Where did all the manly men go?

Many outsiders bemoan the lack of masculinity in anime and other Japanese media. For a lot of anime fans or just weeaboos in general, however, they simply just accept and embrace this reality as another quirk of Nippon.

Looking absolutely fabulous there, Lelouch.

Looking absolutely fabulous there, Lelouch.

Let’s take a brief look at the visual representation of Japanese men and its underlying causes.

The quick and dirty answer to the question of this entry’s title is simply nowhere. For all the cosmetic changes on the outside, relatively little has changed in terms of social dynamics. Perhaps the common Japanese protagonist is a little broodier, sulkier than before (see: Shinji, Squall… hell, all of them), masculinity remains largely traditional, i.e. ridiculous levels of personal sacrifice to save the world, rescue and protect the damsel in distress, etc. In general, you’re still required to have a penis to “play the game,” so to speak.

Naruto deserves an entry of its own.

Naruto deserves an entry of its own.

So if men haven’t really changed all that much on the inside, why do they have to be so fruity looking on the outside? That’s the common complaint I always hear from non-anime fans, especially when the latest JRPG comes out.


When the hype of FFXII started to hit gamers, many were excited for the revolutionary battle system, but just as many complained about Vaan and how “gay” he looked. But he isn’t gay, and in the game, he acts just like any other typical teenage boy. So what if he “looks gay?” Do we in the West suddenly have the say on what constitutes manliness? As is often expected when cultures clash, people have a difficult time understanding that different societies have different standards. This becomes especially true when societies in general tend to assign normative values to absolutely subjective realities, i.e. there’s something wrong with you as a man if you don’t look a certain way.

But beauty standards will always change. Centuries ago, portly old men with beards got off on their plump 12 year old wives.


And just look where we are now.

At least they just LOOK twelve, amirite?

At least they just LOOK twelve, amirite?

So for Japan, it’s not that the burly or hunky Japanese male never existed. Masculine looks have merely been re-defined. I know a history lesson is a tough pill to swallow, but it’s a necessary one to truly understand the social context that gave rise to this change. As the equality gap narrowed between men and women, you increasingly needed more than power, wealth and status to attract the desired female in modern society. In other words, men started to preen and obsess over their physical appearance. These “fruity” metrosexuals we see on TV nowadays might seem like they preen more than regular ol’ manly men, but that’s a misconception. Every person has a certain look or image they strive to maintain. Those guys that mock metrosexuals? They try their damn hardest to come off as normal, to fit within the status quo. In contemporary Japan, however, we might view men’s attention to beauty as a reaction and thus it might seem somewhat exaggerated.

We’ll start with the immediate aftermath of WW2. From the 1950s to 1970s, a “bushy Euroamerican” became the forefront of Japanese male beauty, with “[Charles] Bronson  [as] one of the most popular advertising models through years of commercials for Mandom, the Japanese men’s cosmetics firm.”


Sean Connery was also another sex symbol, especially for his chest hair (more on this later).


But a change occurred in the mid 70s and this change is what the contemporary metrosexual look of Japan is largely reacting to. As always in this blog, we must understand the change alongside pop culture.


From 1975 and through the 80s, The Super Sentai Series defined heroism for a lot of Japanese young boys, whose closest male models were their dads. What is it about these costume-clad fighters that could possibly relate to Japanese dads? The answer lies in their relative lack of distinguishing features. When corporate culture started to take over Japan, male beauty standards changed even then. Starting in the 70s, which (not so) coincidentally is when Super Sentai started, there was a shift of the desired male types from “scholar types or athletes to the salaryman as the preferred marriage candidate.” Take a look again at the heroes above and the salaryman below.


It isn’t rocket science. A hero (salaryman) must shed his individuality and put on his costume (business suit) to selflessly fight against evil (be the sole breadwinner of the family). Corporate culture quickly de-eroticized men, preaching a “productivity ideology of standardization, order, control, rationality and impersonality.” Of course, nothing ever lasts forever. The recession of the late 80s and through the 90s did a number on both the salaryman’s psyche as capable providers for the family. As a result, their image took a hit and now their model of maleness is being associated with the oyaji (old men) and thus undesireable.

