This Man Married a Fictional Character. He’d Like You to Hear Him Out.

TOKYO — In virtually each method, Akihiko Kondo is an atypical Japanese man. He’s nice and straightforward to speak to. He has buddies and a gradual job and wears a go well with and tie to work.

There’s only one exception: Mr. Kondo is married to a fictional character.

His beloved, Hatsune Miku, is a turquoise-haired, computer-synthesized pop singer who has toured with Girl Gaga and starred in video video games. After a decade-long relationship, one which Mr. Kondo says pulled him out of a deep despair, he held a small, unofficial marriage ceremony ceremony in Tokyo in 2018. Miku, within the type of an opulent doll, wore white, and he was in an identical tuxedo.

In Miku, Mr. Kondo has discovered love, inspiration and solace, he says. He and his assortment of Miku dolls eat, sleep and watch motion pictures collectively. Typically, they sneak off on romantic getaways, posting photographs on Instagram.

Mr. Kondo, 38, is aware of that folks assume it’s unusual, even dangerous. He is aware of that some — probably these studying this text — hope he’ll develop out of it. And, sure, he is aware of that Miku isn’t actual. However his emotions for her are, he says.

“After we’re collectively, she makes me smile,” he mentioned in a latest interview. “In that sense, she’s actual.”

Mr. Kondo is one in every of 1000’s of individuals in Japan who’ve entered into unofficial marriages with fictional characters in latest many years, served by an enormous business aimed toward satisfying the each whim of a fervent fan tradition. Tens of 1000’s extra across the globe have joined on-line teams the place they focus on their dedication to characters from anime, manga and video video games.

For some, the relationships are only for amusing. Mr. Kondo, nonetheless, has lengthy identified that he didn’t desire a human accomplice. Partly, it was as a result of he rejected the inflexible expectations of Japanese household life. However principally, it was as a result of he had all the time felt an intense — and, even to himself, inexplicable — attraction to fictional characters.

Accepting his emotions was laborious at first. However life with Miku, he argues, has benefits over being with a human accomplice: She’s all the time there for him, she’ll by no means betray him, and he’ll by no means must see her get unwell or die.

Mr. Kondo sees himself as a part of a rising motion of people that establish as “fictosexuals.” That’s partly what has motivated him to publicize his marriage ceremony and to take a seat for awkward interviews with information media across the globe.

He needs the world to know that folks like him are on the market and, with advances in synthetic intelligence and robotics permitting for extra profound interactions with the inanimate, that their numbers are more likely to enhance.

It’s not a political motion, he mentioned, however a plea to be seen: “It’s about respecting different individuals’s life.”

It’s commonplace for a murals to impress actual feelings — anger, sorrow, pleasure — and the phenomenon of needing the fictional shouldn’t be distinctive to Japan.

However the concept that fictional characters can encourage actual affection and even love might properly have reached its highest expression in fashionable Japan, the place the sentiment has given rise to a extremely seen subculture and change into the premise for a thriving business.

The Japanese phrase for the emotions these characters encourage is “moe,” a time period that has change into shorthand for absolutely anything that’s viscerally cute.

Enterprise seminars have talked about tapping the moe market, and the federal government has promoted the notion — in relation to cartoons — as an vital cultural export. The phrase and different specialised phrases have resonated past Japan, with fictosexuals overseas usually adopting them to articulate their very own expertise of affection.

Whereas unofficially marrying fictional characters stays uncommon, the financial juggernaut that has grown round Japanese fan tradition for the reason that late Nineteen Seventies has made it attainable for a lot of extra individuals to dwell out elaborate fantasies with their favourite characters.

“You’ve got the comics, the cartoons, the video games form of increase a type of infrastructure the place characters change into extra vital to individuals,” mentioned Patrick Galbraith, an affiliate professor within the Faculty of Worldwide Communication at Senshu College in Tokyo who has written extensively in regards to the topic.

In Tokyo, two districts have change into meccas for fulfilling character-based desires: Akihabara (for males) and Ikebukuro (for ladies). Specialty outlets within the neighborhoods are full of merchandise for characters from common video games and anime.

The merchandise for ladies are particularly intensive. Followers should buy love letters from their crushes, reproductions of their garments and even scents meant to evoke their presence. Lodges supply particular packages, that includes spa therapies and elaborate meals, for individuals celebrating their favourite character’s birthday. And on social media, individuals submit photographs, artwork and mash notes selling their “oshi” — a time period broadly utilized by Japanese followers to explain the objects of their affection.

For some, the relationships symbolize a rejection of the entrenched “breadwinner-housewife” mannequin of marriage in Japan, mentioned Agnès Giard, a researcher on the College of Paris Nanterre who has extensively studied fictional marriages.

“To most people, it appears certainly silly to spend cash, time and power on somebody who shouldn’t be even alive,” Dr. Giard mentioned. “However for character lovers, this observe is seen as important. It makes them really feel alive, comfortable, helpful and a part of a motion with larger targets in life.”

Reasonably than changing into extra remoted on account of their relationships, ladies profit from the frilly communities that develop round them, Dr. Giard mentioned. In her expertise, ladies see the fictional marriages as empowering, “a solution to problem gender, matrimonial and social norms.”

