Asuka Masamune is a high school kendo champion. Everyone acknowledges he is a cool, good-looking guy and a truly manly man. But he has another self, a side that cannot help being attracted to cute and otome-like, or girlish, things.
This is the protagonist of Otomen (Hakusensha Co.), a girls' manga by Aya Kanno. The manga is brilliant in depicting the otome, or girlie, side in a man. But the reality may go further than the fiction.
In November, Web site WishRoom became a top story on Internet news sites and in weekly magazines when the online lingerie company sold 700 bras designed specifically for men--the first product of its kind in the nation--just in the first month after the launch of the lingerie.
WishRoom said it was not certain whether the bra would sell well when it put it out in response to customer requests. But orders for the bra, purposely designed in a very plain style, surpassed its production capacity.
Freelance writer Mari Aoyama, who published a book titled Buraja o Suru Otoko-tachi to Shinai Onna (Men who wear bras and women who do not, Shinsuisha Co.) in 2005, said men started wearing bras as a secret source of enjoyment in the 1960s, when the widespread use of bras among women took hold in the nation. But those who have bought the WishRoom product are believed to be different from the existing core of male bra users. The new product seems to have stimulated demand among men who wanted to wear bras but had not been able to buy them.
E-mail feedback from WishRoom bra users has included comments that wearing the bra puts them at ease, helps them understand the feelings of women, or makes them more gentle to the people around them. Bras may be an annoying item for women,
bringing a sense of confinement, but it must be a rather fetishistic item for the men as it ignites a girl's mind inside them.
Terms often heard nowadays include soshoku-kei danshi ("herbivorous" boys) or ojoman (girlie men). According to Soshoku-kei Danshi "Ojoman" ga Nippon o Kaeru, (Herbivorous-boy"girlie men" change Japan, Kodansha Ltd.), written by Megumi Ushikubo, who specializes in marketing-related themes, the term "ojoman" refers to a category of men aged 20 to 34 who became adults after the end of the bubble economy. They have little interest in sex, like to do cooking and sewing, and prefer pretty (kawaii) things to cool (kakkoi) ones.
Philosopher and Osaka Prefecture University Prof. Masahiro Morioka also explains in his Soshoku-kei Danshi no Renaigaku (Love study of herbivorous boys, Media Factory Inc.) what kind of views the new generation of gentle-mannered men with feminine sensitivities have toward love. He says they are unlike nikushoku (carnivorous) men who chase after women. Rikei-kun, meaning men who study or work in the math and science fields, another term enjoying a popularity in recent days, can also be viewed as a type of soshoku-kei men.
As I have written in this column before, I believe there is a change in sensitivities at the root of the otaku culture in Japan, one that can be described as a fluctuation in masculinity or the so-called otome-nization of boys. The otaku term "moe" (pronounced "mo-eh")--which literally means "budding" and describes the sensation of being blissfully overwhelmed by cuteness or attractiveness, is already a very otome-like idea.
Therefore, it has symbolic meaning that the men's bra was launched right here in Japan. The country of otaku also is the country of otomen. Don't ever call it gross. I even hope men's bras will continue to spread if all it takes is one garment for men
to become gentle to others.
(Jan. 9, 2009)
The funny part about this story is that it appeared in the Japanese media's bastion of conservatism, The Yomiuri Shimbun. I imagine the equivalent would be George Will or Robert Novak enthusing about their favorite pair of stilleto pumps or lace panties and how wearing them made them feel "pretty." Again, not that there's anything wrong with that-- consenting adults, whatever floats your boat and so on. You have to admit, it would certainly raise a few eyebrows to see a columnist at the National Post, New York Times or Chicago Tribune, to say nothing of a staid conservative publication such as the National Review, Washington Times or Wall Street Journal not merely publically embracing transvestitism, but giving it a hearty reccommendation.