It seems young men in Japan aren't what they once were. Ryoma Igarashi likes going for long drives in the country, taking photographs of Buddhist temples and growing radishes in his apartment garden. He's a 27 year old television presenter. Meet the new breed of Japanese male, one of the 'soushoku dansi'- or literally 'grass-eating boys'. Media Shakers, a Japanese market research firm, estimates that 60% of men in their early 20's and 42% of 25-34 year olds, consider themselves to be 'grass-eaters'. Whatever happened to chasing secretaries, drinking with the boys and splurging on new cars? They've become herbivores, that's what!
Now what's the harm in this you might ask? Well, as a result, they are not particularly interested in dating, romance, sex, getting married or having children. Unlike their fathers they prefer not to make the first move, they like to split the bill and they aren't very motivated by sex. "I spent the night at one guy's house and we did nothing all evening - just went to sleep!" moaned one incredulous 34 year old woman on a recent TV program devoted to 'herbivores'. Media Shakers says, demographically speaking, they have poor communication skills, because they grew up as only children of working parents and shut themselves in their room with their TV's and game consoles. Not unnaturally, they have come to see relationships and dating as all too hard and prefer to retreat back to their rooms, where they can conduct virtual relationships on-line. Little wonder women complain all the good men are taken and only these nerdy or unattractive types remain. One quote along these lines was:-"We like manly men - we are not interested in these boys at all!" But let's not forget that another survey showed a whopping 59% of female respondents aged 16-19 said they were uninterested or averse to sex. It does take two to tango, so the girls aren't helping either.
Japan suffers from falling birth rates, low immigration and a worsening ratio between workers and retirees. This has a major impact on the Japanese economy. AAP reports that the population of 128 million is estimated to shrink by one third by 2060. Seniors will have risen to 40%, placing an increasing and unmanageable burden on workers to support the country's taxation and social security systems. Also, because of the largely non-materialistic 'herbivore men', there is much less spending on consumer goods eg. no flashy cars or sporting equipment etc. Too busy with the radishes it seems. The government has taken a number of measures to increase the birth rate, including increasing child allowances and insisting companies tell their staff to leave work by 6.00pm so they can have more time at home. However the Japanese Family Planning Association says :-"none of that is going to have an impact if people don't have sex."
What do we make of all this? Sounds a bit surreal. I think we need to start educating young Japanese men to 'man up' a bit more. Then maybe women wouldn't be so turned off. At least that's the theory. But let's scratch the surface a little shall we? It seems that Japanese society has done a complete 360 in one generation. You see this is what the core of the problem is. It's in their national character to be extremists. They do everything to excess. Remember these were the proud sword-wielding samurai warriors, the kamikaze pilots in WWII and the hard-working, macho Gordon Gecko's in the 1980's. Women knew their place in the old Japan and that was 20 steps behind and keeping house, while hubby met the Geishas and got drunk at the Karaoke bars. Then, as if by magic, everything suddenly changed. Women became better educated and pursued careers; anti-discrimination laws deterred any unwanted hanky-panky in the workplace. Men meanwhile, wanted a girl just like the girl, who married dear old dad, but that wasn't going to happen. Now, shock horror, they've morphed into a generation of radish-eating nerds, holed up in their bedrooms, sucking on their metaphorical thumbs, so to speak.
This is the message. You Japanese have to not embrace everything in such an extreme fashion. You know, a little balance is called for. Guys, you have to deal with the situation, things have changed and you're not handling it well. Girls meanwhile, you've got to start giving these guys a break. If they start to get things going, you have to be a bit encouraging. But, in the final analysis, who am I, or we, for that matter, to start pointing a disapproving finger. Aren't our very societies just as prone to most of these same trends? Isn't it just a case of Japanese society being an exaggerated metaphor for all modern societies? So take that relaxing drive in the country, in your newly-purchased Honda sports car of course, and by all means stop and photograph those Buddhist temples, with your recently bought, top-of-the-line, locally made camera.. Then, open the passenger door for your date. Explain to her that all that fresh air has left you feeling a bit frisky. Tell her she's invited up to your apartment to sample some of your famous radish soup and then don't forget to romance her. What's that, you're not sure how? And I almost thought we'd nailed it!