Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

Who are Herbivore men?

One of the emerging masculinities in Japan I researched was “herbivore” masculinity, also known as “soushoku danshi,” which means “grass-eating boys” (Harney). Like salaryman masculinity, herbivores are heterosexual but there is much less emphasis on heterosexual relationships between males and females. A typical herbivore values nonsexual interaction with women such as “shopping, cooking, or even dining out,” and is different from the idea of salaryman masculinity which is that “heterosexual desire is the structuring agent of most male-female relationships” (Charlebois, 95). I thought it was interesting how in Snake and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara, Lui attempted to be an “outcast” of Japanese society, actively having sex with Ama and Shiba-san but the dominant salaryman culture is characterized by heterosexual relationships. With her excessive “alcohol consumption,” which is a normal trait for salaryman (although Lui does not drink for social reasons like the salaryman) and her companion work based on her body, I realized that Lui’s actions had more in common with salaryman culture than those of non-hegemonic herbivores (Charlebois, 89).

Another trait of the herbivores is that they manage their visual appearance and the amount of work they do more than the salaryman. While salaryman tend to be “overweight, unstylish, [and have] kareishu (‘aging body odor’),” herbivores are more “physically active, well groomed, [and] fresh smelling” (Charlebois, 96). Many of the characteristics of herbivore men matched with those of male beauty pageant participants talked by Dr. Bardsley, which was intriguing. Transnational business masculinity practiced by Japanese male beauty pageant contestants emphasizes extensive care of visual appearance, as well as intelligence and efficiency. Likewise, herbivore men are also concerned about utilizing their bodies efficiently by “striking a healthy work-life balance and consequently [avoid] the detrimental health effects induced by overwork” typically associated with salaryman (Charlebois, 96). The way herbivores maintain their appearance can be considered as a rebellion to similar culture, similar to how the ganguro girls we discussed in class went against traditional Japanese ideals by darkening their skin.

    Although I have listed common traits for herbivore men, in reality, these described characteristics are not set in stone. For instance, other people with different characteristics are also commonly called “herbivores” in Japan. People who save money, active consumers, “introverted otaku (‘geek’) who prefers cyber-mediated relationships,” and effective “conversationalists” can all be herbivores according to the media even though these are completely contradictory traits (Charlebois, 98). One interesting definition of Herbivore men was described by “Yoto Hosho, a 22-year old college dropout who considers himself” as a herbivore (Harney). He explains that herbivores are “a diverse group of men” indifferent about the common societal ideas of masculine identity and work (Harvey). This definition, which accounts for various types of people that differ from mainstream salaryman culture shows how anything other than the salaryman is labeled as irregular in Japan.

The hikkikomori, "social recluses that have not left the house in 6 months" can be considered an unique type of herbivore masculinity by this definition and I highly encourage reading Shannon Wu's page about the hikkikomori (Shannon Wu).



  1. Charlebois, Justin. "Herbivore Masculinity as an Oppositional Form of Masculinity."ProQuest. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/1417585410?pq-origsite=gscholar>.

  2. Harney, Alexandra. "Japan Panics about the Rise of "herbivores"—young Men Who Shun Sex, Don't Spend Money, and like Taking Walks." Slate Magazine. N.p., 15 June 2009. Web. 25 Apr. 2017. <http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2009/06/the_herbivores_dilemma.html>.

  3. Kanehara, Hitomi, and David James Karashima. Snakes and Earrings. New York: Plume, 2005. Print.

    4. Kinsella, Sharon. "Black Faces, Witches, and Racism Against Girls." Bad Girls of Japan. By Laura Miller and Jan Bardsley. New York (N.Y.): Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. N. pag. Print.

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