Japan Counterculture: The Soushoku Danshi
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For every dominant tribe or sphere of influence, there is an esoteric and complicated counterpart. These subcultures exist in a fine balance; each one defining and evolving in opposition to the other. In America, when babies boomed with crew cuts and letter jackets were standard, a tribe emerged that preferred long hair and free love; psychedelic threads to letter jackets. These cultural intricacies have not disappeared. In Japan many men are shunning traditional values and embracing the lifestyle of the soushoku danshi: grass-eating men.
Japan’s rapid growth during the 1980’s spawned a generation of career-men, who spent big money on status-flaunting items and adopted a traditionally ‘macho’ ethos. After the Asian financial crisis of the 1990’s, Japan has seen a steady decline in this salary-man consumer. Increasingly, men are turning to a lifestyle that is less aggressive and more domestic. These men comprise around sixty percent of Japanese males in their twenties and thirties; they are the soushoku danshi, the grass-eating men.
The emerging sub-tribe of grass-grass eaters is becoming less a reaction to the macho man, and more a norm for men in their twenties and thirties. These men shop and wear women’s clothes, prefer to stay indoors with a close circle of friends and interact with many women in a platonic way. Their seeming lack of sex drive is the most outright difference from the macho-man of the eighties, but they have many other characteristics which distinctly separate them from their more ‘manly’ counterparts. Many prefer to split bills and some are so non-aggressive towards women as to seem uninterested. Although the gay community certainly plays its part among the grass-eaters, the large majority are heterosexual. They are set apart because of their sensitivity and possession of typically ‘feminine’ traits. In a country renowned for its metrosexual men, the grass-eaters are unique in that they are becoming increasingly mainstream; they are no longer a cultural minority.
Hate It or Love It
Grass-eating men are self-described as being non-aggressive, sensitive, tight with money, and generally not interested in sex. Social scientists posit that these characteristics arose during the financial downturn of the nineties; others say it is a natural progression emerging globally in male sub-cultures. Some wonder whether this change in Japan’s collective male psyche is a symptom of arrested development, while others point out that even the dark-suited salary-men are changing their ideas about masculinity and women. Either way, there are haters and lovers.
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