Japan's "herbivore" men shun corporate life, sex

TOKYO Mon Jul 27, 2009 8:40am EDT

Pedestrians in Tokyo's central business district in a file photo. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Pedestrians in Tokyo's central business district in a file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Hotel worker Roshinante has no interest in actively pursuing women, is nonchalant about a career and finds cars a bore -- and he is not alone in opting for a quiet, uncompetitive lifestyle.

Roshinante, 31, who prefers the anonymity of his online handle, is one of a growing group of men dubbed "herbivorous boys" by the media, who are rejecting traditional masculinity when it comes to romance, jobs and consumption in an apparent reaction to the tougher economy.

Forget being a workaholic, corporate salary-man. These men, raised as the economic bubble burst, are turning their backs on Japan's stereotypical male roles in what is seen as a symptom of growing disillusionment in their country's troubled economy.

"Since I was a child, I hated people telling me, 'Behave like a man'," said Roshinante, who runs a forum on popular Japanese social network site Mixi for frank discussion about herbivores.

For decades, Japanese men were expected to work full-time after graduating from high school or college, marry and support their wife and children.

Roshinante, a university graduate, has no plans to follow that path.

"I don't think my parents' way of life is for me," he said in a telephone interview. "I still struggle between the traditional notion of how men should be and how I am."

Almost half of 1,000 men aged 20-34 surveyed by market research firm M1 F1 Soken identified themselves as "herbivorous," defined literally as grass-eating but in this context as not being interested in flesh or passive about pursuing women.

The media hype has sent marketing experts scurrying to see if there is money to be made from herbivores, many of whom are spending more time and money on their appearance.

"We cannot ignore herbivorous boys because they are almost a majority," said Shigeru Sakai, a researcher at M1 F1 Soken.

Most herbivorous boys lack self-confidence, like to spend time alone, and use the Internet a lot, the survey showed.

The mindset appears to be a reaction to the end of Japan's late 1980s "bubble economy" of soaring asset prices, when everything looked rosy, and a subsequent economic slump.

"Herbivorous men always existed," said columnist Maki Fukasawa, who is credited with coining the term. "But the bursting of the bubble and the collapse of lifetime employment contributed to their increase."

Experiencing tough times has given this new breed of men different attitudes about consumption.

"In the bubble era, whatever led to consumption was good and people measured their worth by money," Fukasawa said. "But herbivorous men don't buy things to show off."

Partly, at least, that's because they can't afford to.

Their generation joined the work force after deregulation measures helped to swell the ranks of contract and other non-regular employees to about one-third of all workers.

Roshinante worked part-time until two years ago, when he took a full-time post at a hotel chain. But he's still anxious about the future.

"At my previous workplace, a whole bunch of managers in their 40s and 50s were laid off," Roshinante said.

Marriage isn't on his agenda at the moment, but he couldn't afford it even if it were.

"I think there are many part-time workers who cannot get a full-time job and cannot plan their life and marriage. That is also the case of romantic relationships. While they don't want to follow the traditional model, they don't know what to do," he said.

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