Happy Valentine’s Day, Herbivores

Happy Valentine’s Day, readers! My gift to you is an analysis of the Hotel New Hankyu’s Valentine’s Day roll cakes for, I kid you not, herbivore- and carnivore types.

I first saw this image on a friend’s facebook page, and tracked it down this article on the Japanese MSN Lifestyle page. In the course of writing this piece, I actually found the original press release, which I discuss after the MSN article.

Perfect for Herbivore-Types? The Zebra Roll Cake 

holdings.hankyu hanshin.co.jp ir data HH201302011N1
Image from the Hotel New Hankyu press release.


The “zebra-print roll cake” went on sale at the Hotel New Hankyu (Osaka) on Feb. 4 as part of the company’s line of Valentine’s Day products.

The 16-cm-long roll cake is made of café chocolat cream with a hint of bittersweet espresso and a light chocolate cake; the zebra pattern is airbrushed on in chocolate. The cake is described as having “an elegant outside and a mellow flavor.”

The zebra cake will be sold along with the leopard-print roll cake, 800 of which were sold in 11 days before  Valentine’s Day last year.

Price: 1200 yen.


The phrase “herbivore type” or “herbivorous” (草食系) is usually used in the context of straight-identified men who are not interested in actively pursuing getting a girlfriend, getting married, or climbing the corporate ladder; they are shy, quiet, and may be interested in culturally feminized pursuits, such as baking or maintaining a high level of grooming. These men are an example of generational shifts in how we think about gender and masculinities. A lot of really poor pieces have been written by the mainstream media (oh, wacky Japan and your wacky birth dearth!), who obviously have a feeble grasp of gender studies. This piece in The Japan Times has a lot of the basics about the characteristics of herbivore men right, but the author and subjects conflate sex and gender, which are not the same thing. Sex is one’s physical sex (in terms of cisgendered subjects, at least), whereas gender is a social construct that is fluid, changing across time and space. Flowing locks, a shapely calf, and high heels were  the height of masculinity back in Louis XIV’s day, after all. (This is an example I have used for ten years, so thank you, BBC, for bringing it to everyone’s attention.)

Eating sweets is considered unmanly in Japan–and herbivorous men are teased for being concerned with diet and exercise as much as they are for daring to enjoy desserts–but did the hotel just give both herbivores and “carnivores” (aggressive, sexual types) alike permission to enjoy cake? The headlines used for the announcement of the cake sales vary, but fortunately, I was able to find the official press release from the hotel, which you can see here. (I’ve uploaded it here, too: HH201302011N1.) To answer the question, yes–but the intended buyer is not the men but the women.

“When Women Fall in Love, They Are Animals.”

The Hotel New Hankyu is selling the “zebra roll cake” for Valentine’s Day. The sweetness of the chocolate cake pairs well with the bittersweet espresso cream–this is a dessert for grown-ups. Great as a gift for your lover or to bring as “friend chocolate” (友チョコ) for your girls’ night out.

Photo text: Which are you? Carnivorous leopard (print) or herbivorous zebra (print)?

In Japan, women are expected to bring chocolate for male coworkers/bosses, called giri-choco (obligation chocolate, 義理チョコ); giving a gift of sweets to someone you are dating or have a crush on is also standard. Men return the favor on March 14, White Day, giving gifts of chocolate to anyone who brought them giri-choco and, presumably, getting gifts for female partners or crushes. Tomo-choco, which is mentioned in the text, is “friend chocolate,” which women give to their female friends on Valentine’s Day. While many offices might have both male and female employees giving to the community chocolate bank, so to speak, the marketing and cultural expectations are still gendered.

This is why I’m so curious about the roll cake. The herbivore vs. carnivore discussion is so focused on men who fail or succeed to perform acceptable masculinities that, while we see mentions of “carnivore women” as the counterpart to herbivore men, we don’t see a lot of talk of “herbivore women.” I suspect this is because what makes an herbivore is culturally “feminine” and therefore does not need the linguistic qualifier. If women “become animals” while in love, is the roll cake meant to help women lay their cards on the table with a new partner, as if to say, “Hi, I like you and I’m a carnivore/herbivore, if you’re into that.” If so, what does it mean to bring one of these cakes to a joshi-kai (“girls’ night” or “ladies-only gathering”)–are you supposed to come out to your friends about what  your dating personality is like, or does bringing the cake into a platonic setting (again, assuming heteronormativity here) strip it of its original romantic/sexual meaning?

As the corollary may fully prove the intent, I’m dying to know what’s on the menu for White Day.


Since Japanese news articles occasionally disappear from the internet, the original text of the MSN article is below.


草食系にピッタリ!? 「ゼブラ柄」ロールケーキ











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