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Herbivore Boys: Japan's Soft Boys

Herbivore Boys are very close to a girl’s image of a perfect boy (Ayaka, college student) Herbivore Boys are boring and effeminate. Life with them would be so dull (Risa, Ayaka’s classmate) Meet Japan’s new breed of male. They’re in their 20s and 30s. They don’t care about making big bucks. Whatever money they do make, they spend on clothes, hair care or their hobbies, which may range from eating cakes to collecting teddy bears. They favor floppy, sculpted hairstyles and use face creams and other skincare products (of which there is an ever-growing range in drugstores). They also pluck their eyebrows. Most significantly, they are quite happy for friendship between men and women to exist, sans sex. They’re known as Soshoku Danshi, literally Herbivore Boys. They’re sensitive, gentle, non-competitive guys who, as Boy George once said, would rather have a nice cuppa tea than sex. With a big slice of strawberry gateau, please. Which has to be good news for long-suffering Japanese women, considering that just last year ladies-only cars were introduced in Tokyo’s subways, due to the alarming number of gropers on the crowded trains. But make no mistake, these guys are not gay. Nor are they nerdy computer-game geeks. The term Herbivore Boys was coined by writer Maki Fukasawa back in 2006. She chose the term, not because of this new breed’s diet, but because of their sexual tendencies. In Japanese, sex is translated as “relationship in flesh” and Herbie Boys are not interested in matters of the flesh, Fukasawa claims. Love of cakes aside, most Herbivores eat skimpily, favoring the skinny look. “When I go to a restaurant with a boy, I don’t like to eat more than he does,” complains Risa. “So if I go with a Herbivore Boy, I always end up hungry!” Be that as it may, of 44 female college students I surveyed, only 25 expressed a definite preference for Nikushoku Danshi, or Carnivore Boys. The rest admitted to being attracted by the new Soft Boys. “Most girls these days prefer Herbivore Boys,” says Mayuko enthusiastically. So just what does a girl see in a guy with little money, zero ambition and the sex drive of a neutered axolotl? “It’s not that they’re not interested in women,” explains Ayaka. “But they leave love to take its own course. If Cinderella’s Prince was a girlish boy, he wouldn’t go and look for Cinderella. He’d wait for her in his castle and dream of marrying her.” “And they’re so cute!” adds Shiho. Japan’s love of all things cute is well-known (think Hello Kitty), and to call someone cute is the highest compliment. “But they’re incapable of saying ‘I love you,’” scoffs Makiko. “It’s just that they’re not eager for love, and can’t express their love frankly,” counters Ayaka. Best of all though, they possess that rarest of male virtues: they are good listeners. “They always listen to a girl’s talk,” Ayaka continues. “And they’re very kind. So a girl feels really relaxed around a Herbivore Boy. They make us feel calm. This is why they make such a good impression.” Not all girls have such clear-cut preferences one way or the other. “Ideally, I’d like my boyfriend to be a Herbivore by day, and Carnivore by night!” reckons Mayuko. “Yes, 50-50 is best,” Makiko quickly agrees. “The three most important qualities in a boy for me are that he is intelligent, gentlemanly and cool. It’s hard to find a Carnivore Boy with the first two.” Meanwhile, Mayuko thinks that the number of nikushoku onna, or Carnivore Women, proactive and dominant in their relationships with men, is on the rise. Whether this is because of Herbie Boys’ inability to take the initiative, or if Herbie Boys themselves are a reaction to more assertive women, is a chicken and egg question that no one can answer. Nowhere is Japan’s fascination for this new phenomenon of Soft Boys and Aggressive Women more apparent than in the prime time Fuji TV smash drama series, Otomen. Otomen is a pun on the Japanese otome, meaning young girl, or girlish, and the English “men”. So it quite literally means “Girly Men.”

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