Oyaji always got the same haircut, always had the same flabby build, always never really bothered with their body hair (legs, chests, arms, you name it). In general, the oyaji are seen as those who really don’t give a damn about their looks. Cause, at the end of the day, the paycheck is all that matters, right? Unfortunately for them, women have changed. More and more women are choosing to abandon the common housewife future for a career, postponing marriage years and years after college. These young women with power their mothers never wielded don’t want to date salarymen because of their conservative “good wife, wise mother” ideal for mates. As a result of this change, aesthetic values followed suit. Look at a ranking of detestable physical attribute according to a magazine poll:

  1. Chest hair
  2. Body hair
  3. Leg hair
  4. Beards
  5. Fat body
  6. Long hair (on the head)
  7. Skinny body
  8. Body odors
  9. No muscles
  10. Small penises

Imagine that–the penis, perhaps the epitome of American imagination of manliness, hardly garners any attention. What Japanese women dislike most of all is body hair.


Kimura Takuya (also known as Kimutaku) above is the poster-child of contemporary manliness in Japan: “…female readers of An An magazine have consistently voted Kimutaku the celebrity they like most… In 2004, he captured this honor for the eleventh year in a row. Every year, Kimutaku heads the list of ‘guys we want to have sex with.'” In fact, 72% of women prefer “smooth men” versus the 2% who don’t. Recall the picture of Vaan earlier in the entry with his chest-baring vest. It should now make perfect sense why he’s baring his skinny, hairless chest for the world to see and it isn’t because he’s outrageously fabulous: “The new focus on the slim and smooth male body means that entertainers take every opportunity to flash their bare, oiled torsos in concerts, television dramas, and advertising.” FFXII needed to capture the success of its predecessor, FFX, which starred the equally chest-baring metrosexual Tidus.


Here’s another humorous anecdote for the doubters too (try to get past the “hurr dumb American” implications).

An episode that highlighted the contrast between American and Japanese attitudes toward male body hair happened at the building where I was housed with other foreigners associated with a Japanese university. Japanese students frequently came by to hang out on an upstairs balcony. One day I went up to talk to a small group of them about male beauty work. This school had been an all-male university until only a few years prior, when it began admitting women. There are still very few female students, and the ones who are there have entered by virtue of superior math and science skills, which enabled them to beat out male competitors. All the women I met were highly intelligent, straightforward, serious and unpretentious. As I talked with them on the balcony, an American male student came up and, not understanding, asked for a translation. When I explained that many Japanese women find body hair on men unattractive, which has led to the development of new products and services for male body hair removal, he was incredulous. He refused to believe me, claiming that chest hair in particular indicates that one is a “real man” and that women universally “dig it.” I suggested that different aesthetic sensibilities were in operation, but he continued to protest such an idea. Just then “Naoko,” a female student as bright as any I met, came up to join our group. The American chap, deciding to simply test my theory empirically, lifted his shirt to display his hairy chest, asking her what she thought. Naoko screamed, “How hateful!” (Iya da!) in a shrill voice and ran to hide behind a door, periodically peeking out to whimper at the unspeakable sight.

I hope the conclusion is starting to settle in. After two decades, the salaryman ideal has been thrown out the window. Now associated with oyaji, the natural reaction is the opposite end of the spectrum. Skinny (but still muscular) and smooth bodies now dominate male aesthetics in Japan because they’re all some form of neotiny, a “penchant for youth and downy innocence.” We criticize the male obsession with young girls in Japanese pop culture, but women who fawn over Kimutaku are somewhat guilty of the same idea (though one could hardly compare Kimutaku to say… Kodomo no Jikan).

What does this all ultimately mean? I earlier alluded to the economic recession and the upward status of women as possible causes to the shift in male beauty. In a large part, consumer culture is also the culprit. The salaryman defined himself by his unsung, selfless devotion to work. Self-definition in a consumer age includes the “commodified selfhood,” where men feel the female (or male too) gaze. This entry follows the one on androgyny because one can see the trend in metrosexuality in men as “an outcome of ‘aesthetic communication’ in which men have acquired female sensibilities and bodily sensuality as an aspect of self-expression.”


So really, increased attention in male beauty is just another way of deconstructing and breaking down rigid gender roles and expectations. If you deny that masculinity could include an attention to one’s own looks, you’re denying that men can change. In essence, such critics maintain one universal definition of manliness in which beauty does not belong. But if beauty doesn’t belong with masculinity, it must necessarily be feminine, which would be an antiquated conclusion to make in our post (post?) modern times.

