Japan from the inside out

The studliness of grass-eating men

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, March 13, 2010

“GRASS-EATING MEN” is an expression used to describe the allegedly limp and wimpy young Japanese man of today. It became a catchphrase of sorts last year, and was soon glommed by those elements of the Anglosphere mass media who scarf up this type of story quicker than a free hamburger and beer. From their perspective, it also dovetailed nicely with their other stories of bra- and makeup-wearing Japanese men.

There are other perspectives, however. One of them was presented by the prolific author Hashimoto Osamu in the February issue of Chuo Koron as part of a rumination on the Tiger Woods affairs. Here it is in English.

The phrase “grass eating men” appeared in the 2009 Buzzwords of the Year contest, and some people are saying that today’s young men are not aggressive in pursuing affairs of the heart.

While that may well be true, it is not a recent development. The idea that studly Japanese men do not make aggressive moves on women is a sort of aesthetic value that became established during the Edo period (1603-1868), so it will not be shaken that easily.

The kabuki and joruri puppet dramas of the Edo period have determined the disposition of the Japanese in profound ways. The “studly men” (ikemen) who appear in these dramas do not readily assert themselves with women. They are approached by women even when they do not assert themselves. The greatest pickup line for Japanese is when a Japanese woman approaches a man, snuggles up to him, and says, “ne~”. With this one word, a romance that is going to happen will happen. All a man has to do is be a grass-eating animal who pokes his head into a feeding trough that has approached him.

That’s why the highest standard for judging a Japanese man’s eroticism is his attractiveness to women. Japanese men unconsciously believe it is not possible to think of how to make oneself attractive to women; the Japanese man who is attractive to women has been allotted that role by fate.

And that’s why the studly Japanese man does not have to be aggressive when pursuing romance. They will come to him even if he doesn’t do anything. That is stoicism on the face of it, and it also allows him to be self-indulgent in these matters. Japanese men were not at all criticized for this in bygone times; even today, women infatuated with studly men will seldom criticize them for this.

In Edo period dramas, it is the men who are aggressive in affairs of the heart that women do not find attractive. Women see them as unappealing, so they have no choice but to be aggressive. These men are not suave in manner. Therefore, when those men who are not attractive to women are sexually aggressive, women will dismiss them with the complaint that they are offensive. (Note: “Iyarashii“; this has sexual connotations.)

That’s why the men who aren’t fancied by women but who are sexually aggressive are suited only for the role of cheap heavies. That can’t be helped—that’s what they are.

In fact, as the Japanese “grass-eating men” trend shows, the longer that periods of social calm prevail, everything somehow seems to take on the air of the Edo period.


Here’s the list of top 10 buzzwords in 2009 for those who can read Japanese. “Grass-eating men” made the cut.

Once upon a time in America, a woman who found a man’s advances unpleasant would have dismissed them with the word, “Fresh!” That’s probably the best translation for iyarashii, but it’s not contemporary.

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2 Responses to “The studliness of grass-eating men”

  1. no happy ending said

    A bit of intelligent commentary on this subject.
    Women who live in healthier countries prefer more feminine-looking men, compared with women living in regions where life-threatening diseases are rife, psychologists say. Their research suggests masculine men have the greatest appeal for women who live in areas where a strong genetic make-up is critical for survival.

    A study of women in 30 countries found they were more likely to choose a masculine-looking partner if their country scored low on a health index based on World Health Organisation mortality figures. By contrast, in countries where people have a longer lifespan, women favoured more feminine-looking men, even though they might not have the healthiest genes available.

  2. ampontan said

    An American woman psychologist asks: Is hypo-masculinity the new normal?
    She’s not thrilled about it, either.

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