With only two episodes out, manga author Akiko Higashimura (Princess Jellyfish, Tokyo Tarareba Musume) has suspended publication of her new manga, Himozairu. Published in Kodansha's Monthly Morning 2 manga magazine, the series followed a group of unemployed young men looking to better their romantic prospects by teaching themselves domestic skills that would make them more attractive partners to professional women.
So what's all the hullabaloo about a couple of charming male late bloomers? While the manga revolves around training men who are searching for girlfriends with good jobs, the men that Hagishimura portrayed in her comic are an extremely sensitive topic: himo men.
In Japanese, the word himo literally means "string." However, in reference to a person, the word has a more negative connotation to mean "leash." Typically sparse on skills and job prospects, himo men train themselves to do housework in order to appear more attractive to career women.
Although the series is meant to be more along the lines of lighthearted self-help rather than self-deprecation, the online criticism of the series points to a much deeper issue in Japan.
For women in Japan, having both a career and children is difficult. Even taking maternity leave is a risky move within a job, and it seems having a career on top of raising a child is all too often a choice between responsibility at home and respect within the workplace. Women are subject to harassment, so much so that there is even a concept in Japan called matahara or "maternity harassment" for being pregnant at work. Corporate Japan, speaking generally, is made queasy by pregnancy. Reproduction and employment don’t mix in its view. Matahara is the subtle and not-so-subtle pressure it exerts on pregnant employees — slighting them, demoting them, ignoring or mocking their special needs in the hope they’ll quit.
Both the manga and the matahara cases feed back into an extremely workaholic culture in Japan, where people are expected to work incredibly long hours. The controversial portrayal of himo men coupled with the oppressive working situations that many women face, Akiko found herself with a manga that's really hit a societal nerve.
Despite Kodansha’s request to continue Himozairu, Higashimura insists on putting her installment on hiatus. “I cannot continue with my creation without facing up to public opinion,” says Akiko. “I will take time to re-examine the plot and resume the serial after I am fully ready.”