Who’s a pretty boy then?

The idea of “metrosexuality”, if not the word, must have been developed in Tokyo. There is no end to the throngs of young men who obviously spend an obscene amount of money of clothes, cosmetics, hair products and brand goods. Shops and advertising often target these kinds of guys and like their female counterparts they have swallowed the whole thing hook, line and fragrant hair-gel.

There is nothing particularly wrong with wanting to look presentable. I personally draw the line at paying good money for Luis Vuitton briefcases and Prada telephone straps, but some nice clothes, a shave and styling wax never hurt anymore, apart from, possibly, laboratory mice. But in the same vein you see women using every available reflecting surface to adjust their face, with train windows especially a favourite, you’ll see guys picking at their hair to make sure it’s spiky enough, polishing their shoes and adjusting their foundation.

Sales promotion teams have to go out to other companies to sell goods and these guys seem to be heavily populated with those of the metrosexual persuasion. I often share the lift with sales boys from neighbouring companies. I call them “boys” because they all look so very young to me, but to be fair I am notoriously bad at guessing the age of Japanese people, with a margin of error in excess of a decade either way. If I was single and playing the field this would probably get me in trouble. These boys, to get back to the subject, are dressed to the hilt in razor-sharp suits, shiny shoes, carefully sculpted hair and an improbable amount of male cosmetics. The lift can sometimes become a deathtrap of noxious l’eau de stink vapors or back-of-the-head-butting as the guy in front of you Beatle-shakes his hair to get that perfect coiffure.

Cosmetics, style magazines and fashion for men can never rival the onslaught of the female variety with Japanese women having a head-start for being obsessively fashion conscious, but the market is growing. Drugstores will have sections stuffed full of men’s products, from aftershaves to a bewildering variety of hair products, face masks and the like. Famously female-centric high-fashion shops are turning unisex with ever expanding guys’ sections. All-male health spa chain “Dandy House” caters to the metrosexual with too much money on his manicured hands. Their adverts, by the way, hilariously wheel out a dusty and creaking Richard Gere, loafing around an American countryside doing vaguely countrysidey things, his bones audibly groaning with every movement.

On the usage of the word “dandy” I like to educate my Japanese peers. Not dressing like the usual game developer, i.e. washing my clothes, I have been, on occasion, referred to as “dandy” I am greeted with shock when I tell them “dandy” is often used in the pejorative, followed closely by surprise after I’ve explained what “pejorative” means, all this aside from the fact the word hasn’t been used since 1932 when it was belaboured with foppish and slight limp-wristed undertones. Not so in Japan, apparently, where the purer, original meaning remains: someone who takes a lot of care of his looks and clothes. I do advise my colleagues never to refer to someone in Britain as a dandy, though, no matter how well intended the compliment.

The very best thing about all this is, though, that Tokyo is a fashion free-for-all. Nobody, and I mean, nobody will take much issue with your clothes, no matter what fashion you do or do not follow. You can wear anything you damn well like, be it the stinking rags of a boozed-up tramp (see also “Game Developers”), a sharp, pin-stripe suit, even if Italian or an outrageously elaborate Goth outfit, nobody will openly laugh at you, aside from the lesser informed tourist. This is a commendable attitude; I applaud it! I have my own standards and don’t mind telling people around me you shouldn’t wear flip-flops unless you’re walking on sand or that on the matter of shoes brown is for business, black for the club but the populace at large doesn’t care, and probably rightly so. Of course, if you do follow the current, short-lived trends people will think you a God amongst men, but if you don’t, well, so what?

So ladies and gentlemen of the jury, why, I ask you, with all that unisex compulsion for health, fashion and cosmetics, is it still impossible to find a good deodorant in Japan? They only seem to sell the power-spray variety that wears off after 10 minutes and can leave marks seeping through the elbow areas of dark shirts or T-shirts if used with enough tenacity. Bah humbug!

Yes, that image is the hilariously named Gackt, who doesn’t necessarily represent the metrosexual persuasion but it was the first and easiest photo I could find of an androgynously obsessive pretty-boy Japanese to illustrate this post with.


  1. Excellent writing, good sir! :)

  2. Just do what I do and just buy a ton of toiletry items -- deodorants in particular -- whenever you go home. If you go home at least once or twice every two years, then you'd be alright. As for other self-grooming stuff, I'm sure that you've found them here to be quite more than sufficient for your needs.

  3. Dandy is pejorative for you ?! i'm a french girl, and in France, i think it's ok being called Dandy, it'll be used for the kind of guy who dress very class (not sure of my vocabulary...). Now, we even have a magazine called Dandy, but funnily, i think it's targeted for men who's got something of the metrosexual guy. But french are not funny, regarding fashion. if you dress up a bit different and go in paris' street, you might feel like a laboratory mouse ! people will watch you strangely. I want to go back in Tokyo ... even if i have to give up deodorants ...

  4. you’ll see guys picking at their hair to make sure it’s spiky enough

    Ditto for Taiwan. At the basin in an MRT bathroom today I had to wait for a couple of guys meticulously preening themselves. Had to suppress the urge to step up, wet my hands and mimic the behavior with my centimeter-length buzz cut.

  5. I blame Square-Enix, personally. That bit in FFVII where Cloud has to wear a dress has a lot to answer for.

    If Manchester is anything to go by, the trend appears to be spreading out of Japan into pretty much all East Asian ex-pats. Chinese New Year this year was positively teeming with elegantly and effeminately coiffed young men.

  6. Ahh, where have the dandies gone? But I guess the time of the Oscar Wilde's is over. I do like the attitude of the Tokyoites towards different clothing, when I read it like this. Here in the Netherlands, people often mock me on the streets for wearing an ordinary fedora-style hat. A hat I tell you! Ridiculous.

    Also, Gackt never fails to amuse.

  7. A man called Roderick who wears a fedora. Now *that* is dandy! :)

  8. pretty boys are the revolution!

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