Trends in Japan 2009: changing gender roles

December 29th, 2009 by Felicity Hughes

New man? Otomen's main character is in touch with his feminine side

New man? Otomen’s main character is in touch with his feminine side

You’ve probably seen them, preening  in front of station mirrors in public, teasing their hair until it looks just so. Or maybe you’ve seen the beauty products available to them, including foundation and eyebrow tweezers.

No, not the gals; we’re taking about the much hyped new breed of man known as soshokukei (herbivorous). According to the talking heads and pop psychiatrists, the herbivore is more interested in his appearance, less interested in his career and increasingly passive with girls. The phrase was coined by writer Megumi Ushikubo back in 2007 and has caught on so much that some men now proudly describe themselves as herbivores without feeling any social shame. Typical herbivore pastimes include such things as cooking, clothes shopping and eating sweets, and naturally the older generation of carnivorous skirt-chasing careerists are appalled by this new tribe, seeing them as lazy and unwilling to take on the responsibilities of an adult man.

This year a popular TV series was launched depicting just such a man in crisis with his public identity and private desires. “Otomen” tells the story of Asuka Masamune. Adept at judo and karate he appears to be the toughest guy in high school, but behind closed doors he loves sewing and romantic manga. The manga that inspired the TV series was extremely popular, showing perhaps that the character struck a chord, albeit with the young girls at which the drama was aimed.

Don’t get the wrong idea though. As with the fictional Masamune, increased femininity doesn’t necessarily mean homosexuality. Herbivore men are apparently straight; they just prefer to let the girls do the hunting. Which might explain the rise in konkatsu “marriage hunting” and the evolution of the carnivorous female who has to take the initiative in dating. It’s just human nature’s way of adapting and keeping a balance. But things did get a bit out of hand earlier this year when a cell-phone dating site called Otoko no Ko Bokujo (Boys’ Ranch) got shut down by a group of men outraged to hear that their female friends had been adding their stats to the site. Men were represented as cattle on the cyber ranch and interested females could check their ratings for looks, wealth and, of course, find out if the man in question was a herbivore or carnivore.

As with lifestyle habits, a few fashion trends this year showed more signs of male femininity, though we hasten to add that you’re unlikely to see evidence of these outside the trendy areas of Japan’s major cities. This year sees the rise of “meggings”: colorful leggings worn under shorts or short trousers. Taken in trendy Shibuya, this video shows clips of men on the street with their meggings. While the guys in appear to be rather confident, a straw poll showed that only 38% of girls thought meggings looked cool. Despite the girl’s disapproval major department stores are stocking male leggings. Meanwhile, young men who wear skirts for fashion’s sake (スカート男) were spotted and briefly lit up discussion boards, but for now the trend to be a fairly minor blip.

Who knows? The long-awaited sexual revolution in Japan might not be sparked off by women but men instead. It will be interesting next year to see if many women begin to embrace their masculine side.

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4 Responses

  1. Gender identity in manga has been a theme for decades. This is not new. As for Otomen, you’ll notice that he still occupies all the traditional roles such as protecting the girl and fighting. The “other side” of him is simply a way to try and get girls to watch a series about martial arts, much in the way Macross has always used pop music to (successfully) get girls to watch a robot anime.

    By the way, the “sexual revolution” including feminism was a complete and utter failure in the west. Every indicator from the performance of children to the happiness of adults shows that the rise of feminism has wrought nearly complete and utter destruction on the nuclear family. Considering how important family is in Japan, I wonder why there is anyone in that country willing to import an ideology whose STATED purpose is destruction of the family and religion? If you’re looking for a way to make your population drop more drastically than it already is, feminism is the way to go.

  2. This whole “Sexual Revolution” and “Feminism” thing has been a huge success in the West, actually – countries like France, Sweden, Finland which allow women to have children and have a career have rising birth rates and happy families.
    In Japan, it’s difficult to even have a career as a woman, much less actually still have a simple job after having a child. Birth rates are declining, divorce is up. Wonder why that is.

  3. I beg to differ Ecoute…

    Up here in Finland families/couples are not too happy, infact we’re among the top 10 in divorce rating (http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/peo_div_rat-people-divorce-rate), although I note that the two other countries are absent from this list. I do realise that divorce rates are subject to the surrounding culture, and indeed I will agree with you that equality and freedom thereof that also allow easier exit from unsatisfactory marriage will result generally in more happy individuals – but I cannot see that it as such would directly affect happiness of families.

    Birth rate is low (1.88, 1.80 or 1.83 respectively against population sustaining rate of 2.11 (Japan 1.27) source; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_territories_by_fertility_rate – or if you prefer natality values see http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/tgm/table.do?tab=table&init=1&language=en&pcode=tps00112&plugin=0). I would suggest that factors different and more complex than sexual liberation and equality are at play, given that statistics would in fact indicate higher birth rates in countries that have neither.

    Also, I find it ironical that birth-control pill is widely considered the herald of sexual revolution, the other proposed culprit for suggested high birth rates – empowering drug that allowed women to choose between family and career/other pursuits (or at very least control the time and partner for family). Something which dramatically affected birth rates.

    Coming back to the blog, this effimination, as I see it, appears to bear the hallmarks of commercialised furore rather than any driving force to change anything fundamental in the society. Much like here the cosmetic brands all together tried to open up new markets with incessant bombardment in the media, cosmetics for men. Some went with it, most didn’t, and eventually it more or less died out. …and something else came next.

    Honestly, I wasn’t aware that Japan is in need of a sexual liberation. This is most likely due my own limited understanding of everyday life there, regardless of my interest on the culture. I shall try to improve upon this…

    What comes to bending gender roles, my hunch personally is that even if it may linger of for few years, it will eventually just fade away into the margins of society. In the end all it may have brought about is that girls are taking little more proactive role than before in new relationships.

  4. Here’s a shocking idea: if women are getting more preoccupied with their careers, then their husbands can start help out more with the kids?! Seriously people. Women’s Suffrage movement, which can be seen as one of the starting points of feminism, is partly created for the purpose of PROTECTING the family from abusive husbands. I don’t see how keeping one entire gender subdued, economically/politically powerless and behind closed doors lead to happy families. By your logic Saudi Arabia and Aghanistan should produce the happiest families on earth. Low birthrate is a product of post-industrial, developed countries,no matter the culture, as having children become more of a financial burden rather than a provision of future economic security.
    Also, the notion that feminism wrought utter destruction of the nuclear family in the west is a myth. Western parents are devoted to their kids. In the West there are strict laws ensuring the welfare of women and children in whether during marriage or after divorce. More so than Japan, husbands in the West actively participate in raising kids and engage in romantic interactions with their wives. Behaviours like going out drinking with business clients and chasing high school girls are less tolerated. Wouldn’t this be enforcing family values?

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