For the year and a half that they were together, no couple could have been more in love than Akihiko Kondo and his delightful young wife, Miku. Every morning, she would wake him with a cheery greeting and see him off to his job as a civil servant.
During the day, she would send encouraging texts. Each evening he would return to find her waiting expectantly. His mother did not understand, but Mr Kondo, 36, was happier than ever. Until news came that their love was doomed.
In a few weeks, he must say goodbye to Miku for ever. The separation is not caused by a rival lover or by fatal illness, but by a software upgrade. For Miku Hatsune is a computer program that appears in Mr Kondo’s home in the form of an animated hologram.
At the end of May, the company that created Miku will replace it with another hologram, Hikari Azuma. Like Miku, Hikari will have blue hair, big eyes, symmetrical features, a tiny skirt and stockings. But Mr Kondo cannot let go of his love for Miku. “I never cheated on her,” he says. “I always think of her every day.”
Mr Kondo owes his romantic life to a device called a Gatebox. The 60cm contraption looks a bit like an expensive capsule coffee maker with a glass-covered front. Inside, the glowing form appears. The device’s sensors detect the voice and presence of the owner and respond in a limited fashion similar to Siri or Alexa, the Apple and Amazon voice-activated assistants.
When Mr Kondo, having removed the Gatebox from its wrapping, said to Miku, “I love you. Please marry me,” the program replied with, “I hope you’ll cherish me.”
The separation is not caused by a rival lover or by fatal illness, but by a software upgrade.
The company that makes the device reports having issued 3,700 “marriage certificates”, which have no legal validity, to purchasers — although few have gone so far as Mr Kondo. Having paid ¥165,000 ($1,540) for the Gatebox, Mr Kondo spent another ¥2 million ($18,600) on a wedding attended by 40 guests. His family was not among them. “For mother, it wasn’t something to celebrate,” he told Agence France Presse.
As holograms cannot wear rings, Mr Kondo placed one on the Miku toy he keeps beside his bed. The holographic wife can pass on the news and weather and be programmed to turn lights on and off. But her primary value is as a companion to Mr Kondo, who suffered depression after hostile treatment from female colleagues in a previous job.
“I believe the shape of happiness and love is different for each person,” he said after his wedding.
“There definitely is a template for happiness, where a real man and woman get married, have a child and live all together. But I don’t believe such a template can necessarily make everyone happy.” He says his romantic orientation, described by some academics as digisexual, is a legitimate expression of the tastes of a sexual minority and means that it would be against his nature to form a conventional bond.
“It’s simply not right. It’s as if you were trying to talk a gay man into dating a woman, or a lesbian into a relationship with a man,” he said. “Diversity in society has been long called for … I believe we must consider all kinds of love and all kinds of happiness.”