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

2-GACKTIONARY #16, by GACKT

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Japan Gender-Bending Is a Drag?

 In the past few years particularly, the Japanese gender-bending scene has become more and more tolerated. Japanese guys have always been renowned as being meterosexual, but this is different. Statistics were drawn up sometime last year, where people were interviewed about the recent occurence of more and more guys going girl, so to speak. The results showed a surprising tolerance of drag among the Japanese. They said, collectively, “As long as the guy looks good in it, who cares?”

 However, not everybody agrees with this. For example, some of the nation’s higher-ups have the society as a greater whole to think of. The opposing opinion is that there’s a balance in society– feminism was bad enough, what do you really think will happen if guys do anti-patriarchism?

 However, what with idols such as Mana and Kaya running around charming the female population at large and inspiring those suppressed urges in young men to emerge and take form– is there really much anyone can do?

 Well, someone is trying. For beauty-king and scene leader GACKT, apparently guys going girl is a drag. Although reputed as one of the leaders of the androgyny movement in Japanese fashion, GACKT has been careful to always uphold his macho-factor and manliness, often remarking on his traditional values concerning male and female relations.

 According to this morning’s post at Japan Zone, GACKT is actively working to support manliness and gender-definition in Japan:

“Well, here’s an interesting way to hype a rock concert. Gackt (36) announced yesterday that his show at Club Citta in Kawasaki on Sunday will be a guys-only affair. That means no female crew or staff and no female members of the audience. Organizers have reportedly set up an examination room to deal with any suspicious ticket holders. Gackt says the move is his attempt to reverse the recent trend among Japanese guys to shun traditional male stereotypes and get in touch with their feminine side. The trend is encapsulated in the phrase “soushokukei danshi, nikushokukei joshi” which translates as “grass-eating guys, meat-eating girls,” and with his origins being in the visual-kei rock scene, Gackt himself has been a style leader for that scene.”

 (Quoted from Japan Zone)

+VK+ #1 Damned Dames

If all of the beautiful, talented, elegant “women” in Visual Kei are actually men, then where does that leave girls and Visual Kei?

From a commercial perspective, a very large percentage of the Visual Kei fanbase is teenage and young women. It makes sense, therefore, that the majority of Visual Kei bands and front-men would be male– you can even take that a step further by applying our previous analysis of the archetypes of male androgyny, idealism and fantasy. However, in the past decade, a few badass babes have been getting fed-up with these pretty boys thinking they can shred, and are (although not often) showing up on the Visual Kei scene to tear things up– girl style.

Since the early 2000’s Visual Kei has seen the rise (and, for better or for worse, the fall) of a good handful of all-female Visual Kei bands. Unfortunately those that actually receive recognition and become popular are few and far between.

Jyou, of exist trace

Continuing on the topic of commercialism, many people argue that the reason female Visual Kei bands are practically unheard-of is because Visual Kei is targeted at women– as a crustaceasly-brained forum poster put it (but with worse spelling), “it’s the same reason why there aren’t female members in Arashi“. This I first of all must contest do to this person’s apparent total lack of understanding concerning Visual Kei; secondly because (generalizing here, but for the sake of making a point, so bear with me) Visual Kei is typically a hardcore/hard-rock/metal music scene, which, as far as I know, is not a typical genre for Japanese female musicians and vocalists.

On that note– how many all-female heavy-metal bands can you name in the west? Probably not as many as all-male bands, I’d put money on it. In the end, I think that if you’re going to analyze it (which of course we are), you have to realize that a) Yes, the reason they can’t become as popular as quickly is from an aesthetic perspective. They aren’t men, therefore  they don’t appeal to the teen-girl masses in the same way. b) However, musically they are still on par with many of the all-male VK bands, and many of the all-female bands have more interesting music and melodies. And c) On sort of a “big sister” level, it seems that the individual members would receive recognition from women on a level of aesthetic in that these are strong, confident, beautiful women being who they are and embracing the musical culture they love, regardless of stereotypes or expectations.

Danger Gang

What I really find interesting is that Visual Kei bands are strict in their lineups. They do not bother with that tedium that is co-ed creativity (with the exception of a few bands, such as Decola Hopping— a decora-style band whose vocalist is female). Visual Kei bands are either all-male, or all-female. In an interview that guitarist and band-leader of exist trace, Miko, did for JaME, Miko addressed the topic by saying that before she joined exist trace, she was playing music with a lot of friends and so on, many of whom were boys. She said that although they were not necessarily consciously excluding men from joining the band, their distinctive sound and feel comes from them being all women, and that would be very different if there was a male adding his maleness to the quality of the music.