25 thoughts on “Where did all the manly men go?

  1. Israel

    Well that was gay… a guy looking more like a girl is gay simple as that… someone needs to knock some sense into those amine cartoon makers.


    1. jjpavo

      How does someone’s image define their sexuality? That makes no sense whatsoever. So if tomorrow I just started making myself look like a girl then I would automatically turn gay? Flawless logic.

  2. Srubna

    Nope, anime men just look gay and metrosexual. Large, tall and square jawed are specifically male traits; if you do not possess these you look like a woman.
    This has been the norm for thousands of years, and it remains so in all non-Western (read, all non-FemiNazi) countries. The answer is that American (and by extension, Japanese) culture are homoeroticized and stupid and completely in denial of human inequality.

  3. Ryan R

    Masculinity absolutely can include an attention to one’s own looks… but this is nothing new, as you try to make it sound.

    Barbers, shaving, various fashions in men’s clothing, all of these have existed for hundreds of years. Look at the way that wealthy men tended to dress even in medieval time. There was an obvious flamboyance to a lot of it; a desire to capture a handsome sort of beauty.

    What IS new, though, is people in their 20s, 30s, and perhaps even 40s and beyond, idealizing a very youthful appearance. As you briefly touched upon in your blog here, we see that both genders of anime fans have shifted in this direction.

    This naturally translates into a preference for slim bodies with little body hair, as body hair comes with age of course.

    But if you criticize male moe fans for idealizing a very youthful appearance in female characters, then why are you seemingly so supportive of the idealizing of a very youthful appearance on the part of females towards male characters? What makes one more acceptable than the other?

    As for the metrosexual debate, if a man feels best by taking a metrosexual look upon himself, that’s fine. However, if a man feels best with more of a classical outdoorsman look (for example), what’s wrong with that? You make it sound like a crime for a man to want to be something other than a metrosexual.

    1. Venom Froggy

      “As for the metrosexual debate, if a man feels best by taking a metrosexual look upon himself, that’s fine. However, if a man feels best with more of a classical outdoorsman look (for example), what’s wrong with that? You make it sound like a crime for a man to want to be something other than a metrosexual.”

      In feminized nations such as Japan and the United States, it IS a crime. It’s a double standard. A manly man who wants to look more girly or wispy is considered enlightened. A girly man who wants to look more manly is considered a PIG.

  4. Srubna

    “What IS new, though, is people in their 20s, 30s, and perhaps even 40s and beyond, idealizing a very youthful appearance.”
    This is a good point. I actually understand it in men (somewhat biological), but not with women (it seems to be mainly a Western thing, which includes Japan). I’ve always liked 30-40yo manly men, myself. To me, metrosexuals are unattractive and young men are stupid and unreliable.

  5. Dustbunny

    So there are more manly men like the american standard up for grabs in japan? Girl chatter amongst asain wash females who have never left the states figure most japanese men would not be intreaset in a caucasion female. Asian females are still in alot of demand here how ever I rarely see asian males with a caucasion. (sorry about spelling)

  6. moon17

    I think you’re really just a closeted homo.

    Taku is just fine being Taku. He’s beautiful just the way he is. No man or woman has to live up to their society’s perceived notion of what is manly, or womanly.

    Didn’t Mishima already crash and burn on this notion, in the most aggregious manner.

    There is no “Japanese male.” Just people. All happy (or not) in their own skin. Who are you to decide how they should be?

    Look in the mirror. I suspect you are really unhappy with your own self-image.

