Apparently we Boundless bloggers have Japan on the mind. Yesterday, Suzanne told us about Japanese divorce ceremonies. Today, I bring to your attention to a new trend in that country, a trend that seems, at least to us Westerners, equally bizarre.
I’m referencing here a recent Wall Street Journal piece titled “Only in Japan, Real Men Go to a Hotel With Virtual Girlfriends.”
Here’s how the article starts out:
ATAMI, Japan — This resort town, once popular with honeymooners, is turning to a new breed of romance seekers — virtual sweethearts.
Since the marriage rate among Japan’s shrinking population is falling and with many of the country’s remaining lovebirds heading for Hawaii or Australia’s Gold Coast, Atami had to do something. It is trying to attract single men — and their handheld devices.
Handheld devices? What?!
Yes. Keep reading.
“The men are real,” continues the article. The girls, however, “are cartoon characters on a screen. The trips are actual, can be expensive and aim to re-create the virtual weekend outing featured in [a video game called LovePlus+], a product of Konami Corp. played on Nintendo Co.’s DS videogame system.”
Basically, men go to the resort town of Atami for a weekend away, with their video-game girlfriend in tow. They stay in a hotel (often paying the two-occupant rate), go to swanky restaurants (buying two meals instead of one), and hang out on the beach … with their video-game girlfriend.
You really should read the article. Because it’s short. And kind of fascinating. In the way that any slowly unfolding cultural train wreck is fascinating.
And it’s just plain sad. And I don’t mean “sad” in any sort of condescending way. I mean I’m sad for those men in Japan who resort to investing themselves in virtual girlfriends because they believe no one else will have them:
Tatsuya Fukazawa, a 19-year-old college student, was visiting Atami for the first time on a recent weekend. In a small waist bag, he carried his Nintendo DS. Once he turned on the device, his virtual girlfriend Manaka Takane — a Libra who enjoys making pastries — greeted him in a syrupy sweet voice.
“There isn’t a lot of romance in my life and this helps me cope with some of the loneliness,” said Mr. Fukazawa with a chuckle.
We shouldn’t write off these men, or this LovePlus+ game, as part of some weird trend happening half way around the world. I mean, yes, it seems crazy to our Western sensibilities. For starters, Japan is a vanguard in gadget culture. What starts there isn’t unlikely to end up here. And besides: In what ways do we non-Japanese engage in the not-real — especially in terms of relationships? I can think of a few.
In the end, this story merely highlights what can happen in a culture — Japan’s, ours, any culture — whose members a) ascribe redemptive power to technology, and b) don’t acknowledge that central to this God-created human experience is one word: relationship.