Miko of exist trace

More on the topic of defining sound and music qualities…. For anyone interested in experiencing Japanese rock music with a female vocalist who doesn’t sound like how bubblegum tastes, I highly recommend checking out female VK bands. Although the music is still usually rock as hard as we like it, there tends to be less metal (exist trace excluded. Approach with caution.), giving more of a general appeal (exist trace excluded. Approach with caution.). Deeper altos seem more favorable– almost to an extreme, in the case of Araune, whose vocalist has one of the deepest voices I have ever laid ears on.

As you can see in the example of Danger Gang (above), the aesthetic style tends to be quite different among all-female VK bands. Although some bands such as exist trace have established a look not too far a-cry from that of the male bands, decora (extremely heavy accessorizing and mind-destroying color schemes) seems to be popular, as are the garish, costumey styles (Danger Gang, GallowS). Although these styles are also known among all-male bands, the classy sub-gothic/sub-militaristic look seems to be more definitive of the male VK bands.

Elements of the fashion may appear among female members of VK bands, however Gothic Lolita is not usually incorporated into their styles. Possibly due to its popularity among the male youshikibi-ites, or the social gap between Lolitas and Visualists.

If you are interested in checking out some all-female Visual Kei bands, here is a list of a few:

Aldious

Araune

Danger Gang

exist trace

GallowS (disbanded 2010)

GoDeath

Necro Circus (disbanded 2007)

Decola Hopping (male musicians, female vocalist)

Gagaaling (male musicians, female vocalist)

GallowS

Youshikibi~ Prince & Princess [Part 2]


Rococo-period portrait

In the era of the 2nd generation Visual Kei (’90s-early 2000’s), pioneers of the Visual beauty-aesthetic goth-opera band Malice Mizer introduced a heavy historical, classical-opera look into the Visual Kei aesthetic. They took imagery and aesthetic views from the French rococo period, and added unique Jrock sentiments, mixed the two together with some pretty serious gothica, and gave us the aesthetic of 2nd and 3rd generation Visual Kei: essentially, youshikibi, the beauty of form.

Mana, Versailles era (MM)

The silhouette and fashion statement became much more costumey and elaborate, pinching no pennies in design and construction. Lace-up, corseted dresses with full skirts, enough lace to wrap around the world 7 times, and elaborate hair-dos topped with massive headdresses were the staples of this style.

During this era, drag and androgyny took form. This is interesting to note, because the majority of Visual rockers are male (the majority– but in the past few years some female bands have sprung up as well), catering to a primarily (but certainly  not entirely) female fan-base.

The concept of “drag” was begun by Mana, founder and guitarist
for Visual Kei bands Malice Mizer and Moi Dix Mois. Despite being decidedly male (although you would never know by looking), from the very beginning Mana dressed all in elaborate Gothic Lolita and Rococo-inspired fashions, wore women’s makeup and hairstyles, and refused to speak (although he claims that the only mode of expression he needs is his guitar, it’s probably because once he accidentally spoke on a live broadcast interview, and revealed his ultra-manly, deep voice. Oops.)

Although this was “fathered” by Mana, it branched off after the end of Malice Mizer and became its own sub-genre of Visual Kei in its own right. Many of the later 2nd generation and 3rd generation bands sprung from this well-spring of fashion, most notably Versailles ~ Philharmonic Quintet.

Like Malice Mizer, Versailles is an all-male band, however Mana’s concepts of fashion and style were highly appreciated, and the entire band assumed a very historical appearance.

HIZAKI

Homage was especially paid by two members, guitarist HIZAKI and bassist Jasmine-You (who passed away on August 9th, 2009) . Both men assumed the dress and attitude of women, although neither went so far as to refuse to speak in order to hide their voice/gender. In fact, HIZAKI has been known to speak quite readily on occasion, proving that this is not about trying to be women, but about being free to wear and act as they choose.

Jasmine-You

The look was also readily adapted by vocalist KAYA (ex-Schwartz Stein), who was, mysteriously enough…, one of a few of Mana’s known proteges. Kaya sings now as a solo artist, and is perhaps one of the most shocking and mind-blowing of all of the aforementioned personalities in this post. Unlike Mana, HIZAKI, and Jasmine-You who silently thrash on guitar/bass, Kaya has no choice but to flaunt his manliness, being solo as a vocalist.

