Saturday, January 1, 2011

Japan 2011 Stylewatch: Soshoku Kei, Otomen, Gyaru-o, Chara-o, Sholita

Continuing a Mostly Harmless tradition of Japanese stylewatching for the New Year (Gackt, ikemen, and Jero in 2008, Hikaru Utada in 2009, Star Blazers in 2010), for 2011 I asked the Full Metal Archivist what Japanese trends might go viral this year. Her first idea was changing styles of masculinity, a kind of turn toward the feminine among younger Japanese men, which is interesting in itself but also in the reactions it has sparked at home and abroad. Not that this is all that new for 2011--from the moment I first set foot on a plane to Japan, I realized that my usual cues for reading male sexuality were not all that useful among Japanese men--but what is different is the media attention in the past couple of years devoted to tracking what is being framed as a generational shift in Japanese masculinity.

First, some quick definitions:

Soshoku Kei: This is the now-classic "herbivore/vegetarian" generational tag that started making the rounds in 2009. It resulted in a Japanese movie last year, which was part of a larger dialogue that even Newsweek picked up on, portraying soshoku-kei danshi (which they translated literally as "grass-eating men") as a symptom of Japan's economic malaise: "Toyota's fall from grace caps a 20-year economic malaise that is infecting the popular culture, manifesting itself in a preference for staying home, avoiding risk, and removing oneself from the hierarchical system." Heck, even a Carnegie Council writer put his 2 cents in!

To see for yourself what everyone's talking about, check out this clip from Cool Japan:

Compare CNN International's brief overview from mid-2009:

Otomen: OK, to understand what an otomen is, you 1st need to review the definition of an ikemen. So if an ikemen is a teen idol or male hottie, then an otomen is one with a hidden girlish side. For a drama that has about the same relationship to this social category as Douglas Coupland's Generation X has to the eponymous American generation, head on over to and watch the 12-episode J-drama Otomen. Me, I'm wondering if the 1st big musical number from Tangled (you know, the one set in the Snuggly Bunny), which imoto and onechan were brave enough to see in the theater last week (1st time evah in the U.S. for both!), is a parody of this Japanese phenomenon.

Gyaru-o, Chara-o, Sholita: I may be wrong, but I think of these as different styles of being an otomen, with the first being a kind of a male bimbo, the second more of a bad boy type, and the third projecting a kind of boyish "moe" vibe. Let's start with the last, for the super-cute character "Honey" from the anime Ouran High School Host Club is the perfect example. Skipping to the first, Patrick Macias provides two recent examples of how big an influence Ernest Hemingway's posthumous The Garden of Eden has had on female and male hostess/host culture in Japan. It's a little harder to find good examples of the sexier, wilder chara-o look, and Daisuke Takahashi doesn't usually sport it, but this image is what the Full Metal Archivist settled on after a while.

So there you have it. Maybe now you can understand what the Full Metal Archivist means when she sums me up as a "soshoku-kei shoujo manga otomen with no domestic skill." Yay! Happy New year, everyone!

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