Special Report: No.4
Herbivore Men (Herbivorous Men)
"Herbivore men" is a term that became a buzzword in Japan in 2008-2009. It refers to gentle young men who are not very assertive in love and sex. This Japanese phenomenon was reported worldwide.
1) Historical Outline
The term "herbivore men" (soshoku-kei danshi in Japanese) was first coined by Maki Fukasawa, a freelance writer, in an article in a series of essays posted on the Nikkei Business Online website on October 13, 2006. She used the phrase to describe young men who, although they have a general interest in heterosexual love and sex, do not show positive attitudes toward them. At that time, however, the term did not receive special attention.
In April of 2008, a special report entitled "Herbivore Men Will Radically Transform your Attitude toward Love" was published in a women's magazine called non-no. This was a very influential article which stressed that because the number of herbivore men was rapidly increasing, women had to change their traditional strategies regarding love and sex. The article said that herbivore men do not place a high value on sex, are more interested in who a woman is as a person than how physically
attractive she is, and prefer stable relationships. Women shoud therefore behave more assertively, refrain from the use of romantic strategies, and enhance their own personality.
On July 18, 2008, my book, Lessons in Love for Herbivore Men, was published. I stressed that men need not become masculine or macho in order to have good romantic relationships with women. I used the term "herbivore men" to describe young men who are
gentle-hearted, timid, and not very experienced in love. (However, these words appeared only twice in the book, once in the postscript and once in the title.) Soon after its publication, my book began to be frequently cited on blogs, and an interview with me appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun on August 17. This was the first case in which the term "herbivore men" appeared in a natioal newspaper. This term began to be accepted among ordinary people as a term used to refer to a new type of non-masculine man that has begun to emerge in the current era.
On November 21, 2008, Megumi Ushikubo, a freelance writer, published a book entitled Girly "Herbivore Men" Change Japan in which she showed, based on interviews and data from various studies, that many young Japanese men had in fact become "herbivores", judging from various data and interviews. She stressed that these herbivore men are not aggressive in pursuing sex, love their family members, split the cheque when they go on dates with their girlfriends, and pay particular attention to their own clothes and makeup.
Mass media, especially women's magazines and TV shows, began to give a special meaning to the phrase "herbivore men," They construed it as referring to boys who are girly, fashionable, slender, feminine-looking and are not so interested in sex, money, or their careers. This image was not the same as that which had been described by either myself or Fukasawa. Anonymous male writers on the web began to criticize this concept as discrimination against young males. The entry for "herbivore men" on the Japanese Wikipedia was repeatedly and critically edited by those who held this opinion.
In 2009 this term became a buzzword. All of the major newspapers reported on the "herbivore men" phenomenon. Several books on herbivore men were published. Foreign media also began to report on this phenomenon (see the links below). On July 23, 2009, I published my second book on herbivore men, Herbivore Men will Bring Your Last Love. In this book I redefined "herbivore men" as young men who are not bound by concepts of masculinity, have a gentle heart, are not aggressive in love and sex, and do not like to hurt or to be hurt by other people.
In December, 2009, this term was ranked among the top ten "keywords of the year". Today, you can see plenty of comments on "herbivore men" on blogs and websites. This is a really interesting topic in terms of gender studies and cultural studies. One of the interesting questions in gender studies is whether or not herbivore men are also patriarchial in their relationships with intimate partners.
There are two ways of phrasing the term in Japanese. One is Soshoku-kei Danshi, which both I and Ushikubo used in our books, and the other is Soshoku Danshi, which Fukasawa used when she first coined the term. The meanings of these two phrasings are almost the same.
See also my paper "A Phenomenological Study of “Herbivore Men”".
2) Frigid Man
The concept of "herbivore men" has a close relationship with that of "frigid man." I wrote a book entitled Confessions of a Frigid Man: A Philosopher's Journey into the Hidden Layer of Men's Sexuality in 2005, three years before the publication of Lessons in Love for Herbivore Men. I strongly reccommend you to see this book.
3) Links to Foreign and International Newspapers/Massmedia
"Blurring the boundaries: As the future facing Japan's young people changes fast, so too are traditional gender identities" (Japan Times, May 10, 2009)
-- A groundbreaking report about young Japanese men. I am quoted in in the last part of this article.
"Japan's 'herbivore men' -- less interested in sex, money" (CNN, June 8, 2009) -- CNN Video (Youtube)
"Dude Looks Like a Lady in Our Recessionary Times" (Bloomberg, July 1, 2009)
"'Herbivorous men' are new consumer kings" (Japan Times, July 16, 2009)
"Japan's "herbivore" men shun corporate life, sex" (Reuters, July 27, 2009)
"Girly men of Japan just want to have fun" (Timesonline, November 2, 2009)
"The rise of Japan’s 'girlie man' generation" (Timesonline, November 5, 2009)
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An Article on herbivore men in Xinhuanet, China (December 1, 2008)
"¿La recesión alienta a los "hombres herbívoros"?" Clarin, Argentina (July 5, 2009)
"Au Japon, les « herbivores » enterrent la vogue des mâles virils et dominateurs" Le Monde, France (September 25, 2009)