In Japan, it seems like there’s a service for everything. You can even rent a family if you need.
But one service not only seems to cross an ethical line – it often crosses legal ones. Meet the wakaresaseya (別れさせ屋) – Japan’s “break up” companies – who promise to destroy another person’s happiness so you can find yours. It might not shock you to learn that such companies aren’t just gross; in many cases, they’re outright scams.
Happiness at the expense of someone else’s misery
When I first caught a whiff of this story, I thought the description of the business rang a bell. It turns out it did because I’ve written about them before – all the way back in Unseen Japan’s first year.
In 2008, I wrote about how a man in Osaka hired a detective agency to break up his ex-girlfriend’s relationship. Turned out the guy wanted another shot, and thought destroying her current happiness was the winning strategy.
The case went to court when the man tried to weasel out of paying the agency on the ground that hiring someone to break up a relationship “violates public morals.” The court shot him down, ruling that, while perhaps scuzzy, the contract he signed with the detective agency was valid and binding.
What’s surprising is that this isn’t a one-off. Multiple detective agencies across Japan advertise themselves as wakaresaseya, or “matchbreaking companies”. For a (usually substantial) fee, they’ll help you get the love of your life…by sabotaging their current relationship.
The matchbreaker’s tactics are as scummy as you might imagine. They usually involve gathering “evidence” to convince a partner that their better half is cheating.
Of course, what happens after that isn’t pre-determined. Even if the couple breaks up, that doesn’t mean the person who hired the matchbreaker stands a chance. And even if they do win their love, they’re now saddled with a massive secret that, should it come out, will likely destroy the relationship anyhow.
$28,000 to sabotage someone’s life
But none of this stops the desperate and the love-lorn from handing over millions of yen to the matchbreakers in hopes of taking their shot.
8 Kantere interviewed one man, Nomura, about his experience using a break-up service. (Nomura isn’t his real name, because who would admit to doing this publicly?) Nomura fell in love with a woman at work who, to his chagrin, had a boyfriend – who then became her husband.
Despite a female friend warning him that using such services could spell trouble, Nomura hired a detective agency to break the couple up, paying 4 million yen (USD $27,356). The agency “guaranteed” contact and promised a 100% refund if it failed to deliver results.
The agency’s clever plan was to have one of their employees befriend the woman. They’d end up having lunch together, and the employee would learn about her worries and frustrations with her relationship. At the same time, they’d have someone get friendly with her husband and drag him to cabaret clubs and other nightlife spots where they could snag embarrassing pics of him.
Who could’ve predicted it was all a scam?!
After a year and a half, nothing had progressed. And the matchbreaking agency wasn’t giving Nomura any updates or proof of their progress.
Suspicious, Nomura demanded proof of contact. The agency refused to supply any. So he sued them, demanding his money back.
8 Kantere contacted the agency. A representative insisted that they had made contact with the wife and the case was “progressing”. The rep maintained that the company didn’t share private information it gained – like LINE messages between the agency and its targets – with clients. “It’s odd to say that because we won’t share proof that the case isn’t progressing,” they said.
However, shortly after this exchange, the agency shut down its Web site and turned off its phones.
The problem with matchbreakers
Another woman in her 40s that 8 Kantere interviewed said she paid 2.2 million yen (USD $15,000) for her slice of happiness at someone else’s expense. Much like in Nomura’s case, the agency never delivered. Frustrated but not deterred, she contacted another agency with a different name…and was shocked when the same person from the previous company answered. It was the same business, operating under multiple brands.
In other words, matchbreaking is a shady business. And some professional detectives are sick of it. Matsumoto Kunitaka, vice-chair of the Japan Investigative Association, says his organization urges people to “talk with…your acquaintances or friends and find another path to resolution.” Matsumoto also wants to see some sort of official qualification to prevent any random person on the Internet from branding themselves a “detective”.
You might wonder if the people in this story learned anything. The answer, dear friends, is “no”. The 40yo who wanted to reconcile with her partner finally found another agency that helped her carry out her plan and is back with her beau.
Nomura hasn’t been so lucky. But when asked if he’d considered how the husband would feel if he broke the couple up, he didn’t seem perturbed.
“He’s the one falling for the women the agency dispatched. Serves him right.”
What to read next
「好きな人に相手がいる」「元恋人と復縁したい」…願いをかなえる『別れさせ屋』 トラブル多発も需要増えるその実態とは？ 成就しても後ろめたさが 業界団体も問題視「倫理的にも良くない」. 8 Kantere