Young people who don’t want to marry humans

JapanAkihiko Kondo is a cheerful, sociable person with many friends… surprising everyone when he announced his marriage to a virtual singer programmed on a computer.

Kondo’s wife is Hatsune Miku, a virtual pop singer with turquoise hair. He first met his “wife” in 2008, when he was depressed due to bullying at the company and was constantly denied confessions.

Ten years later, Kondo decides to have an informal wedding in Tokyo with Miku, who makes him feel love and comfort. He invited friends and relatives to attend, but all declined. The wedding had the appearance of 39 guests, most of which were strangers and friends on social networks.

Kondo and his virtual wife Miku at their home. Image: Noriko Hayashi/The New York Times

The 38-year-old man knows his strange marriage is the subject of many discussions. They believe that Kondo’s marriage act violates the Japanese constitution, because marriage requires consent from both sides and advised him to give up. He knows Miku doesn’t exist, but his feelings for her are real. “She always makes me laugh when we’re together. To me, she’s real,” he said.

Kondo is among thousands of young Japanese people who have informally married fictional characters in recent decades. They join online groups, share their love and commitment to a lifetime of characters from comic books, cartoons, and video games.

For some people, their relationship with the fictional character is entertaining. As for Kondo, he didn’t want to marry a human. Partly because of expectations, stereotypes about men’s lives are the mainstay of Japanese culture. Mostly, he feels an intense, inexplicable attraction to the fictional character.

After four years of living together, Kondo concluded that married life with a virtual wife had more benefits than losses. Miku will always be by his side, not betraying him. Kondo, on the other hand, did not have to witness his wife’s illness or death.

Kina Horikawa and her virtual husband Kunihiro Horikawa go on a date at a cafe in Tokyo.  Photo: Noriko Hayashi/The New York Times

Kina Horikawa and her virtual husband Kunihiro Horikawa go on a date at a cafe in Tokyo. Image: Noriko Hayashi/The New York Times

Kondo considers himself a “Fictosexual” – asexual people who are only attracted to fictional characters. More and more people define similar gender identities. Especially with the development of robots and artificial intelligence, allowing deeper interactions, the number of people like Kondo will increase.

Today, Tokyo has two districts known as “sanctuaries” that help realize relationships with virtual characters, Akihabara (for men) and Ikebukuro (for women). Here, shops are full of items about characters from famous cartoons or video games.

Fans can easily buy a love letter from the person of their dreams, replica clothes, even a scent that evokes the presence of the virtual character. Hotels also provide service packages, including spa treatments, luxurious meals… for those who want to celebrate birthday with virtual lover. On social networks, many people are not afraid to share romantic moments with virtual lovers on their personal pages.

Agnès Giard, a researcher at the University of Paris Nanterre, France, who specializes in studying fictional marriages, said that some people look to relationships with virtual characters because they want to refute the stereotype that “men make money, women are not housewife” in Japan.

“Most people think it’s stupid to spend money, time and energy on people who don’t really exist. But for others, this habit is necessary. It makes them feel alive, happier.” Mrs. Giard said.

Yasuaki Watanabe with a pillow by Hibiki Tachibana, a character from the anime, at his home.  Photo: Noriko Hayashi/The New York Times

Yasuaki Watanabe with a pillow in the shape of Hibiki Tachibana, a character from the anime series, at his home. Image: Noriko Hayashi/The New York Times

When Kondo’s story was widely shared, many people turned to the services for advice and support. Yasuaki Watanabe also runs a service that specializes in fictional marriages.

Over the years, Yasuaki Watanabe has consulted for hundreds of Kondo-like relationships and issued about 100 marriage certificates. He also made his own certificate with Hibiki Tachibana, a character from an anime series.

A few years ago, Watanabe divorced his wife. He said the second marriage is simpler, the two don’t need to spend much time together or meet the other’s requests. Love is given freely, he said, without expecting anything in return.

But Watanabe admits to remembering the physical contact and copyright issues that prevented him from creating a human-sized doll. “This marriage is certainly difficult, but my feelings are real. I am happy to be with her,” he said.

Kina Horikawa, 23, is also in a relationship with Kunihiro Horikawa, a character from a video game. Before that, she dated a guy, but broke up because of jealousy.

During each meal, Kina Horikawa often places an acrylic model of her “husband” on the table. Thanks to that, her imaginary husband was present in the family’s meals.

As for Kondo, his relationship with his “wife” is still not approved by his family. The most difficult time came during the outbreak of the pandemic, Gatebox – a device that allows users to interact with fictional characters using miniature holograms – announced that it would stop providing services to Miku.

“I hope in the future I can reunite with my wife. Or she will appear in the form of a robot. But either way, I will be faithful to Miku for the rest of my life,” Kondo said.

Minh Phuong (According to NyTimes)


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