Pillow Girlfriends Really Do Exist: Random Observations about Japan

Japan is a country that caters to the fantasy and even the fetish. Hostesses pour drinks and entertain businessmen in bars. Young waitresses wearing French maid outfits or dressed up like popular manga characters serve food and play games with customers at Maid Cafes. There are even bars where the female hosts wear suits and act like men; their patrons are not gay, but mainly straight women. In light of all that, perhaps the fact that some men enter into relationships with body pillows adorned with the image of their favorite anime, video game, or manga character isn’t too surprising.

As someone with an insatiable curiosity for Japanese culture, I’ve read about the pillow girlfriend phenomena (and thoroughly enjoyed the episode of 30 Rock where James Franco had one of his own), but I’ve never actually seen one in person… until last month. Early one morning outside the Shinjuku train station my husband and I were enraptured by the sight of a young male teenager with a body pillow slung over his back. The pillowcase bore the image of not just one, but two sexy anime ladies—long bare legs, knees turned inward, index fingers touching their slightly open pouts. I fumbled for my camera as my husband tugged at my sleeve and whispered loudly “take a picture, take a picture!” I desperately wanted to ask the young man if he wouldn’t mind holding still so I could capture the perfect shot, but thought better of it. A man disillusioned enough to sleep, eat, travel… and be in love with the poly fill ladies would probably not respond well to a foreign (living) lady approaching him with a large camera. Like a rare wildlife specimen, I managed to only snap a fleeting shot of him before he disappeared back into the surrounding Tokyo jungle.

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