As this paper is in the form of a doctoral thesis, it’s a little longer than what I’ve been working through up till now. Beyond just the length, there is a greater depth of detail that I get to digest and frankly, this paper is worth digesting. This post is on the first two chapters, an introduction and the ‘Historical Origins of the sôshokukei danshi . These chapters set the scene and give us a background of the cultural landscape that the herbivorous men live in.
Tamaru, C. A. (2012). The” herbivorous” men of Japan: negotiating new masculinities (Doctoral dissertation).
Firstly, what are herbivorous men? Also known as ‘sôshokukei danshii’, herbivorous men are characterized by ‘their disinterest in carnal desires, generally passive attitudes towards romance and their careers, and “feminine” interests’ along with a particular affection for their mothers.
Tamaru explains the origins of the herbivorous man alongside their cultural opposite, the ‘salaryman’. The salryman is a product of the post-war economic boom in Japan. In the bullish business environment, loyalty and dedication to one’s job and employer was championed but when the late 1990’s slowdown hit Japan, these salarymen were treated as disposable as their employers struggled to stay afloat. Left adrift in this ‘growing sense of collective socio-cultural insecurity and anxiety’, salarymen became angry ‘thunder-fathers’ who scared their sons into compliance and into the arms of their mothers.
The resulting rejection of traditional masculinity is what Tamaru poses as the origins of the herbivorous man. The interesting position that the herbivorous man holds is that of relative legitimacy. The author identifies a common trend in Japanese youth-culture of the rejection of the traditional masculinity and a seeking of new ways to perform the self. This trend really interested me as it echoes with the strength of nerd-masculinity that is identified in western society. As the old loses economic power, the young are able to explore their possibilities.
It’s this possibilities and underlying construction that intrests me. Tamaru makes it clear that they are aiming to understand the sôshokukei danshii and the penultimate chapter of the herbivorous man’s agency really intrigues me. The methodology that is used is ethnographic and thus the tone feels more accepting and championing than a more economic or psychological approach might have been.
The thesis can be downloaded for free from this website and I’d heartily recommend it as a light read if you’re looking for an inside line on eastern culture or a counterpoint to western masculinity studies.
Next week… hopefully the final 3 chapters of “The “herbivorous” men of Japan: negotiating new masculinities”.