Just when you think the world can't get any weirder, it goes right ahead and surprises you.
Take the phenomenon of 2-D love for example. 2-D love is essentially affection for some character (these seem to be anime or manga characters, mainly), expressed via fetishistic objects like body pillow cases or, yes, dolls.
This is sometimes instead of a girlfriend. Sometimes it's to "cheat" on a wife or girlfriend. Disturbingly (although perhaps not so disturbing, as it's a legal outlet), these are often underage characters, overly sexualized schoolgirls and the like.
These aren't even necessarily classical pornographic images. They could be girls in bikinis which, while revealing (and perhaps more revealing than much of what you'd see in standard polite Japanese society), are still clad. Of course there's also porn, but not always.
And, yes, a lot of these fetish objects are the, er, repositories of what you'd call sex, or at least I suppose you'd call it some sort of assisted fantasy masturbation.
According to Nisan (in the article linked above), "When I die, I want to be buried with her in my arms." Better than having a real woman have to crawl into the crypt with one, I suppose.
But what is this really about? The Times article talks about men with problems socializing, and that's certainly a large part of it, plus there's fanboy adoration. Yet here in the US and elsewhere, guys might think Lara Croft is a hot ticket, and she's probably also fantasy fodder, but you don't see guys carrying around images of her everywhere (except maybe to the extent of wearing a tee shirt or baseball cap, and perhaps having a poster in one's room). Or do they, and I'm just not looking in the right places?
While you ponder, a musical interlude, if I may:
I don't think I'll ever be able to look at Sailor Moon the same way again.
I once worked with a (fairly) young Japanese man who had his own office and I was occasionally required to enter it. His desk was in front of a window and he sat with his back to the view. I could see he had a lot of framed photos on his desk that faced him and I never really thought about them, other than there seemed to be more than most people had. One day he was out sick and I had to get a file from his office and the file cabinet was near the window behind his desk. When I turned from getting the file I noticed the two dozen or so photos were all of the actress Morgan Fairchild. Some of the photos had his head pasted on top of some other person's head (this was pre-Photoshop) so it looked as if he was
Ms. Fairchild's companion. I never said anything to him. I figured he was still a great salesperson despite his stalker like behavior.
I glanced at the article you refer to and was arrested by this:
According to many who study the phenomenon, the rise of 2-D love can be attributed in part to the difficulty many young Japanese have in navigating modern romantic life. According to a government survey, more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins; 50 percent of men and women in Japan do not have friends of the opposite sex. One of the biggest best sellers in the country last year was “Health and Physical Education for Over Thirty,” a six-chapter, manga-illustrated guidebook that holds the reader’s hand from the first meeting to sex to marriage.
I find myself wondering if this is true, or some kind of poorly based claim.
Makes you wonder what's happening in China where abortion and such of female foetuses/babies has created such a gender imbalance.
The Geisha culture seems alive and well in Japan. It might be hard for young people to have privacy due to the fact they cannot afford to rent their own apartments and often live at home, but there is a certain open mindedness about sexuality that still persists.