When you first start listening to a Kaya song, it’s electronicky pop-rock, with a decidedly popular-type Jpop male type voice. So you’re expecting to look up images of this swashbuckling, handsomely-voiced male suspiciously named “Kaya” (sounds fishy to me, anyway) and see:











Results will actually yield the shocking– beautiful, but shocking– true face of Kaya:

To be honest, although I’m a long-standing fan of all of Mana’s work, and although I am no stranger to his level of drag and gender-bending, the entire concept of Kaya is still a little bit difficult for me to wrap my head around. I can’t tell if I really like it, or if it is still mildly disturbing.

Video: Kaya’s Chocolate

Guide to Images: Mana, guitarist for Malice Mizer and Moi Dix Mois. HIZAKI of HIZAKI GRACE PROJECT and Versailles~ Philharmonic Quinet. Jasmine-You [Versailles P/Q]. Insert image: normal male, idol boy Kamenashi Kazuya from the Johnny’s group Arashi. Kaya (Schwartz Stein/ Kaya).

Youshikibi~ A Visual Aesthetic (Part 1)

Youshikibi

all the angry, beautiful marionettes and marie antoinettes.

Now that we’ve been introduced to X Japan, one of the major figures of the First Generation of Visual Kei, let’s move on to what happened after the glamorous big-hair phase of the unholy and altogether wonderfully evil ’80s splattered across the windshield of the rockin’ 1990’s. Let me put it in terms everyone can understand: This crazy shit got pretty.

xaeron.net_Luna_seaAbove: First Generation Visual Kei (Luna Sea, ’80s) Below: Second Generation Visual Kei (Malice Mizer, 1996-2001)

f_malice8m_0d54d7f Youshikibi is a term I discovered while reading about the Third Generation VK group Versailles, who will be mentioned at a later date. The concept was, as far as I know, conceived by the Princes of VK (who have already been discussed at length here on SG), Malice Mizer. MM (as we will hereby refer to them) arrived on the scene as VK was turning a new corner. The First Generation was, in a manner of speaking, passing on the tartan. The term youshikibi means, loosely, the beauty of form, and is the definition of the VK aesthetic.

Unlike other sub-cultures of the rock movement such as Goth, Emo, Punk, etc, Visual Kei isn’t just a rebellion, it’s an aesthetic. It’s a culture, a style, a revolution unto itself. Visual Kei is, in short, about beauty and the appreciation of beauty. Beauty is in everything, and that is understood in the Japanese concept of wabi sabi and tea-ceremony. The basic concept of wabi sabi lies in a pure, unbiased appreciation of the natural beauty of the form itself. So, for example, a wabi sabi style cup or dish would be imperfect, crafted from something strangely shaped, usually with an inclination toward a natural, unsculpted form. Take that concept, flip it to the opposite extreme, and perfect it in the guise of hardcore punk culture, and you have, basically, Visual Kei as an aesthetic view.

Although you really can’t get any farther from wabi sabi than visual kei, that’s about where we’re at right now. Although I believe I glossed over this briefly in the Intro post, it bears repeating again here: the aesthetic of Visual Kei is an unbiased appreciation of beauty in any form. Whether that is expressed through gothic elegance, Lolita, or bondage and black nail-polish, if you find beauty in that, regardless of anyone’s perception of it or judgments, that is your source of inspiration, focus, and drive. That is your visual kei aesthetic.

BUCK-TICK_15

First Generation...

In the ’80s, everything was wicked loud and wild. In the ’90s, as we moved into the Second Generation of VK, a flip took place. A new wave swept in, and brought with them the influences of the classical opera, 18th and 19th century Europe, Marie Antoinette letting there be cake, mixed it up and blended it on High with a dash of goth.

Around this time, visual kei became about beauty, which is why you will often see a heavy emphasis on androgyny and effeminacy (talking from a perspective that most Visualists are guys…more on that later). Drag is another leading branch in Vis Kei as a fashion movement, however there’s a certain defining quality to Visualist drag and drag-drag. Visualist drag is usually a guy in a dress– they’re not trying to be women. They’re trying to say “I like this, and it flatters me, and that is all that matters.”