Japan and its 'Herbivore Men'

In the history of Japan, gender binary has been pretty much enforced in its culture. Traditionally, men were expected to be the breadwinner in the family, leading to the creation of the salaryman. They were expected to be drinking with clients, visiting seedy nightclubs and splurging on luxury goods, and basically take on the manly role whereas women took on subservient roles in both the domestic and public spheres – they were either full time housewives or office ladies, whose job duties included serving tea and taking notes in meetings. In this instance, there is an obvious divide between the roles and expectations of the two genders. However, this gender binary is swiftly changing, as more and more men are less willing to take on the role of breadwinner and salaryman.

These men are labeled as ‘herbivores’, due perhaps to their lack of interest in sex and their preference for leading less competitive lifestyles, are a rising concern for Japan due to its increasing problems of economic stagnation, declining birth rates and an aging population.

Maki Fukasawa who wrote The Herbivore Generation argues that the increase of herbivore men are due to a shift in mindset, as these men are consciously moving away from the salaryman stereotype of their fathers’ generations, rejecting macho mores and conspicuous consumption of the period. She also suggests that the rise in gender equality in the workplace has also led to an increase of independent women, leading to a shift in the balance of power between the genders.

The change in Japan’s economic landscape has also contributed to this growing phenomenon. Before the burst of the economic bubble, Japanese companies offered their workers jobs for life – in which they would consistently have a paycheck and yearly bonuses as well as retirement pensions. Such stability was not to be found after the economic downturn, and this could have led to a drop in terms of career ambitions as many people now no longer have such great job security and are disillusioned with the economic landscape.

While the declining birth rates and low marriages are a worrying problem, there might be positive changes as well too, as these herbivore men are driven by strong sense of family and community rather than being overwhelmingly flashy and dominant.

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