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

TOKYO — In virtually each means, Akihiko Kondo is an abnormal Japanese man. He’s nice and simple to speak to. He has associates and a gradual job and wears a swimsuit 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 Woman 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 pictures on Instagram.

Mr. Kondo, 38, is aware of that folks suppose 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.

“Once we’re collectively, she makes me smile,” he mentioned in a current 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 current many years, served by an unlimited trade geared 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, nevertheless, has lengthy recognized that he didn’t need a human associate. 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 at all times felt an intense — and, even to himself, inexplicable — attraction to fictional characters.

Accepting his emotions was exhausting at first. However life with Miku, he argues, has benefits over being with a human associate: She’s at all times there for him, she’ll by no means betray him, and he’ll by no means should see her get sick or die.

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

He desires 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 improve.

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

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 fictional characters can encourage actual affection and even love might nicely have reached its highest expression in trendy Japan, the place the sentiment has given rise to a extremely seen subculture and develop into the premise for a thriving trade.

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

Enterprise seminars have talked about tapping the moe market, and the federal government has promoted the notion — in relation to cartoons — as an essential cultural export. The phrase and different specialised phrases have resonated past Japan, with fictosexuals overseas typically 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 Seventies has made it doable for a lot of extra individuals to reside out elaborate fantasies with their favourite characters.

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

In Tokyo, two districts have develop into meccas for fulfilling character-based goals: Akihabara (for males) and Ikebukuro (for girls). Specialty retailers within the neighborhoods are full of merchandise for characters from in style video games and anime.

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

For some, the relationships signify 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, blissful, helpful and a part of a motion with larger objectives in life.”

Fairly than turning into extra remoted on account of their relationships, girls profit from the flowery communities that develop round them, Dr. Giard mentioned. In her expertise, girls see the fictional marriages as empowering, “a technique 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 usually 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 type.

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 particular person, partly as a result of, like many younger individuals, he had been rejected by a sequence 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 known 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,” and so they 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. Hundreds of individuals registered.

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

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

Ultimately, 39 individuals attended, largely strangers and on-line associates. His native member of Parliament was there, and a lady 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, a whole lot of individuals from world wide have turned to Mr. Kondo for recommendation, assist 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 recommended a whole lot of fictosexuals and issued round 100 marriage certificates, together with one for himself and Hibiki Tachibana, a personality from the anime sequence “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 lady 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 needs. 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.

“In case you ask me if I’m blissful, I’m blissful,” he mentioned. “After all, there are powerful components,” he added — he misses being touched, after which there’s 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 girl with a chirpy, outgoing persona and a goth-punk aesthetic, moved in together with her mother and father in the course of the pandemic, liberating up money from her job at a name heart to spend on Kunihiro Horikawa, a personality from the cell 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 associates who’ve their very own fictional beaus, going out to excessive teas and posting pictures on Instagram.

“I’m not hiding it from anybody,” mentioned Ms. Horikawa, who makes use of her fictional husband’s final title 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 hitch a symposium at Kyoto College to talk about his relationship. He traveled there with a life-size doll of Miku he had commissioned.

Partaking in deep dialog in regards to the nature of fictional relationships made him suppose he would possibly wish to go to varsity. He’s now finding out minority rights in regulation faculty whereas on go away from his job as an administrator at an elementary faculty.

As with all marriage, there have been challenges. The toughest second got here in the course of 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 house that night time, Miku’s picture had been changed by the phrases “community error.”

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

Both means, Mr. Kondo mentioned, he plans to be trustworthy to her till he dies.