If we want having sex with all sorts of people to be accepted, whether money is exchanged or not, can we accept those who prefer having sex with virtual characters? Last year I wrote about cosplay, in which dressing up has a big role in erotic scenes. Now here’s an article that explores erotic and sexual practices associated with otaku, a Japanese word referring to people devoted to or obsessed by anime, (animation) manga (comics) and video games – geeks of a particular type. Fantastic worlds peopled with fabulous characters, but here entrepreneurs have evolved dating-entertainment business opportunities to appeal to this group often sidelined in stories about sex – the social prejudice being that people without conventional attractive looks and personalities can’t expect to find partners. Jobs entertaining these customers involve informed conversation about their subcultures. The traditional sex-industry image of the erotic maid is used, too – the service they provide being, in the first place, ‘soul care’, performed interest in customers’ concerns. Temporary girlfriends, virtual girlfriends, maid escorts – this is a real hybrid phenomenon. Note: 1000 yen = 8 euros
Benjamin Boas, 11 March 2010, Japan Subculture Research Center
. . . Otaku have been booming in the popular consciousness since 2005, when Fuji TV aired its prime time drama Densha Otoko, a beauty and the beast romance starring an otaku. Women’s magazines raved about how the show championed otaku as new potential partners for middle-aged career women, but otaku remained incredulous. That same year, Toru Honda wrote Dempa Otoko, a manifesto calling for otaku to abandon “love” for human females and embrace moe for two-dimensional characters. His book sold 33,000 copies in three months, and fans planted signs in Akihabara reading, “Real Otaku Don’t Desire Real Women.”
But Honda is the voice of an extreme minority. “We may have sworn off dating, but that does not mean we don’t have sex,” says Hiroyuki Egami, 23, a prominent voice among himote, a catchall for otaku types unpopular with the ladies. By Egami’s estimation, paying for sex is easier and more honest than wining and dining women to prove oneself a worthy mate.
Those who share Egami’s assessment may head to one of dozens of cosplay cabaret or image clubs found in Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ikebukuro. While many just use the terms of otaku culture such as moe to make a splash, some take pains to attract a demographic deeply involved with media images of the opposite sex.
“Pure-cos” in Shibuya caters to all of the fantasy wishes of its customers by offering close to one hundred costumes based on famous anime heroines. Employees are expected to talk the talk as well; on its hiring page, Pure-cos warns potential employees that customers will expect them to talk and converse about their favorite anime and manga. Staff are rewarded with all the manga they can read during breaks and coupons for the local Mandarake store.
The shift to more physical pleasures is also apparent in Akihabara. The omnipresent maids used to just pour tea, but the boom surrounding Densha Otoko has put cafes in fierce competition and encouraged a diversification of services. Royal Milk, for example, offers its customers “soul care,” 60 minutes of one-on-one talk time with a maid for 9,000 yen. With a market of lonely men that ripe it was only a matter of time before talk shifted to sex.
The area in front of The Radio Kaikan used to be called Maid Row for all the costumed girls passing out fliers there. However, adverts for maid escorts—costumed girls who play the part of a temporary girlfriend–began to outnumber those for cafes, and authorities chased the maids off the street in June 2007. Today, many men shopping in Akihabara have one or even two maids escorts by their side. They pay 1,000 yen per 10 minutes for the company and compliments on computer-buying skills. Maid escorts ostensibly work between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., the operating hours of most stores in the area, but local authorities warn of “maid enjo” prostitution after dark.
It remains to be seen how purely “otaku” any of this is. Even as clubs using the otaku vernacular are on the rise, the major buzz in the community surrounds games such as Love Plus and Dream C Club. In the former, players can use their Nintendo DS to interact in real-time with a virtual girlfriend. The latter is a virtual hostess club, which simulates an ultra-real experience down to the overpriced drinks. Real money is exchanged for virtual currency to enjoy an array of services. While otaku imagery in the mizu shoubai world may be on the rise, it seems that otaku still prefer to pay for the not so real thing.
– Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist