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Who Are Japan's Grass Eaters?

25/03/2014 11:41 GMT | Updated 20/05/2014 10:59 BST

Lately my friends have been asking me the most strange question: "Who are Japan's grass eaters?" Initially I thought they were referring to vegetarians or people who ate grass, but it turned out to be something entirely different.

The media overseas has been reporting this shocking recent phenomena in Japan for some time. According to their report, soshokukei danshi (草食系男子) -herbivorous boy - refers to men who are not interested in dating, sex, or marriage. These men have decided to live a life without a partner or even a romantic relationship as a way of turning their back on "macho ways." They find it safer both emotionally and financially to stay single and celibate. This is a serious matter, they say, because it's contributing to the rapidly declining birth rates in the nation.

One article cites that 60 percent of Japanese men aged between 20 and 34 display at least some "herbivorous tendencies." It's a worrisome trend, another article warns us, because what's happening in Japan maybe a glimpse of all our futures in the rest of the world.

To find out if these reports are true, I asked my girlfriends in Japan. They told me that there were many soushokukei danshi these days, but when I asked them what the term really meant, all they could tell me was this: They're a type of men who are "not aggressive about dating."

"Dating soushokukei is such a pain ," said one of my girlfriends. "They don't ask me out, so I have to ask them out." She said.

"But I thought they didn't even want to date." I said. She looked puzzled.

Masahiro Morioka is an university professor who came up with the term, soushokukei danshi, and made it popular. Morioka defined the term as the following: "Grass eating men are those with gentle hearts. They are neither tied to the traditional sense of masculinity or greedy for love. They are not good with hurting people or being hurt by others."

Google search on the word 草食系男子 (soushokukei danshi) brings up a number of blogs written by self-proclaimed grass eaters. If you read some of them, it won't take you long to learn that the majority of these men are exactly what my friends and Morioka described - men who are not aggressive about dating. Nothing more or less.

Do some of them refuse to date, have sex, or marry? Maybe, but they're not the majority. When Japanese men call themselves soushokukei, they simply mean that they're not a macho type, and that they're not aggressive towards women or dating. What they do or don't do in terms of dating, sex, or marriage depends on the person.

So here is what I've found out: Grass eaters exist in Japan, but the definition of the word is much broader than what's been reported in the media. Those who are featured in it are extreme examples.

This leads me to a question - why does the media always feature extreme cases? Perhaps the answer is simple: The more shocking the news is, the more people want to read it.

In political news we tend to see either the people on the far left or those on the far right. We rarely hear about the people in the middle, even though they are the majority. The same is true with religions. When was the last time we heard about moderate Muslims? It's always the extreme ones who get the most news coverage.

So this is what I think happened. The international media has made shocking news out of Japan's new trend by featuring people on the far end of the spectrum.

Today we have a lot of information on the internet, but we really don't know its accuracy unless we find out for ourselves. As Einstein said, "Information is not knowledge."