Tokyo Men: More than Salarymen

If asked to describe a typical contemporary Japanese man the majority of Westerners will probably talk about a salaryman. And, indeed, he is an iconic image of modern Japan. A “corporate warrior” dressed in a dark business suit. He works long hours. He is loyal to his company. The salaryman is an embodiment of the Japanese hegemonic masculinity, i.e. the dominant ideal of manhood in Japan. He and his culture are a subject of numerous studies.

Salaryman masculinity is associated with patriarchy and traditional values. As any hegemonic masculinity, it represents the values of the ruling class. Many political decisions instil them. For example, the Japanese tax code benefits families with a sole breadwinner. The corporate policies, especially related to women, also cater to this lifestyle.

Yet even during the economic boom salarymen were the minority. The majority of Japanese men did not have office jobs and lifetime contracts. Today, only the luckiest of graduates get into this kind of employment. Young people work on temporary contracts. Many have only part-time jobs. This situation challenges the salaryman masculinity. Now it is more unattainable as it ever has been.

Hegemonic masculinity is always an unachievable ideal for the absolute majority of men. But only a few men set on a quest of embodying it. Most men develop their own masculinities deviating from the dominant values and ideals. Personality, culture, values, personal experiences, social environment, and other factors affect this process.

Japan is no exception. A small number of men gets close to the ideal. The rest negotiate their own ways of being men. Some of these new masculinities became as recognisable as the salaryman ideal. (“Herbivore men” is just one example.) They are often seen as inferior to the dominant version. Yet it would be a mistake to discard them. One of them might become hegemonic in the future.

Economic recession, ageing of the population, and cultural globalisation erode the traditional Japanese lifestyle. Women enter the labour force in greater numbers. Feminists voices become louder. Men are encouraged to get involved in childrearing and house chores. Gender roles and expectation start to change accordingly. The masculinities have to change to fit this new world better. And Japanese are on it.

This project explores various masculinities adopted by men in Tokyo. It shows men of different ages and occupations in their natural environment. The majority of photographs are candid portraits. This photo essay is not an exhaustive list of all existing masculinities. It is just a brief glimpse at the Japanese society and its men.


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