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Japanese Gender Studies at Cambridge. Brigitte Steger

The Japanese Gender Research Group is headed by Dr Brigitte Steger and includes both academics and students. Some of the former and current members are Dr Angelika KochDr Gitte Hansen, Dr Hiroko UmegakiNanase Shirota, Christopher Tso, Rosie Dent-Spargo, Beverly Chen, Wei-Chuan Chen, Hattie Jones, Nicola McDermott, Christopher Deacon, Zoya Street, Hannah Vassallo and Sakari Mesimäki.

Cool Japanese Men

Following the successful publication four years ago of Manga Girl Seeks Herbivore Boy: Studying Japanese Gender at Cambridge, we are delighted to announce a second book by our recent Japanese Studies graduates. The book has been edited by Brigitte Steger, Senior Lecturer in Modern Japanese Studies and Angelika Koch, former PhD student and Postdoctoral Researcher at Cambridge (currently at the University of Ghent), who also supervised some of the studies.

Cool Japanese Men: Studying New Masculinities at Cambridge  (Lit, Dec 2017) is a collection of well researched and thoroughly up-to-date essays which explore what it means to be a ‘cool’ man in Japan today. Normative ideas of masculinity are currently being negotiated and revised in many societies and these studies make for fascinating reading, both for those with little knowledge of Japan and Gender Studies and those with long-standing interest in these areas. We have every confidence that this book will replicate the success of its predecessor, which is held in many UK school libraries and included on the reading list of university courses on Japanese society around the world. Our hope is that Cool Japanese Men will help inspire many more young people to begin their own exploration of Japanese culture.

Whereas in Manga Girl the men discussed were ‘absent fathers’ and ‘herbivore boys’, a somewhat pejorative term describing men who show little interest in pursuing a career or romantic relationships, the four essays in this new compilation explore what is required to be a ‘cool’ man in twenty-first century Japan.

Hannah Vassallo (graduated with BA in Japanese Studies, 2014) reports on how recent government campaigns promoting the image of ikumen (child-raising fathers) have brought fatherhood into the sphere of ‘cool’ in a marked divergence from the division of social roles of the traditional post-war family system in which ‘absent fathers’ left the burden of childcare to their wives. These new super-hero fathers manage to juggle successful careers with quality family time and may be seen proudly pushing their offspring in strollers and wearing stylish father-and-child matching outfits.

The chapter by Christopher Tso and Shirota Nanase, two current PhD students, examines a range of self-help literature for businessmen seeking to distance themselves from the outdated and decidedly ‘uncool’ image of the colourless and somewhat shabby ‘salaryman’. Two strategies for achieving this makeover are the proto-typically female gendered skills of personal grooming, including the newest skin treatments and the epilation of excessive body hair, and the ability to listen attentively and empathetically to colleagues.

‘Rebellious cool’ is showcased in an ethnography by Sakari Mesimäki (BA Japanese Studies, 2015) of a student hip hop dance circle at one of Tokyo’s top universities. Based on his experience as an undergraduate exchange student and group member, Mesimäki explores how hip hop’s anti-establishment values and emphasis on individuality, originality and competitiveness create new masculinities that differ from those performed in more traditional sport and martial arts clubs.

By way of contrast, the final chapter by Rosie Dent-Spargo (MPhil in Gender Studies, 2015) examines a group of decidedly ‘uncool’ otaku men — the nerdy fans of the pop idol group AKB48 whose members are marketed both as sex kittens and as innocent, child-like figures in need of the protection and support of older men.

Although the focus of this book is Japanese men, all the contributions demonstrate that the creation of masculinities is supported and shaped in no small part by the other gender. Indeed, men are aware of being observed by women, who often wield power as judges of what constitutes ‘cool’ and ‘successful’ masculinity. The studies also raise the question of how deserving these masculinities are of the ‘new’ of our title and to what extent they are influenced by more traditional ideas of how men and women should act. It is no surprise that behind the contemporary veneer of ‘new’ and ‘cool’ in Japan, old habits die hard.

See the publisher’s page

Look inside the book

Press release on the University of Cambridge website, February 2018


Manga Girl Seeks Herbivore Boy

With Conchita Wurst's success at the Eurovision song contest 2014, 'transgender', 'drag queen', 'LGBT', 'queer' and 'gender bending' have become common terms in the mainstream media. To fans of Japanese popular culture, such phenomena have long been familiar from boys' love manga for girls (yaoi), cross-dressing and many other forms of gender bending in Japan. Yet at the same time, cultural stereotypes about Japan hold  that the life-worlds of men and women in Japan are still highly separated. They conjure up a strict gender order that include beautiful, demure geishas, education mamas and restlessly toiling salaryman.

The book Manga Girl Seeks Herbivore Boy: Studying Japanese Gender at Cambridge edited by Brigitte Steger and Angelika Koch (2013), is a collection of undergraduate dissertations exploring emerging and divergent gender issues in Japan.

Our promotional offer to send a free copy of the book to UK school libraries has now ended. We thank everyone for your interest in the book and hope the essays will inspire you to study Japanese society!

Brigitte Steger and Angelika Koch (eds.), MANGA GIRL SEEKS HERBIVORE BOY: Studying Japanese Gender at Cambridge (Lit Publisher, 2013).

This collection of studies from the University of Cambridge provides fascinating insights into the diversity of gendered images, identities and life-styles in contemporary Japan – from manga girls to herbivore boys, from absent fathers to transgender people. 


University research news article: Book review under the title 'Gender in Crisis'

Book review (in German) on H-Soz-u-Kult (2013)

Review (in English) in Acta Asiatica Varsoviensia 26 (2013)

Review (in English) in Masculinities - A Journal of Identities and Culture 2 (2014)

Angelika Koch interviewed in the Telegraph (22 January 2015)

Review (in English) in Social Science Japan Journal (2015)