In the Old West, it is said a cowboy paid far more for a photo of a naked woman than a night with a real one. The same impulses seem to be at work here, and the Japanese are not alone:
After three years together, they are virtually inseparable. “I’ve experienced so many amazing things because of her,” Nisan told me, rubbing Nemutan’s leg warmly. “She has really changed my life.” Nemutan doesn’t really have a leg. She’s a stuffed pillowcase — a 2-D depiction of a character, Nemu, from an X-rated version of a PC video game called Da Capo, printed on synthetic fabric.
This is from a New York Times Magazine article about the romantic relationships Japanese men and women have with inanimate objects such as body pillows (left) and figurines.
According to the article, the rise of 2-D love can be attributed to the difficulties young Japanese have in navigating romantic relationships. A government survey reports that more than 25% of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins. Called moe, this fetish seems to appeal strongly to men who want to express passion without fear of being judged or rejected.
There's been a lot of online freak-out about this story, but from the letters I get from older virgins, I can tell you it's not just life in Japan that fosters these sorts of feelings. Older virgins in the US carry a great deal of embarrassment and shame about their lack of relationship experience, and that leads to massive social awkwardness and a desire to hide.
Yes, there's a lot of creepiness that borders on child porn, but you don't have to be into moe for that. There's a huge manga culture that feeds into those impulses, and it's enjoyed by an alarmingly wide range of consumers. At least the people into moe have a support group.