping lattes. What was this new phenomenon, he asked a friend later. It was then that he was told of the recent increase of soushoku danshi, or “grass eating boys” in Japanese society. But where have all the big money-spending, sake drinking, secretary chasing carnivores of the bubble era gone, and who are these replacements?
Soushoku danshi are characterized by their meek personalities, lack of interest in women and sex, and their lack of desire to lead competitive, active lives. This trend in breaking away from what was normal for men 10–15 years ago and being happy with “the norm”, has been said to have been derived from the economic stagnation of the 1990s in Japan. The media is split on the topic, as are the public. Some see soushoku danshi as refreshing, especially with the recent high influx of foreign “meat eaters” to Tokyo and other parts of Japan. Others, many women included, are worried about the future of Japanese society, and also disappointed in the country’s men for not taking more initiative in the daily scheme of things and at least attempting to live normal, active, romantic, spontaneous, and interactive lives with members of the opposite sex as well.
Japanese companies are also worried as more and more herbivores continue to change the ways businesses operate internally in terms of healthy competition, as well as about revenue, as lack of competitive spirit and a goal or purpose to save their money is fueling an anemic consumption rate, especially for firms offering status products such as luxury cars, brand name items, etc.
Perhaps the most irked at the situation, though, are the women existing in this new world of men who are more interested in taking up personal hobbies than in dating, etc. Lackluster marriages and couple relationships are not the most disturbing area of this phenomenon. Women are more worried about the fact that men seem to be becoming increasingly unable to even verbally communicate their feelings to women at all if the topic is not related to work or something un-personal. Some are saying that this communication problem stems from the fact that many of the “now soushoku danshi” grew up without siblings in households where both parents were frequently busy working instead of spending time with their children. As if the egos of these men weren’t low enough already, the simultaneous development of a new breed of female in the workplace further serves to highlight the growing issue of soushoku danshi. Japanese females are shifting societal roles, becoming career women who marry later and who love to pursue personal hobbies, while making money and saving for their futures. In the work environment many of these women have more presence than their male counterparts, which is doing nothing to inspire the men to try harder but merely knocking them down another notch. The females in Japanese society have become the hunters in relationships as well, actively seeking out male counterparts due to lack of initiative action from the opposite sex. Continuing, the male lack of confidence when it comes to spending money these days stems from the fact that many young males are now choosing completely opposite career paths than their fathers and grandfathers. Men today are deciding to go to art school, become musicians, or work in beauty salons, where your next paycheck is not always as securely guaranteed as the salary men of yesteryear who were granted lifetime employment in large companies that offered them enough security to make large purchases.
Alternative lifestyles, alternative fashion, and alternative goals in life are all characteristic of the soushoku danshi, or “grass eating boy”. The Internet also adds fuel to the fire with new manga series about “boy love”, cross dressing, etc. It is almost as if Japanese society sees the problem but does the opposite of what it should to fix it. Although many of these men appear gay, many are not, and are merely choosing to shun both traditional Japanese lifestyle standards as well as the stereotypical standards adopted previously as a result of Western influence. These “middle men” do not care about how others view them, as to them the trends of modern society have indeed “run their course”.
CarterJMRN is a strategic market research agency that has been helping clients with consumers and businesses in Japan and beyond since 1989.
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