Herbivore: a Japanese man who saves money, shuns sex, has a penchant for nice clothing, and prefers a quieter, less competitive lifestyle. This new class of young men is taking hold in Japan. They are soushoku dansi—translated to “grass-eating boys” or, more commonly, “herbivores.” The term was coined in 2006 by pop culture columnist Maki Fukasawato to describe men who challenged traditional ideas about Japanese masculinity. “In Japan, sex is translated as ‘relationship in flesh,’ ” she explains. “So I named those boys ‘herbivorous boys’ since they are not interested in flesh.”
But sex isn’t all that herbivores reject. Just as they disdain old-fashioned alpha males, they scoff at the status-conscious consumerism of their parents’ generation. Grass-eating boys aren’t big spenders and they don’t take flashy vacations. They are close to their mothers, prefer platonic relationships with female friends, are attentive to their appearance and have fewer career ambitions. A subsidiary of Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising agency, estimates that 60 per cent of men in their 20s consider themselves grass-eaters.
That has people buzzing. Reports chart men’s spending on cosmetics and hair products and bemoan the symbolic castration that young men so eagerly embrace. Toilet-maker Matsushita Electric Works announced that more than 40 per cent of men in Japan sit on the toilet while urinating. WishRoom—a Tokyo company—has started selling men’s bras. “What is happening to the nation’s manhood?” asked social critic Takuro Moringa.
Critics charge that herbivores are at the root of Japan’s sluggish birthrate and floundering consumer culture. As well as rejecting the masculine, materialist culture that took off during the ’80s, herbivores are also a long way from the archetypical corporate company men who defined their fathers’ postwar era. Still, Japanese women aren’t ready to let the grass-eaters triumph just yet. Since men are prepared to be passive, new flocks of aggressive “carnivorous girls” have emerged to take charge themselves.