A 2011 article in Cabinet Magazine about the late research psychologist John B. Calhoun’s pioneering work with rodents provides an interesting perspective on Japan’s soshokukei or “herbivore” phenomenon. Since 2007, when the term was coined, many have wondered at Japan’s growing numbers of unambitious, unenterprising single men who display some interest in fashion trends and little interest in getting married.
Calhoun’s experiments in the 1960s found that rodents raised in enclosed spaces would not reach their theoretical population limits, despite plentiful food and water and an absence of predators. As author Will Wiles writes: “Mice found themselves born into a world that was more crowded every day, and there were far more mice than meaningful social roles. … a group [of males] Calhoun termed ‘the beautiful ones’ never sought sex and never fought — they just ate, slept, and groomed, wrapped in narcissistic introspection.”
One of the many possible causes advanced by pundits for the soshokukei phenomenon is Japan’s “lost decade,” a period during which economic conditions and hiring were stagnant, and meaningful social roles for young men seeking work were relatively few and far between.
Self-respect, it seems, is essential to the happiness of both mice and men.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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