WASHINGTON – A Guardian article about Japanese young people no longer being interested in sex and relationships has generated a lot of blogosphere criticism recently, primarily about Western media exoticizing weird Japanese culture.
Those criticisms duly noted, there have been some recent Japanese innovations that seem to support the premise of the article – that technology is taking over the space once occupied by sex and dating – and take it even further.
Several recent inventions in Japan seem not only likely to disrupt traditional relationships in the way that social media or text messaging has, but to physically replace companionship and affection.
A report last week of the physiological benefits of using the Hugvie, a soft doll that simulates a human heartbeat so that the user can cuddle with the person on the other end of their phone, is one such case.
Here are some Japanese inventions that, like the Hugvie, may be the most solid proof that Japan is indeed throwing out the idea of relationships and moving toward a dystopian future of loneliness.
The Hugvie is a soft body-fitting pillow with a slot in the head for a smart phone. Users can cuddle with the pillow while talking on the phone, and the pillows internal vibrators generate a simulated heartbeat of the caller based on the voices tone and volume.
In other words, the soft, blobular doll transforms a standard phone conversation into a cuddling experience with your phone companion.
The gizmo was invented by an Osaka University professor.
A video from the products launch last year shows users talking into the phone end and cradling their pillows, and new evidence suggests that the pillow might be as satisfying and soul-warming as the video portrays.
A joint study from the University of Sussex and Osaka University shows that levels of the stress hormone cortisol were lower in people after using the pillow.
Wine for cats
Last month, a Japanese company took the age-old stereotype of the lonely cat woman and made it a little less lonely with the invention of Nyan Nyan Nouveau, a nonalcoholic feline wine.
Masahito Tsurimi, the chief executive of the company behind the wine, told the Wall Street Journal that it was invented in response to requests from cat owners – despite the fact that only 1 in 10 cats was willing to taste it.
Tsurimi said he saw a bright future in the specialty pet-drink business six years ago when he was worried about where future beverage sales would come from with a shrinking, aging Japanese population.
It was probably just a nice bonus when he read about the countrys sexual aversion and social awkwardness on top of that.
The girlfriend coat
In April, RocketNews 24 reported that a group of engineering students at Tsukuba University created a coat that could hug its wearer and whisper phrases into his ear.
Meant to simulate a girlfriend, motors in the coat operate the arms that squeeze the wearer when he puts it on. Through headphones he slips on with the coat, he hears one of a number of programmed phrases: Im sorry, were you waiting? and Guess who?
The university students named it the Riajyuu Coat. According to gaming site Kotaku, riajyuu is a mash-up Japanese word that means someone who likes his nonvirtual life.
Unlike some of the other replacements for human contact, this one appears to have been a joke between friends, and the inventors have no real plans to release it commercially.
Video game dates
Japan has cultivated a global reputation for its romantic simulation video games, and for good reason: While some of the games are just bizarre, such as a game in which the player and his mate are pigeons, others mimic relationships down to eerily small details.
LovePlus, for instance, a dating simulation game released in Japan in 2009, invites players to choose a girl from one of three types – goodie-goodie, sassy or big-sister – and then earn boyfriend power points by going to the gym or doing homework to become smarter.
The girls can get angry at their boyfriends, too: In a 2010 article, LovePlus gamer Shunsuke Kato told the Wall Street Journal that he was on the outs with his LovePlus girlfriend for being busy at work and only playing the game for 10 minutes a day.
The game has blurred the line between real and virtual to such an extent that a Japanese resort town once known for honeymooning, Atami, launched a promotional campaign in 2010 that relied on recreating the virtual trip to Atami from the game.
At Atamis (real) Hotel Ohnoya, the staff was trained to check in single men as couples, and restaurants created Love Plus-inspired menus for the gaming guests.