July 27, 2009

Japan's "masculinity crisis"

Have Japan's men become too feminine? It's become a subject of national debate in samurai country, and it has many worried. According to one Japanese insurance company,  75% of the 1,000 twenty- and thirty-something men it polled consider themselves "grass-eating men"—young male herbivores who have opted out of the rat race that characterized the the boom of decades past. Companies now fear that their "effeminate" ways threaten to further undermine Japan's long-troubled consumer economy. As Slate's Alexandra Harney has it:

Japanese companies are worried that herbivorous boys aren't the status-conscious consumers their parents once were. They love to putter around the house. According to Media Shakers' research, they are more likely to want to spend time by themselves or with close friends, more likely to shop for things to decorate their homes, and more likely to buy little luxuries than big-ticket items. They prefer vacationing in Japan to venturing abroad. They're often close to their mothers and have female friends, but they're in no rush to get married themselves, according to Maki Fukasawa, the Japanese editor and columnist who coined the term in NB Online in 2006.

It's a far cry, Harney writes, from the expectation that Japanese men "live like characters on Mad Men, chasing secretaries, drinking with the boys, and splurging on watches, golf, and new cars." Nowadays, young men are more apt to be like Ryoma Igarashi, who

likes going for long drives through the mountains, taking photographs of Buddhist temples and exploring old neighborhoods. He's just taken up gardening, growing radishes in a planter in his apartment.

Maybe they're just Buddhist. Or gay, as their detractors fear. Anyway, this all sounds pretty ordinary to me, but then, I live in lower Manhattan--not terribly far from Goldman Sachs--and grass-eaters sound sensible enough.

You can read the rest of Harney's piece here.

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douglas t's picture

Many consumer trends that we all eventually adopt in the West come from Japanese teenagers' amazing dramatic behaviors. Remember the millions of boys that wouldn't come out of their rooms in the 90's? Well now they've come out and have decided that working in a mindless job, drinking too much, buying French "luxury" goods and pursuing woman doesn't sound so wonderful after all. These boys probably aren't gay. Consumer society has exhausted them before they purchased their first Hermes bauble. I'm 52 and these pretty young things make a lot of sense to me. Dramatic, true. But their thinking is highly evolved.

Vikinggrl's picture

Japan's young men are, indeed, "different" than their fathers' generation and have a very difficult cultural row to hoe. Give them time; they will come around---they will have to because Japan's young women are not interested in them so are putting off marriage and child-bearing. The Japanese culture has a full court press on its young people, but if history has taught us anything, we know they will emerge stronger than ever.

Lawrence's picture

"Anyway, this all sounds pretty ordinary to me, but then, I live in lower Manhattan."

Yes, it's already here in the more "advanced" parts of the US, those parts that have been so oversaturated with the effects of wealth and status-chasing that it's easier for people to see how empty it all really is.

Lawrence's picture

The "consumer economy" is bloated and due for some major contractions anyway. It long ago lost all sense of proportion; having fulfilled people's basic needs, but stuck desiring endless growth, companies invented marketing to brainwash people into buying more and more meaningless junk.

The new generation is becoming immune to the brainwashing. They're rediscovering that there's so much more to life than getting and spending.

Japan's a bit ahead of the curve on this one, but these same trends will sprout in the US soon.