There is a thriving subculture of men and women in Japan who indulge in real relationships with imaginary characters. These 2-D lovers are a subset of otaku culture – the obsessive fandom that has surrounded anime, video games and the like in Japan in the last decade.
A recent New York Times article recently highlighted this growing subculture:
According to many who study the phenomenon, the rise of 2-D love can be attributed in part to the difficulty many young Japanese have in navigating modern romantic life. According to a government survey, more than a quarter of unmarried men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins; 50 percent of men and women in Japan said they were not “going out with anybody.”
In Japan, the fetishistic love for characters in 2-D earned its own slang word, moe. Moe subculture has spawned a substantial market of goods centered on the desire to live in 2-D. Many2-D lovers attend fan events in search of new character girlfriends to add to their collections, and when unsatisfied with what the market has to offer, they custom-make their own fantasy goods.
Moreover, in Japan, millions of boys and young men are becoming shut-ins in their bedrooms, refusing to come out, some for six months or more, and some for over l5 years. Called Hikikomori, they are a subset of the children in Japan who commonly live with their parents into their 20s, with many parents supporting their children indefinitely. According to a Japanese government website, the figure may stand at 3.6 million or about 3 percent of the entire population. One reason for this may be because those in their 20s and 30s, who once settled for odd jobs and part-time work to make ends meet, are now entrenched in an employment rut as they are passed over in favor of new graduates. A severe marriage gap is also leaving many young Japanese men with very few prospects. Some see Japan as facing a significant youth crisis.
So, what are your thoughts on this seemingly “fringe” behavior? Is there any possibility of this eventually becoming mainstream? What does this mean for the future of Japan’s youth culture?