  7. kireiangel

    3 years later and this is still shamefully relevant.
    Using Lelouch as an example. I think he’s great but my friends think he’s “idiotic and gay”.
    I live in Australia and it irritates me to no end that my friends here also still have this mind set about “manly men” and not understanding other cultures developments.
    It’s no wonder my friends accuse me of being secretly Japanese..
    They can’t see “beautiful men” all they see is “homo’s” and “wanna be women” an american friend of mine also used the slang “faggots” to describe these types of males (-for which I promptly punched him).
    To use a few quotes from my friends about Vaan when FFXII came out here as well, no matter how much they claimed to love the game they still simply couldn’t (and can’t) get over the character designs. One of whom stated “he perpetually looks like he’s just begging for someone to ass rape him” and another that declared “even Fran looks more manly than him..and she has BOOBS” (yes I have moronic friends -_-; I realised this long ago) and even “Basch looks pretty gay too but at least he’s slightly better built (stocky/boxy) and has facial hair, Vann is just prissy”.
    Suprisingly no one ever really mentioned Larsa though (except for one female friend who genuinely thought he was a girl till she played the game), maybe this is because he is only considered as a child and there for is allowed to be underdeveloped and androgynous? who knows..
    Many more anime and jrpg’s have come and gone since but to this day they still have this mind set and they still say the same things for every new game we get and every new anime we watch.. that is just sad.

    1. E Minor Post author

      Talk of FFXII reminds me of the Honey Bee Inn in FF7 where Cloud could accidentally stumble into a(n) (implied) gay orgy. And the guys in the gay orgy? All buff, workout freaks. Zangief of Street Fighter II is also supposed to be a homosexual, much to many gamers’ surprise. As much as the West likes to portray metrosexual men as fruity or “faggoty,” Japan can make pretty tasteless assumptions of homosexual men. I don’t want to draw false equivalencies, however, and make some pointless statement like “Both cultures are equally bad!” Basically, I’m just saying that prejudice comes from ignorance.

  8. no_no-name-to-give-out

    A true man has better things to do than watching anime… like buying up real-estate at insanely low interest rates and smuggling toupees across the border.

  9. pf

    Jesus christ, soon males will look like females now. Piss of you people who think men/women don’t need a defined feature. When MEN START TO LOOK LIKE FEMALES and VICE VERSA there is a problem … I look at these gay smooth skin japanese boys and they piss me off. It’s disgustingly frightening japanese men are starting to look like females. Not to mention most don’t want to have sex. Do you know what that means? That means good bye japanese unless they get rid of that stupid feminine look and turn into real men again. Also, they need to have a real military back because that would sure as hell would help A LOT in the manly situation…

    Also think about this: I doubt those girly japanese men would fight for their country if something bad were to happen. They would be too concerned about how they looked LOL. China could probably destroy Tokyo OVER NIGHT.

    Thank god they still practice martial arts and other sports so there is still a manly population in Japan… I guess it’s really the major cities that suffer from the girly man syndrome.

    1. Mike

      Another ignorant American ranting off his ignorant BS insecurities.

      1. The preference for Feminine-looking dudes in East Asia is nothing new, they have been doing that of thousands of years, especially in Korea.

      2. A dude looking (key word, looking) like a chick doesn’t imply weakness according to science. The assumption itself is old fashion sexism. The idea that a man who gives a damn about his looks isn’t Manly/Tough/etc is American redneck BS. Even Europeans make fun of Americans for believing that crap.

      3. Most of the “manly” population that “still practice martial arts and other sports” look no different than the guys you complain about.

      4. Women in East Asian prefer “gay” looking dudes over the so-called “real men” you have a hard on for.

  10. Pingback: Masculinities « The Gender Diaries

  11. Hobson

    masculinity is not subjective. the masculine traits like a broad torso, a large musculature, facial hair, body hair and a prominent bone structure are idealised by men because their hormones make them that way. men are not institutionalised to like manliness, they gravitate to it because its philosophy matches THEIR image.

    the reason why the sleek effeminate look attracts women is because that look follows their perception of beauty. simply put, they think that a beautiful slender woman is the only form of beauty and that if a guy wants their attention he needs to look like a beautiful slender woman as well. their definition of an ugly woman is to look like a man and that same mentality is carried over to their standards for men.

    I think women who think like that are very ignorant. they do not know what a man’s body is supposed to look like and thus will not appreciate it. if you ask me people these days need to read up on sexual dimorphism and puberty to know the difference between a man and a woman’s body and learn to appreciate them individually.


        the fuck is your point? I’ve seen some East Asian males who fit his description and man, are they GORGEOUS.

        Unfortunately for white men… lmao… a lot of them are beta as fuck and have those dopey ugly faces *shudders*


      I personally don’t care for affeminate men, generally, unless he’s the “affeminate” type where he is a little flamboyant, romantic, and a good dresser but still has that masculine “umpf” about him and has a rare handsomeness unseen in most men


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