Why are young Japanese men becoming more “feminine”?

by quadshock

I read an article by the Washington Post about how a new generation of Japanese men are taking a different path from previous generations. As the children of the generation that was responsible for the great economic boom and rapid modernization of Japan. They built the futuristic Japan that inspired Blade Runner. The size of their economy was second only to the US (until recently).

Now the golden age for Japan’s economy has past, and with the decline comes a generation of indifferent young men.

From the article:

To hear the analysts who study them tell it, Japanese men ages 20 to 34 are staging the most curious of rebellions, rejecting the 70-hour workweeks and purchase-for-status ethos that typified the 1980s economic boom. As the latest class of college graduates struggles to find jobs, a growing number of experts are detecting a problem even broader than unemployment: They see a generation of men who don’t know what they want.

A big reason why their fathers were successful was because they worked long work weeks. They were expected to start working when they could and to stay with the same company until they retired. There was a sense of loyalty to the company because the company took care of them for life. But not any more. I think it’s facing the same problem as social security in the US. Companies can’t promise so much to their employees unless there is consistent growth to match the increase in population and standard of living.

What does this all mean for the young men who have spent their lives without a real dad? Probably relate a lot more to their mothers. By the standards of the 80s, they are very feminine.

This isn’t about sexual orientation. According to a 2009 survey from market research firm M1 F1 Soken, almost half of Japanese men ages 20 to 34 identify themselves as herbivores. No matter their sexual preferences, herbivores* tend to be less overtly sexual. Many say they do not prioritize physical relationships. They’re more likely to buy gifts for their mothers than for their significant others.

* “Herbivores” in the article refers to the men who have adapted to this new lifestyle

In a lot of ways, this generation of men are redefining masculinity rather than collectively fail the previous standards. They are reacting to changes in their country and culture. Monetary value and social status mean less to them; freedom and friendships mean more. I think a lot of initial reactions, mine included, were that this wave of femininity is a big problem for the society. What will happen to Japan without a generation of people who are always striving to attain a higher standard? But that question is just that: a question. We don’t know if this is worse for Japan.

Here in the US masculinity seems just as strictly defined if not more so than the last generation of Japanese men. I can’t imagine a group of young men going out to a dessert-tasting party (from the article) in the US without being ridiculed or abused in some way. Any man who isn’t very “manly” in the US, whether it’s their sexual orientation, fashion, athletic ability, or interests, is going to have a hard time fitting into society.

Having that said, however, there are signs of a similar, but more subtle change in the US. In recent years, we have witnessed a decline in the alpha male-type character in film. Some people call it the death of the action hero. A “hero” no longer means a body builder-type killing machine that is only interested in blood and sex. Look at The Dark Knight, Avatar, or Inception. Audiences today enjoy some complexity in the character. Even when the lead is fit, he always has some sort of vulnerability. They are a little more human, and we can relate to them.

What does this all mean? I think it means that the article on Japanese men may be addressing something that is happening beyond Japan. As an Asian American, I have heard stereotypes again and again that Asian men are somehow less masculine. One way to change this is to conform to the standards. Somehow grow more body hair. Be Angry. Be louder and more assertive. I am not against this.

However, could it be that one alternative is to have a new standard?