What Toyota has to say about wussy-boys

How could you doubt the manliness of Japanese men?

Yes, I know, poor kid– Kamenashi Kazuya is Secret Garden’s posterchild for all that is confused and confusing in Japan.

For the past several months my interest in gender issues in Japanese pop culture have had me following this topic of Soushokukei Danshi Nikushokukei Jyou, translated: Herbivore guys, carnivore girls.

Soushokukei danshi” describes a “trend” of  ‘herbivore men’, or a group of young men (typically classified as being metrosexual) who are rejecting the typical guidelines of masculinity, and embracing an alternative style. It’s a type of Otomen syndrome, as it were, for anyone who has read the manga/seen the drama. Otomen follows the story of a young man who, on the outside appears to be a manly-man, but who secretly loves sewing, crochet, stuffed animals, strawberry parfaits and baking beautiful cakes. Soushokukei danshi have been described as being more “family oriented”, and being uninterested in women and dating.

Next in line are the carnivorous girls, beautiful, intelligent, ambitious young women displaying all of the characteristics it seems the men should be displaying: charisma, confidence, focus, and guts. These go-getters have been described by the soushokukei danshi as being “scary” (I’m shaking in my boots already…).

The typical dynamic spelled out by this phenomenon is a type of gender-role-reversal, where the herbivorous guys seem unable to get up the manly gumption to go after girls, but prefer to wait for the carnivorous beauty (as long as he’s not scared of her, that is) to hunt him down and snatch him up in one fell swoop (sounds okay to me…).

The problem apparently lies in the recent decline of the birthrate in Japan, which isn’t the only thing that’s been declining in recent years. Machoness seems to have also hit an all-time low, leaving this new generation of young guys who are officially pegged as having little or no interest in dating or sex. This seems to be the distress of anthropologists and hopeful young single women web-wide, as the aforementioned are concerned about the society itself stumbling, and the latter for more obvious reasons. This could be a legitimate claim, except that in an article by NPR a young soushokukei danshi admitted that he didn’t talk to girls, but it wasn’t because he wasn’t interested. If a girl approached him first, he would be thrilled– he just isn’t willing (or able) to make the first move.

Now, treading carefully around this topic which could potentially get heated quite quickly, I would like to address the fact that the world-wide-media loves nothing better than to peg the Japanese as eternal wrong-doers. I realize the Japanese are concerned about this new trend as well, but I also think it’s positively ridiculous that everyone thinks the problem lies just in Japanese society. I for one know without a doubt that this trend of soushokukei danshi and nikushokukei jyou is running rampant in the American youth culture as well. Take for example the emo sub-culture where boys openly admit they like Disney movies, cry at the end of them, and wear girl’s jeans. I have close friends who personify the pairing almost perfectly– literally, the woman swooped in and snatched him up in one fell swoop while he was eating strawberry Pocky. Are they Japanese? No, unfortunately (just kidding, guys).

Why everyone was blowing all of this seemingly way out of proportion wasn’t making sense to me until I got deeper into that particular article on the subject. It was with grim relish that I found the most descriptive cause for alarm this new generation poses. An “expert” of the generation commented that “…the impact of the herbivores on the economy is very big. They’re such big news now because sales are down, especially of status products like cars and alcohol.” [1]

Someone in the comments made several points with which I agreed to the fullest. They said that for one, it was almost impossible to believe that 60% of all Japanese males between the ages of 18-30 weren’t interested in women; and two, Japanese [and many other nationalities’] men have always been afraid of high-powered, strong, “scary” girls, so it’s no surprise many of them shy away from “carnivorous” women.

"I just....feel like he should approach me first..."

Personally, I believe that Toyota and Suntori have more to say about this as an “issue” than any girls out there. When I asked around, at least ten girls said they didn’t want macho men, and several guys responded with revulsion at the sheer mention of the concept.

If all these girls are as beautiful and confident and carnivorous as they claim to be, then why are they all whining about guys being more of an opposite polarity? It looks like an a-typical feminist “get your cake and eat it too” situation to me– no disrespect to the fems. Do women really want to be powerful and, let’s face the facts, masculine, and have guys still playing that role too? How can guys be expected to play by traditional gender-roles that have already been altered?

It’s like women (the only ones who seem to have a problem with this, well, aside from Toyota), and people in general, make this huge push for feminism and then refuse to accept that there will be consequences. Women will change their gender-roles so that they can “wear the trousers” as it were, and yet they expect there to be no change on the male side of things? Do women who have high-powered careers and confident attitudes really sit back and wait for these men to come after them? I think not– even if they idealize that situation, in reality it would create a paradox of personalities.

