A Real Study of Japanese “Herbivore Men”

Much has been written in the English-speaking world, inside and outside of the men’s movement, but precious little has come directly from Japanese sources who are fluent in both languages and who look at it from an academic, versus ideological or cheap pop-cultural, point of view. Below are some general characteristics of Herbivore Men as described by Japanese philosopher Masahiro Morioka.  Although this is a fascinating portion we have reprinted here, we strongly recommend reading his entire paper, A Phenomenological Study of “Herbivore Men”. – DE

Morioka Table 1
Obviously, however, men cannot be divided into only “herbivore” and “carnivore” types. For example, regarding romantic relationships, the distinction between “late bloomers” and “experienced lovers” is also important. It also seems better to distinguish between those who are herbivore deep down inside and those whose superficial behavior patterns are herbivore. Table 2 divides men into eight categories along these lines, with columns for each male romantic characteristic and methods for women to approach having a relationship with each type of man.4

Morioka Table 2
Of course, I acknowledge that this division of young men into eight categories is a bit forced, but I think it is a more useful framework than simply dividing them into herbivore and carnivore types.

I conducted extensive interviews with four actual herbivore young men, and by doing so was able to learn what sort of things they think about in considerable detail. There were several things that stood out as distinguishing characteristics. First, when it comes to love they do not put a very high priority on a woman’s appearance. Of course, like normal men they are attracted to cute and beautiful women, but they are fully aware that this is not the decisive factor in romantic passion. This applied to all four of the young men I interviewed. They also have difficulty with women who dress and present themselves in a particularly “feminine” fashion. As for why this is the case, one of them suggested that it was because when he is with a girl who demonstrates an exaggerated femininity he feels compelled to be very “manly” in response. Another wondered why it should be necessary to add a sexual relationship once he has built a good relationship with a woman. He also said it was “scary” when a woman tries to seduce him directly.

All of them said that when a woman suddenly touches them or comes on to them out of the blue they are bereft of feeling. The reason for this is that the situation develops without their being able to understand why they are being seduced. If a woman is going to come on to them, these men want her to first clearly state her affection for them in words and gradually engage in more and more intimate communication. They want to begin by becoming emotionally intimate; they want physical contact to arise naturally only after emotional communication has been carefully established. Within male culture, until now there has been the idea that a man’s role is to doggedly pursue a woman even if she puts up a bit of resistance; a woman may say no at first, but this is just a pose and eventually she will accept the man who pursues her. Herbivore men are acutely opposed to this kind of “manliness.”

Some of the young men I interviewed were “late bloomers” with little experience of being with a woman, but others had considerable romantic experience. It seemed that the herbivore men with a lot of experience, having lost their illusions about women, did not feel a strong need to engage in romantic relationships. Regarding marriage, too, there were those who expressed a strong desire to get married and those for whom it was not particularly important. In these areas there seems to be considerable diversity among herbivore men.

The existence of young men referred to as “herbivore” has been clearly demonstrated, but what percentage of young men in Japan fall into this category? No empirical surveys have been carried out to answer this question. Many simple questionnaires have been conducted by magazines and on the Internet, but they are of no scientific significance and little credence can thus be given to their results. To begin with, it is presumably meaningless to conduct questionnaires asking “Are you a herbivore man?” at a point in time when there is no consensus within society as a whole about to what exactly “herbivore man” refers. Among these surveys, however, perhaps the most interesting was an Internet questionnaire conducted by M1F1 Sôken in February of 2009 involving 1000 men aged twenty to thirty-four in the Greater Tokyo Area.5 60.5% of these young men answered that they were herbivore men.

As I noted above, these responses are from a time when the meaning of “herbivore men” had not been defined and thus cannot be given much credence. The next response, however, is worth noting: 62.8% answered “I am not assertive in romantic relationships,” and 46.7% said “it is foolish to spend a lot of money to get close to (someone of) the opposite sex.” In other words, a majority of young men were already not assertive in romantic relationships and slightly less than half felt that spending a lot of money on romantic relationships was foolish. To some extent this can be seen as giving support to Fukusawa’s view that the number of men who are not assertive when it comes to love and sex is increasing.

So what do we see when we take an international perspective? The concept of herbivore men emerged only very recently in Japan, so we have no idea how many such young men exist in other countries. Here I would like to note that the international mass media has shown an interest in herbivore men. The People’s Republic of China’s Xinhua News Agency reported on herbivore men in Japan on its website as early as December 1st, 2008. Accompanying this article there was a large photograph of a slender, fashionable young man wearing black-rimmed glasses eating vegetables and bread.6

The earliest reporting on this phenomenon in English was an article that appeared in the Japan Times on May 10th, 2009.7 On June 8th, 2009, CNN published an article entitled “Japan’s ‘herbivore men’ – less interested in sex, money,” and broadcast a report on television. On CNN’s website there was a photograph of a young, androgynous-looking Japanese man peering into a mirror and applying lip cream.8 Several other articles appeared in English-language newspapers, and reports also appeared in French9 and Spanish papers.10 If you search for “herbivore men” on the Internet you will get a large number of hits. A traditional-character Chinese translation of my Lessons in Love for Herbivore Men was published in Taiwan in 2010, and a simplified-character Chinese translation was published in the People’s Republic of China’s mainland in the same year. If the concept of herbivore men spreads to other countries in the future it will become possible to conduct international comparisons concerning this phenomenon.

 

References:

[3] Masahiro Morioka, Herbivore Boys will Bring Your Last Love (最後の恋は草食系男子が持ってくる Magazine House, in Japanese – 2009).
[4] Masahiro Morioka, Herbivore Boys will Bring Your Last Love (最後の恋は草食系男子が持ってくる Magazine House, in Japanese – 2009).
[5] http://m1f1.jp/m1f1/files/topic_090326.pdf, accessed October 21, 2011.
[6] http://news.xinhuanet.com/lady/2008-12/01/content_10438030.htm, accessed October 21, 2011.
[7] http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20090510x1.html, accessed October 21, 2011.
[8] http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/06/05/japan.herbivore.men/index.html, accessed October 21, 2011.
[9] http://www.lemonde.fr/cgi-bin/ACHATS/acheter.cgi?offre=ARCHIVES&type_item=ART_ARCH_ 30J&objet_id=1099338, accessed October 21, 2011.
[10] http://edant.clarin.com/suplementos/zona/2009/07/05/z-01952827.htm, accessed October 21, 2011.

Editor’s note: Permission to reprint this article was supplied by the author.

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