Luisa Tam
SCMP Columnist
The Naked Truth
by Luisa Tam
The Naked Truth
by Luisa Tam

How herbivores, hermits and stay-at-home men are leaving a generation of Hong Kong women unsatisfied

In a city already known for its low sex drive, there is a new generation of men who are uninterested in romance and relationships. Whether technology is distracting them, or it’s the result of work or life pressure, women are feeling left out

Most women would agree on the quintessential qualities they seek in a male partner (besides looks): that he should be kind, gentle and considerate. This is especially so for long-term relationships. The good news is Hong Kong has plenty of men around (who might possess some or all of these qualities), but the bad news is that an increasing number of them are uninterested in dating or getting married, and some have gone as far as to ditch romantic relationships for good.

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These herbivore men don’t connect with others, they don’t establish their own families or have children and don’t really contribute anything meaningful to society, either tangibly or intangibly
Dr Paul Wong Wai-ching, University of Hong Kong

Leading the charge is an infamous cohort of homebound men known as “otaku”. A Japanese term for men who are socially awkward and have limited family and romantic lives, these “geeks” tend to be diehard anime and manga fans who have little interest in dating.

Then there are the “soshoku danshi”, which translates as “grass-eating men” or “herbivore men”. The term, coined by Japanese columnist Maki Fukasawa, describes a monk-like approach to life and relationships, in other words, no sex.

There might be exceptions, but these men would rather invest themselves in online gaming and other solo activities than seek female company in their free time.

Studies in Japan estimate that this class of men, normally in their 20s and 30s, account for around 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the male population. Obviously, their reluctance to procreate is a major cause for concern. Japan has had one of lowest birth rates in the world for nearly a decade now.

Now Hong Kong appears to be following in Japan’s footsteps.

Dr. Paul Wong Wai-ching from the University of Hong Kong. Photo: Edward Wong

According to Dr Paul Wong Wai-ching, associate professor of the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong, the city has seen a rise in the number of “grass-eating men”.

“These herbivore men don’t connect with others, they don’t establish their own families or have children and don’t really contribute anything meaningful to society, either tangibly or intangibly,” says Wong. “They are like parasites who often live with their parents. So you can imagine how it’s going to affect society in the long run, socially and economically.”

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Like Japan, our society is rapidly ageing, he adds. “These ‘grass-eating men’ are not capable of taking care of their ageing parents and neither are they capable of taking care of themselves when they become old, they are childless so they will have no family support,” he says.

Another type of man you won’t be finding on any dating apps are the “modern-day hermits”. They seek extreme disconnection and isolation from the rest of society, they become practically invisible. This phenomenon is triggered by an overburdened sense of responsibility, and when the pressure becomes too unbearable it causes the person to pull away and unplug from society in a kind of self-imposed exile.

With more Hong Kong men losing interest in relationships, the city’s women are going to face a frustrating time.
After a long-term detachment from society, their social skills diminish and this affects their ability to find employment. This has a domino effect of creating youths who are financially dependent on family and friends, jobless and lacking in drive. Not only does this mean these hermits never leave the nest or mature, but they are far less likely to have long-term relationships, romantic or friendship-based.

It seems counter intuitive that in a world as busy and interconnected as ours is, we are now lonelier than ever.

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We might not be as bad as Japan, with nearly half a million of these social recluses, according to a 2012 study, but there are still an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 hidden away in Hong Kong, according to Wong.

Whatever the difference in numbers between here and Japan, this disconnection is threatening the social fabric that binds our community and we need to do something about it.

While we can agree that dating can be terrifying, unforgiving and unpredictable, it is a rite of passage that many of us undertake as we grow up.

At heart, humans are gregarious creatures, so whether it’s meeting someone at a party, bar or anywhere else, forming human connections is an integral part of our being. Relationships and friendships are highly important for humans.

Cows form relationships and have best friends according to a study. Photo: Alamy
A recent study found that cows form relationships and even have best friends. When separated from their best friend, their milk production was affected and they showed a change in personality.

Think about it, if these bovine grass-eaters showed signs of emotional distress because of a lack of emotional contact, how will human “grass eaters” fare if they shut themselves off from human contact?

More Hong Kong men are opting out of relationships. Photo: Alamy
We can blame the prevalence of smartphones, laptops, computers, tablets and other electronic devices. We can even blame it on e-sports, a new pseudo sport that is sweeping the city with government backing. It can also be interpreted as another excuse for people to submerge themselves in the digital world rather than experience the real word.
Some blame e-sports for distracting people from real life, giving some an excuse to opt out of regular society.
“Those who advocate e-sports are sugar coating it as a genuine sport that encourages team interaction. It’s nonsense because it is just a limited form of interaction between a few members of a small team,” Wong says.

It’s a mistake to provide an escape hatch for people who want to avoid human interaction. If we continue to condone this kind of antisocial behaviour, we have to bear the risks and social consequences that come with it.

This is a far more serious social issue than just a blip in the dating game.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post and a former sex talk show host at DBC Radio