In Japan, virtual love transcends the boundaries of reality

In the East Asian country, women and men marry their favorite fictional characters. A game, of course, but also true feelings. A fantasy, yes, but also a social protest.

I had been ordered to write a rather neutral essay, without the usual subjectivity of a cultural chronicle. But, with such an issue on my hands, I couldn’t help but think back to my early childhood. I was 7 and a half when it came out in France Aladdin40And Disney Studios animated film. I appreciated the hero’s mischief and recklessness, but was particularly blown away by the charming Jasmine. My classmate kept all of her school tools in a case with the image of the heroine. I admitted, in childish words, that I was sensitive to the charms of the character. She took advantage of this weakness to blackmail me: if I hadn’t been kind to her, she would have turned her case around so that I could no longer feed my feverish fantasy.

Then I thought about adolescence. In those rooms with walls covered with idols and characters of all kinds in whose lives many future disillusioned adults projected themselves to escape. Perhaps some of these posters represented real people, but there, before our eyes as drunken spectators, these beings, after all, were just images. “Fantasizing about an idol, a hero of the cinema … These passions we develop for images, often this is how love life begins”begins Agnès Giard, anthropologist member of the European research group Emtech (Emotional Technologies), author of the book A human desire, love dolls in Japan.

A wedding for € 14,500

Right there, in the East Asian archipelago, some have pushed the approach further. Some Japanese have married fictitious entities. Journalist stuck in our bad habits, we would like to talk about a boom, which Elsa Gonay’s researcher specializing in Japan and media history immediately qualifies: “It’s more of a marginal phenomenon. But we can ask ourselves how our dual existences in the real and virtual worlds challenge our vision of human relations … “

© Akihiko Kondo Instagram screenshot

Marginal, perhaps, but widely reported, because it raises this question. In 2018, Akihiko Kondo, a local public service worker residing in suburban Tokyo and single in his thirties, introduces his future wife to the world. This is Hatsune Miku, a virtual singer he’s been in love with for years and he’s spent days watching videos. Mainichi Shimbun, one of the main Japanese newspapers, specifies that it has spent 2 million yen, or about 14,500 euros (current rate) for a real wedding ceremony (not recognized by the civil registry). On the man’s Instagram profile, followed by 10,000 subscribers, the 130 publications are dedicated to his “wife”.

On January 27, 2022, Yuko, a 25-year-old woman, posted on Twitter photos of her union at a large hotel with her childhood sweetheart, Shizuo Heiwajima (a sexy and quarrelsome character from the series Durara !!, best-selling Japanese children’s novels). Agnès Giard and her anthropologist colleague Cécile Guillaume-Pey explain in an article (The conversation) that it took two days for the post to become the fourth most shared tweet in the country.

The impossible mirage of a rigid model couple

Beyond the anecdote, the trend tells a lot about the history of Japan and its society. In 1994 the Japanese economic bubble burst. The local model couple – the man who maintains the family, the woman who maintains the house – becomes a mirage for the majority: men no longer earn enough and women fear losing their independence and freedom. Result: many singles. “Two historical video games were born that same year, puts Agnès Giard into perspective. Angelicthe first of the otome games, romantic games for women and Tokimeki Memorial, the most popular of the bishôjo games, romantic games for men. “

© Screenshots VR wedding voltage

Since that date, the marriage rate has dropped to an all-time low – it has never been lower since World War II. “The government estimates that by 2040 one in three men and one in five women will be single for life”, continues the scientist. This context favors the emergence of a true industry of synthesis partners.

Video game maker Voltage (over 80 million registered users at the end of January 2022) has developed a virtual reality wedding ceremony application that allows you to marry key characters in its productions. The Gatebox company specializes in holograms and is working on a full-size prototype, which is still too expensive for the general public. It also offers a bonus to its employees who wish to marry a 2D entity. Unfortunately, neither of his two companies responded to our inquiries.

© Gateway screen

It is a game for some, a challenge for others. Agnès Giard compares this counterculture to the punk music of the 70s. It was born in reaction to structural dysfunctions: today it is impossible to achieve the objectives set by a still rigid society. “Marriage with fictional characters is therefore as much a dream as a revolt”the researcher decides.

Divinity in your pocket

A social challenge, but also an evolution of beliefs and traditions. These fictional lovers are available on all types of media: mugs, keychains, posters, duvet covers, perfumes, soft toys, figurines … so you can take them anywhere and always have them close to you. Big merchandising and a lot of money, but that’s not all. A popular Japanese tradition is based on the Yokai, presences that populate our environment.

“To designate their lover, some Japanese women use the expression ‘dear pocket’. They refer to those Yokai who stay in combs, lockers, umbrellaslist Agnès Giard. They act like mini gods – if you love and care for them, they protect you. “ Talismans, amulets in a sense. “My interlocutors explain to me that the more love you give to things, the more things reflect this positive energy on you. “ Moving and sincere thoughts to all the deceased Tamagotchi in the bottom of a backpack forgotten in a playground.

© Twitter screenshot Akihiko Kondo

However, these little deities do not protect their owners from the wrath of the guarantors of a well-organized society, who consider resigned and selfish those who prefer to “play” rather than found and maintain a real home. “They are part of those generations that face loneliness, to which society itself condemns them, keeping a smile and a sense of humor”concludes Agnès Giard.

We were not all moved by the mustachioed Theodore by Joaquin Phoenix, who falls in love with the voice of the artificial intelligence of his phone, Samantha, carried by that of Scarlett Johansson, in the film by Spike Jonze, Her ? Hey, no one has jumped on Homer Simpson yet … Who, having said that, is already caught! impatient Margin.

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