Japan resort a hot spot for men with virtual girlfriends

Long a favourite of lovers and honeymooners, a Japanese beach town with fading sparkle has found a new tourism niche in the wired age by drawing young men and their virtual girlfriends.

One recent sweltering summer's day, a tour bus from Tokyo pulled up at a sun-kissed beach at Atami, a Pacific coast resort southwest of the metropolis, and disgorged more than a dozen excited, iPhone-clutching young men.

The determined youngsters, paying scant attention to the bikini-clad girls frolicking on the sand, instead headed straight for a bronze statue that depicts Kanichi and Omiya, a couple from an old love story set in Atami.

The focus of the men's attention - and of their smartphone cameras - was a tiny black and white square, a two-dimensional barcode that, thanks to "augmented reality" (AR) software, brought to life the object of their desire.

"Look, it's like I'm in a snapshot with her," said Shu Watanabe, 23, as he showed off his iPhone display, featuring himself next to the image of a doe-eyed cartoon character named Rinko, a smiling high school girl.

Rinko may only be digital, but try telling that to Watanabe or the legions of other fans of "Love Plus", a dating sim or simulation game that is played on handheld Nintendo DS consoles and also boasts AR applications for iPhones.

Its creators, Konami Digital Entertainment, have long thrilled young men obsessed with high-tech, manga and anime, known as "otaku", by letting them chase virtual girls in the alternative universe of their digital dreams.

The hit videogame made headlines when a 27-year-old Japanese man known only as "Sal 9000" staged a tuxedo wedding late last year, which was watched by thousands online, with his favourite cartoon girl, Nene Anegasaki.

But in the latest edition, game makers have gone a step further and teamed up with the very real city of Atami, an onsen or hot spring town 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of the Japanese capital.

They have selected 13 romantic locations which can be overlaid with images of Rinko or her teenage friends Manaka and Nene, who have all swapped their usual sailor-style school uniforms for casual summer wear.

Local souvenir shops in the resort town have caught on and capitalised on the love-struck new clientele, selling Love Plus-themed souvenirs, from good-luck charms to steamed buns and fish sausages.

The local Ohnoya hotel even offers traditional rooms to the unusual couples, which feature two sets of futon beds and another barcode panel that allows the men to visualise their girlfriends in a flattering summer kimono.

Love Plus, released only on the Japanese market, has become the country's most popular dating game since its release last September, selling nearly 430,000 copies, according to research firm Enterbrain.

The secret is that the dating game goes a step beyond the genre's usual boy-meets-girl script and asks players to build long-term relationships.

"In conventional love games, you went up stages to make a virtual girl fall in love with you, so that she would accept you as a boyfriend or express her love for you," said Konami spokesman Kunio Ishihara.

"But players of Love Plus are in a scenario where they are a high school boy who is already dating one of the virtual girls. The goal is to see how good you can be to her and to build a relationship."

Love Plus is an open-ended "communication game" with basic voice recognition software and a screen clock that keeps real time to make players feel like they are really sharing their life with a girlfriend, Ishihara said.

That means that the girl can get moody when neglected by a player who is not sufficiently committed, and that she demands attention when she feels unwell.

If players want to go on a summer trip with their girlfriends, they have to convince her and plan ahead through virtual communication, Ishihara said.

The fans milling about town clearly enjoyed the challenge.

"With earlier love simulation games, we only scored girls, as bad as that sounds, and that was it," said Naoyuki Sakazaki, aged in his 40s, after taking iPhone shots before the bronze statue in Atami.

"Love Plus is fun because the relationship continues forever."

The popularity of Love Plus has been a welcome shot in the arm for Atami, which has seen visitors decline some 40 percent since its 1970s heyday.

More than 200 Love Plus fans have stayed at the Ohnoya hotel alone, while well over 2,000 have visited the resort town for the campaign, which kicked off on July 10 and runs until the end of August.

Young men have come from as far as South Korea and Taiwan, say locals.

Atami's business association was at first hesitant and puzzled by the story line, in which a high school girl spends a night at a resort hotel with a man.

"Some people were opposed to taking part in this campaign, saying the game is immoral," said association member Saiki Ota.

"We also didn't expect it would sell that much."

But they eventually realised the economic impact of the project, he added.

Konami's Ishihara stressed that the game has no sexual content.

"The virtual girls can kiss you as a way of communication, but nothing happens when she sleeps next to you at the hotel," he said. "We have no intention of trying to sell a product with pornographic elements.

"I think Love Plus fans would get offended if somebody tried to disrespect his girlfriend like that."

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Service Charge Accountant

    30,000 to 35,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: We are currently recruiting on...

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?