Essentially, by becoming the “carnivore” of the dynamic, it seems only cosmically natural that men would also begin changing in order to create harmony and balance in any given situation. Let’s take GACKT as an example. GACKT often expresses his personal taste in women- as far as we know, he prefers a docile, soft-spoken girl who “walks three steps behind”. This is a term referring to the fact that traditionally a bride would walk several steps behind her husband. Nowadays, GACKT is using it to refer to the business of equality and roles in a relationship. He talks in GACKTIONARY about the “sun and moon” polarities of any given relationship. That there is always one person who is giving (sun) and one person who is receiving (moon). Between two people the roles may change depending on the circumstances and situations, but without them, there’s almost no balance. As GACKT put it, if you have two ‘sun’ roles, they would always be arguing and butting heads. In a good relationship, people should naturally assume a role (and always do, regardless of whether they are conscious of it or not). Since I agree with pretty much everything GACKT says on the matter, I would like to apply it to the discussion at hand by pointing out that in this generation of soushokukei danshi and nikushokukei jyou, the women are suddenly rising up to become the ‘sun’ role, while expecting the men to also remain in that role. However, in response to the women assuming the ‘sun’ or ‘giving’ role, these men are naturally assuming a ‘moon’ or more ‘receptive’ role.

You can’t choose in which aspects a person, or a gender as a whole, is either giving or receptive. You have to be sensitive and aware of how the roles change in any given situation, and be prepared to work with them. If men no longer have the machoness gene to talk to women first, and women continue refusing to accept any responsibility whatsoever, is it any wonder that the birth rate is declining?

Now, I’d just like to finish up by making it clear that I’m not taking sides, or saying that the women are wrong and the men are right. Nor is any disrespect to any party intended in any way. I’ve just seen a lot of women writing about this subject lately, and few of them seemed able to not make the men come out as some kind of enemy. And I apparently had a few things to say about that. Oh, and I am not endorsing Toyota or Suntori in any way– not until they send me product to test first.

1- NPR: “In Japan, ‘Herbivore’ Boys Subvert Ideas Of Manhood, by Louisa Lim



15 responses to “What Toyota has to say about wussy-boys

  1. Wonderful dissertation, haha! I was waiting for you to tie GACKT in somewhere, as you did flawlessly.

    As a woman, I think I can say that we delight in confusing men. We want to be strong and “carnivorous” one day, then elegant and quiet the next. I’ve never really felt the need to be either; I’m just myself. It just feels strange that women seem to be given a lot more leeway as far as gender identity goes. I may have opened up a whole new can of worms with that statement. Whoops.

    GACKT’s sun and moon philosophy is something I’ve actually lived by in my own relationship, without even realizing. You’ve got to have balance.

    • As I said, it doesn’t matter what I talk about, GACKT will inevitably end up in the discussion at some point or another. Although, for reasons that will be explained later (teaser), I’m sure he would hate it if he knew I used his insights to prove my point in a dissertation about soushokukei danshi….nobody tell him.

  2. ‘know I’ve read the whole article, but all I can think of when I see the top of the page is “Mhmmmm look at that waist/tummy…”

  3. Very interesting post! I think the reason that ‘strong, confident women’ still don’t take up the responsibility of going after ‘effeminate men’ is simply because such roles are still not readily presented in popular culture. Right now the ‘ideal’ man as presented in popular culture is one that is at once “refined” and “macho”- for instance, you rarely see women deliberately going after men in dramas, or in shoujo manga (both of which have a primarily female audience.) Even if they do appear girly and sensitive, in the end the men always end up confessing their feelings to the girl first.

    • I definitely agree with you there. I think that all of this hype about the soushokukei danshi and nikushokukei jyou shows that there’s a paradigm-shift taking place, the traditional gender roles in relationships and interaction are beginning to alter as both men and women move out of their typical, expected boxes. I do think that women making the first move, and guys being more reserved/shy about these things is becoming more and more common. Whether it’s acknowledged or accepted is another matter entirely– and most likely the basis for all this speculation about this veritable Otomenian youth culture.
      I think there’s definitely something to be said for presenting this shift in popular media. In the US the image of a powerful go-getter woman is becoming more common, and again it’s being seen more and more that the woman is the decisive instigator, but in most Asian dramas and media, well, it’s pretty much exactly as you say.
      It’s really fascinating to me, though, trying to look at all of this and trying to find some sort of stance to take with it. In most of the articles I’ve read on the topic, everyone seems horrified that the traditional gender roles are now being reversed, but I mean, who’s to say it’s a bad thing that it’s changing? Why is it the symbol of society’s decline? It’s just too subjective to even answer that question.

