In Tokyo, there’s a subset of men calledotaku,a generation who has grown up through 20 years of economic stagnation and have chosen to immerse themselves in their own fantasy worlds.
These men have taken on a mole-like existence and, worryingly, withdrawn from relationships with the opposite sex.
Instead, they prefer their virtual girlfriends, which they create in a Nintendo-based game called Love Plus, which comes as a small portable tablet.
The BBC talked to two otaku, Nurikan and Yuge, who believe themselves to be in relationships with their Love Plus girlfriends, named Rinko and Ne-ne.
Nurikan and Yuge take Rinko and Ne-ne on actual dates to the park, and buy them cakes to celebrate their birthdays.
“It’s the kind of relationship we wish we’d had at high school,” Nurikan told the BBC, “[When] she’s at high school, she picks me up in the morning and we go to school together. After school we meet at the gates and go home together… In the game I am 17.”
In reality, the men are 38 and 39, respectively. Nurikan is even married, but keeps his virtual girlfriend a secret from his wife. He says the relationship he has with Rinko is a lot easier to manage.
Yuge has no desire to date what he calls a “3D woman”.
“At high school you can have relationships without having to think about marriage,” says Yuge. “With real girlfriends you have to consider marriage. So I think twice about going out with a 3D woman.”