There’s a segue here somewhere to John Irving’s memoir The Imaginary Girlfriend, (1996) but I can’t find it for love nor money — instead, today’s intellectual feast builds upon an earlier morsel I wrote about the Japanese ‘ossan’ — people you can hire for $10 per hour to talk to you. Now, I assumed these pathetic shut-ins (hikikomori) would eventually realise that life is passing them by and would voluntarily rejoin human society, but no. Instead, I learn today that these sad individuals are prepared to drop Y298,000 for a tiny holographic figure called Azuma Hikari to keep them company ‘until they are ready’ to have a relationship with a real person. Nobody seems to have asked what the advent of an imaginary wife might signify for Japanese culture generally (beyond yet more international mockery) but I wish somebody would.
The Japanese make an art-form of odd shit. For example, and call me a prude, but I’m not exactly comfortable with the idea of adults Japanese males (and females) walking around town publicly cuddling ‘love-pillows’ (dakimakura) printed with the life-sized image of a beautiful preteen girl (bishōjo) dressed in revealing lingerie. But this is okay in Japan.
In Tokyo you can visit ‘cuddle-clubs’ and pay $11 per minute for the oshirimakura service, where female staff let you use their soft buttocks as a restful pillow. I’m only slightly less traumatised by the existence of commercially available lap-pillows (hizamakura) which are of course shaped like (quote) a beautiful woman’s lap, complete with mini-skirt in a colour of your choice or, for a little extra, dressed as a school-girl (albeit one amputated at the navel).
And while this all sounds like a society rushing headlong towards it’s tipping point, at least these oddities are anchored in real people and real things. The holographic wife on the other hand is a ghost in a black plastic shell, and the Japanese (of all people) should know that nothing good can come of it.
But none of this is new. In fact, in five days another proud Japanese tradition might turn up in the driftnets of our voracious newsfeeds: called ‘dinner with waifu’ this Xmas ritual involves lonely Japanese men (otaku) posting selfies while having a romantic meal with their favourite anime character and/or love-pillow.
While the whole Engrish ‘mai waifu’ thing was meant to be a clever self-deprecating joke back in the earlier 2000’s, what would those desperate nerds have said if they could have met the Azuma Hikari of 2017 and not just fantasised about her. Looking back, is the holographic-wife nothing more than the natural miserable successor of the love-pillow girlfriend, a pathetic surrogate for the lovelorn. That said, if the only thing absent from true love is a VR headset, then maybe it is time to cash in my chips in the great Trump casino of life and call it a night. Try as I might, I can’t get ‘Occulus Rift’ into anything remotely resembling iambic pentameter.