  4. This is brilliant. (as usual!)

    I must also agree with @Badymaru…I kept scrolling to the top between paragraphs for another glimps.. hehe!

  5. The article really spell out the current phenomenon of the world. Decades ago men really don’t do household work while women don’t involve in what men do. Now, everything is on reverse as men and women are filling each other shoe, you’ll find most chefs are men, makeup artists are men, and women take on men job such as taxi drivers, doctors or even as a leader of a country. However I would see this as a circle which perfected both genders. You can called it a “job rotation” by the God.

    • Thanks for leaving this comment! I think your viewpoint is really spot on, and I particularly liked the way you described it as a ‘ “job rotation” by God’. It certainly throws it more into a feeling of being a much more organic pivot of nature, which is what I think it is, absolutely. I also enjoyed your phrase “However I would see this as a circle which perfected both genders.”– I think you summed it up elegantly and hopefully. This kind of view will be key in beginning to understand men (for women) and women (for men). Like anything, change is inevitable, and whether it’s for good or ill, it’s still going to unnerve people because it’s moving into an area of unknown. The mistake I think most people make is trying to fight it, rather than develop a deeper understanding of it so that we can learn to appreciate it.

  6. “Do women who have high-powered careers and confident attitudes really sit back and wait for these men to come after them? I think not– even if they idealize that situation, in reality it would create a paradox of personalities.”

    Hear hear! Common sense rarely shows itself on the internet, so this post was very refreshing.

    I go against the modern grain in the extreme by being a ‘moon’ woman: I relish homey pursuits and being the bedrock in my marriage. Feminism is very masculinely bullish by trying to *tell* me that I am brainwashed by society and that I “deserve” to have it all in a relationship.

    From the perspective of 6 six years in a happy and solid marriage, there are two equal but completely different roles in a good relationship. It doesn’t matter if it’s male/female male/male female/male female/female.

    As you say, far more drama is being made of the gender changes in society than is merited.

    • Now, I’m not even going to say “the other F-word” as a few of us call it, as I don’t want this to become a discussion about feminism. I’m not saying anything in an effort to attack feminism, or women or their behavior– whether it seems like it or not, the whole post is in a defense-stance for the men. I think when it comes down to it, it’s as you say

      “..there are two equal but completely different roles in a good relationship. It doesn’t matter if it’s male/female male/male female/male female/female.”

      And it seems like the women who are writing articles about (by the way, did I mention in there that the “expert” on soushokukei danshi is a woman?) this huge, catastrophic social issue are all just making a huge fuss over the fact that some men are just the ‘moon’ type, and many women are now the ‘sun’ type. If we did a poll for all the women who were writing these articles, do you think such intelligent, vivacious, opinionated creatures would honestly say they were NOT nikushokukei jyou?

      I’m glad that you pitched in your experience as a happy example of a ‘moon’ type okusama. It just goes to show that trying to label with terms like ‘soushokukei danshi’ ‘nikushokukei jyou’ ‘feminism’ and everything else, is positively ridiculous, and the fuss being caused over it is fruitless. People need to be allowed to be who, and what, they are, without being pegged as a criminal for not being a feminist (women), and a social insult for not being a heathen (men).

      While I sympathize with Toyota’s plummeting sales, I think they should stop making women pin society’s troubles on men just because they like strawberry desserts and are more family-oriented.

  7. Thanks a lot, gacktpause. Your article is really enlighten me up. For the past couple of years, I’m always questioning myself why current generations of either women or girls are pretending become more acting like a man. Is this because that “F” movement that wants to liberate women from its natural role, more freedom, a chance to get higher education and better paid job as received by their male counterpart?

    Well, they got what they want now, but why they still complaining for the guys to always treat them as a lady, not a man since we already “equal” now, so we have the same rights and obligations, right? Correct me, if I’m wrong. Guess what, although they can boldly claim that they are considering themselves as being “equal” to man. They still couldn’t let go their women instincts (want to be loved and protected by the opposite sex, male) as you mentioned in your fabulous article.

    Btw, the concept of sun and moon philosophy is similar with the chinese traditional equilibrium wisdom concept, Yin and Yang.

    In my opinion, a woman will never be able to transform themselves into men’s world, and so do a man. It against the nature law and If your break it intentionally or not, there always other severe consequences rise upon you. Believe it or not, I have faith on it.

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