Lifestyle | Japan Pulse

Trends in Japan 2009: changing gender roles

by Felicity Hughes

Contributing Writer

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.