‘Herbivorous men’ are new consumer kings

by Tomoko Arima

Kyodo News

Japan’s newly dominant consumer is likely to be in his 20s to 30s, favors cosmetics over deluxe cars and enjoys eating sweets with his parents at home rather than treating his girlfriend to fancy eateries.

Such men are called “soshokukei danshi,” or “herbivorous men.” The phrase is generally applicable to men who are friendly and home-oriented, and not aggressive toward women, love and marriage. Its opposite is “nikushokukei joshi,” or “carnivorous women,” who pursue an active lifestyle.

Some manufacturers are beginning to cater to those born in the late 1970s and after who are changing patterns of consumption with their emphasis on reasonably priced goods.

Koji Munemori, 34, of the Tokyo branch of the Daimaru department store chain, said he did not imagine that men would line up to buy macaroons made by Pierre Herme Paris on “White Day,” a holiday one month after Valentine’s Day when men give gifts to their girlfriends in return for presents they have received.

He said he hadn’t thought men were so familiar with sweets and was taken by surprise to find out how knowledgeable they were, adding that sales were up 40 percent from last year.

A 30-year-old salaryman from Shiga Prefecture is one of these men with a sweet tooth. He stops by a big-name store to buy cakes every time he pays a visit home and enjoys eating them with his mother.

He neither drinks alcohol nor smokes cigarettes and lives in a clean, neatly kept room.

“Since they’ve never been part of an economic boom, they don’t like to spend money out of vanity. They might even feel guilty if they purchase expensive goods,” said writer Megumi Ushikubo, 41, who has written about the soshokukei phenomenon.

These men make heavy use of information available and buy seemingly valuable merchandise at reasonable prices, she said. They may buy goods carrying price tags ranging from several thousand to several tens of thousands of yen, but they do not buy automobiles and houses.

Ushikubo said soshokukei men are generally content with reasonable salaries and working hours but are overly sensitive to criticism and tend to be told what to do.

Major cosmetics maker Shiseido Co. has a range of cosmetics for men under the brand name Shiseido Men, including eye cream and skin care lotion.

It has been posting annual double-digit increases in sales since it first marketed the cosmetics in 2004.

“Men’s obsessions have shifted from automobiles and shoes to their own appearance,” a company employee in charge of men’s cosmetics said.

Meanwhile, Suntory Ltd., maker of alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, in March started selling Protein Water for young men seeking a slender and muscular body. In one month, it sold half of the total it had planned to sell in a year.

Standard men’s underwear previously was conservatively colored and priced at ¥1,000 for a set of three. Now, those with printed patterns in a variety of colors, including red and pink, are popular at Hankyu Men’s department store in Osaka. Sales of imported underwear priced at ¥4,000 to ¥5,000 each are also doing well.

“The reason companies cannot sell their products to young people is because middle-aged executives are critical of soshokukei people and do not sell merchandise for them,” said Toshihiro Ota of Itochu Fashion System Co. “If they listened to the opinions of young soshokukei employees, they would know what kind of merchandise sells well.”