Brace for the next wave of Japanese youth culture

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 June, 2009, 12:00am

Hong Kong youths love to take after Japanese subculture. What is scarier is that they often take after their pathologies, too. For example, gong nam, a derogatory term for Hong Kong males, is a milder version of Japanese hikikomori, adolescents and young adults who shut themselves away at home and shun all human contact. They are the guys who are obsessed with video games and Japanese comics, often with pornographic content, and have trouble communicating with other people, especially members of the opposite sex.

But Japan has now evolved a happier version of hikikomori. They are officially known as soushoku danshi, which literally means grass-eating or herbivorous boys. Japanese media have discovered them, and they are everywhere.

They are young men, usually in their 20s, who have jobs, but not at executive level. They take long walks alone, have such hobbies as photography and like exploring old neighbourhoods and ancient buildings. They often take up gardening and prefer a non-competitive and sedentary lifestyle. Virtually all are hard-core vegans. And while they don't exactly shun women, they prefer all communication and contact to be as sexless as possible. If they are gay, they remain celibate. Their prime representative has been Ryoma Igarashi, a popular TV presenter.

Pundits and academics are in two minds about them. Some believe they are just normal, well-adjusted young people; others think the phenomenon is much less benign. What we know for sure is that Hong Kong will soon have its own soushoku danshi boys. They are coming to your neighbourhood.