Saturday, October 16, 2010

Herbivorous Boys

Once in a while a story or feature article about Japan will appear from one of the new services, that while probably stirring some interest about the society or culture, more than anything else propagates yet another myth about the Land of the Rising Sun. This morning I came across another of those features on CNN, a piece written by a Japanese university student; the article is clearly enough well-written in terms of the student’s English skill. The problem lies in the whitewashing of a sleazy business, the painting of a picture that is somewhere south of reality.

It is a piece focusing on young Japanese men who work in bars as hosts providing companionship to ladies. These men are the other side of a coin, counterparts to the young ladies who do the same work as hostesses in nightclubs. The CNN article focuses only on the men and paints a picture of them that is not altogether accurate. The writer has mixed up his types and gotten bar boy hosts mixed up with ‘scouts’ who accost pretty girls on the street with an offer of work hosting in a club. Bottom line is, the scout is hoping to lure girls into work a lot less tame than providing a pretty presence for men having a few drinks after work. The ultimate hook in this business is eventual participation in pornographic films.

The young men who work as hosts in this or that club are not—as the CNN article suggests—the ones who stand on the street calling out to passing girls. True, they may at times stand in front of the club as attractive bait for the ladies, but consistent with the soft unmanly appearance of these hosts, they don’t badger women as the more aggressive scouts do.

There is in this article an overall reshaping of facts to present what non-Japanese can interpret as something more wholesome than the truth, as a line of work any mother’s son could be proud of. By and large, the host or hostess business is one acted out in shadowy rooms with questionable motives. The writer for CNN has given an accurate picture of the heavy drinking and late hours that define this type of work. He is also on target in his description of customers picking their host from a photo menu. But the picture gets a little too rosy when the talk comes to ‘pursuing a long-term career in this profession’ and the great gift of being able to meet many people. The writer continues, explaining that ‘…the host’s dedication in flirting with women is solely motivated by their pure kindness to help them escape from their tedious realities and let them have some special fun. It’s like a gift in return to the large contribution these women have given to their store sales.’ This must be a joke. The talk of a host’s struggle, his endurance, might be more believable if everyone involved didn’t label these hosts as here today, gone tomorrow boy-toys.

The most interesting part of this CNN CityPulse feature is the brief mention of what has come to be called sôshokukei, or ‘herbivorous boys.’ This is a growing phenomenon in Japanese society, and one that is interesting, if nothing else. The term, sôshokukei refers to men who cultivate soft, feminine qualities, and have backed off from active pursuit of women. One shouldn’t automatically label these men as gay, though it no doubt includes a number who are, and thankful that the sôshokukei tag provides a pseudo camouflage in a country where ‘coming out’ is still frowned upon.

Japan has in recent years seen an increase in the sale of male cosmetics, sundries and sweets, and a decrease in the sale of more ‘macho’ things like cigarettes, alcohol and flashy cars. The word sôshokukei was coined in 2007 by writer Maki Fukasawa. A 2008 book by another writer, having the humorous title, Herbivorous Ladylike Men are Changing Japan caught on, and splashed the ‘herbivorous’ term all over the media. Here are some characteristics listed by the writer: These men are fashion conscious and eat lightly in order to wear skintight clothes; they are close to their mothers and enjoy shopping together; not interested in dating girls, in relationships, or even sex, choosing self-help sex toys instead; many cannot go out without perfect hair and nails.

The writer of this book, Megumi Ushikubo, estimates that sixty percent of Japanese men today, aged 20-34 fall into this herbivorous ladylike category of men. It is no secret that a surprising number of Japanese women are attracted to this type of man, and that surely has a lot to do with why so many of the club hosts have the soft, girlish look associated with the sôshokukei boys.

If you have an idea of going to Japan to meet a Japanese Marlboro Man, your search could be a long one.

Click here to read the CNN article.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America