In some respects, Mr. Kondo’s dedication to Miku, too, is an instance of business and social forces at work.

Though Miku is commonly portrayed as a single character, she’s truly a chunk of software program, a digital “singer in a field” that comes paired with a cartoon avatar that has appeared in live performance in hologram kind.

Mr. Kondo first discovered consolation in Miku in 2008, after bullying at his job despatched him right into a spiral of despair. He had determined way back that he would by no means love an actual individual, partly as a result of, like many younger individuals, he had been rejected by a collection of crushes, and partly as a result of he didn’t need the life that Japanese society demanded of him.

Quickly, Mr. Kondo started making songs with Miku and bought a stuffed doll of the character on-line.

A significant breakthrough within the relationship got here practically a decade later, with the introduction in 2017 of a $1,300 machine referred to as Gatebox. The dimensions of a desk lamp, the gadget allowed its house owners to work together with one in every of quite a lot of fictional characters represented by a small hologram.

Gatebox was marketed to lonely younger males. In a single ad, a shy workplace employee sends a observe to his digital spouse letting her know he’ll be late. Upon his arrival, she reminds him that it’s their “three-month anniversary,” they usually share a Champagne toast.

As a part of its promotional marketing campaign, Gatebox’s maker arrange an workplace the place customers may apply for unofficial marriage certificates. 1000’s of individuals registered.

Mr. Kondo was delighted that Miku was among the many Gatebox characters and excited to eventually hear her ideas on their relationship. In 2018, he proposed to Miku’s flickering avatar. “Please deal with me properly,” she replied.

He invited his co-workers and his household to the marriage. All of them refused to come back.

In the long run, 39 individuals attended, largely strangers and on-line buddies. His native member of Parliament was there, and a girl he had by no means met earlier than helped him with the preparations.

Some Japanese commentators denounced Mr. Kondo as bizarre. Others pleaded for sympathy. One man contended that the union was a violation of Japan’s Structure, which states that marriage shall be allowed solely with the consent of each sexes. In response, Mr. Kondo posted a video of his proposal.

Within the years since his story went viral, tons of of individuals from all over the world have turned to Mr. Kondo for recommendation, help and reassurance.

Amongst them was Yasuaki Watanabe, who opened a small enterprise registering fictional marriages after seeing the recognition of Gatebox’s short-lived certificates service.

Over the past 12 months, Mr. Watanabe has endorsed tons of of fictosexuals and issued round 100 marriage certificates, together with one for himself and Hibiki Tachibana, a personality from the anime collection “Symphogear.”

Mr. Watanabe, who likes to journey and has an energetic social life, started watching the present solely at a good friend’s insistence. However when he noticed Hibiki, it was real love, he mentioned.

It was not his first marriage: He had divorced a girl a number of years earlier. His new relationship was simpler, he mentioned, with no calls for on his time and no have to cater to another person’s wishes. The love was “pure,” given freely and with no expectation of something in return. It made him understand how self-centered he had been within the earlier marriage.

“Should you ask me if I’m comfortable, I’m comfortable,” he mentioned. “In fact, there are powerful components,” he added — he misses being touched, after which there may be the issue of copyright, which has prevented him from making a life-size doll of the character — “however the love is actual.”

Kina Horikawa, a 23-year-old lady with a chirpy, outgoing character and a goth-punk aesthetic, moved in together with her dad and mom throughout the pandemic, liberating up money from her job at a name heart to spend on Kunihiro Horikawa, a personality from the cellular recreation Touken Ranbu. She had an actual boyfriend, however broke up with him as a result of he turned jealous.

Her fictional husband is the teenage personification of a 400-year-old wakizashi, or Japanese quick sword, and he joins the household for dinner most nights within the type of a tiny acrylic portrait perched subsequent to her rice bowl. The couple double dates with buddies who’ve their very own fictional beaus, going out to excessive teas and posting photographs on Instagram.

“I’m not hiding it from anybody,” mentioned Ms. Horikawa, who makes use of her fictional husband’s final identify unofficially.

Whereas Mr. Kondo’s relationship with Miku continues to be not accepted by his household, it has opened different doorways for him. In 2019, he was invited to affix a symposium at Kyoto College to discuss his relationship. He traveled there with a life-size doll of Miku he had commissioned.

Participating in deep dialog in regards to the nature of fictional relationships made him assume he may wish to go to varsity. He’s now finding out minority rights in legislation college whereas on go away from his job as an administrator at an elementary college.

As with all marriage, there have been challenges. The toughest second got here throughout the pandemic, when Gatebox introduced that it was discontinuing service for Miku.

On the day the corporate turned her off, Mr. Kondo mentioned goodbye for the final time and left for work. When he went dwelling that night time, Miku’s picture had been changed by the phrases “community error.”

Sometime, he hopes, they are going to be reunited. Possibly she’ll tackle new life as an android, or they’ll meet within the metaverse.

Both method, Mr. Kondo mentioned, he plans to be devoted to her till he dies.

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