Young, fresh faced and ripped, the nikushokukei danshi is the dish du jour for the modern Japanese woman, according to some media outlets.
The word refers to beefy guys who do a physically demanding job and is a reversal of sōshokukei danshi (grass-eating men), a term popularized in 2008 that describes the new breed of gentle, passive men emerging in Japanese society. While sōshokukei reflected an emerging social reality, nikushokukei reveals an a female fantasy that is in part a reaction against the grass-eating males.
It all got started in August when “Sagawa Danshi,” a photo book featuring 51 cute young Sagawa Express delivery guys was published. The book was a surprise hit, going into its second print run in a matter of only two weeks. Excite News reported that a meet-and-greet session last month was attended by more than 100 fans, both male and female, who came to take snaps of their favorite pin-ups.
In September, nikushokukei danshi were featured on Fuji TV’s “Tokudane” show. The show highlighted the success of the Sagawara book and also mentioned the Okinawa Firemen’s Calendar 2012, which sold its first print run of 1,000 copies in just two weeks and a further limited-edition run of 3,000 on the web after a flood of media interest. Profits went to an NPO that raises money for Okinawa’s first-aid helicopter, and they are already taking orders for 2013. Though such news wouldn’t have much impact in the West, where calendars of ripped hunks are nothing new, in Japan it was somewhat of a new phenomenon.
So what, exactly defines a nikushokukei danshi apart from a nice bod? There’s a big clue in the word itself. Shoku can mean either profession or type of diet, depending on the Chinese characters used in the word. It sounds like an antonym of the “grass-eaters” that these guys tower over. But it’s a pun — in this case, the reading of the characters is “physical laborer.” Fuji TV’s show highlighted the fact that nikushokukei danshi get their muscles not from the gym but from doing a job that requires manual labor, hence the popularity of the Sagawa Men and Okinawan fire fighters.
The second important feature of these new pin-ups is that they are wholesome, fresh faced and bright eyed. Journalist Kiriya Takahashi, in an article for Happyism, expanded on this point by stating that their character should come through in their sparkling eyes, and that any hint of lechery or violence is a definite no-no. Takahashi goes further and suggests that what Japan needs in these turbulent times is not weedy sōshokukei danshi but more nikushokukei danshi who can make decisions and emerge as tomorrow’s leaders.
Another word that sums up the nikushokukei danshi physical aesthetic is hoso macho, or slender macho, a term that was popularized back in 2009 with Suntory’s Protein Water ad. Hoso macho refers to guys that are ripped but not obscenely so and is used to describe hunky celebrities, like Hidetoshi Nakata, who work out but still stay svelte. If the term nikushokukei danshi takes off, it will be used to refer to guys who exemplify not just the hoso macho aesthetic but who take it to another level with their fresh-faced charm. Whether the grass-eating types will give up their desk jobs and try to transform themselves into rippling upstanding citizens remains to be seen.