A murder case in Tokyo exposed Japan's custom of hiring marriage wreckers, agents who are paid to seduce one half of a couple and cause them to split.
Takashi Kuwabara was given a 17-year jail sentence earlier this year for murdering his lover, Rie Isohata, in 2009.
But the most extraordinary thing about the case was not the killing – by strangulation, after a bitter argument in April 2009 – but the circumstances in which the couple met.
Although Kuwabara inadvertently fell in love with Isohata, he had been paid to track her down and seduce her. He was a professional wakaresaseya, or "splitter-upper," hired by her then-husband to provide him with grounds for a divorce.
The case is raising questions about the ethics and legality of "splitter-uppers" – shady, but seemingly widespread operatives to whom a surprising number of Japanese turn.
Since then, there has been serious talk whether such a practice might be exported to the U.S. and U.K., where divorce is very big business.
Women in Japan initiate 75 percent of the country’s divorces. Although Japan’s divorce rate (27 percent) has doubled over the last decade, women who want to leave their marriage with more than bittersweet memories have to bring hard evidence of infidelity to court to avoid being awarded a skimpy alimony.
Enter the wakaresaseya. For a couple thousand dollars per week, one of these lovely seductresses will plot and initiate a carnal encounter with a client’s husband. Her goal? To approach the man in public and engage him in a flirt session that makes infidelity an appealing option. Then, if all goes well, the wakaresaseya will often have sex with the man to seal his fate as an adulterer.
And the Tokyo murder case proves it isn’t just women spearheading the infidelity entrapment business – as it made international headlines. As explained above, Kuwabara, a male seduction agent killed one of his targets, Isohata, who was a mother from Tokyo whom he’d developed feelings for, and begun a genuine relationship with. When she found out that he was a wakaresaseya and tried to end their relationship, he strangled her.
As Isohata’s father testified during the trial, "I can never forgive a business that toys with the emotions of human beings."
Wakaresaseya perform a variety of functions, but all of them arise from the Japanese dislike of direct confrontation.
Rather than pleading with him face to face, a woman whose husband is having an affair may hire a splitter-upper to seduce his mistress away from him.
Parents may engage their services to get rid of the unsuitable lover of a son or daughter.
Dozens of wakaresaseya companies advertise on the internet, under names such as Lady's Secret Service and Office Shadow.
They employ models, actors and personable people of different backgrounds first to trail and then to seduce their quarry.
Isohata's father told reporters, "For the rest of my life, I will never forgive the defendant, or my daughter's ex-husband who hired him, or the wakaresaseya business itself.
"This has devastated not just my daughter’s life, but those of my grandchildren and me."
— The Curator