Relationship Killers: Japan’s Thriving “Breakup Service” Exposed

We’ve all heard of private investigators being hired to spy on cheating spouses, but have you ever heard of a private agent that you can hire to seduce your partner and help you break off a relationship or file for divorce? Such services have been available in Japan for more than two decades now. People can engage a ‘wakaresaseya’ to woo their partners, seduce them, and have a colleague take compromising pictures to make a case to file for a divorce. And that’s the best-case scenario, where a simple threat of exposure can often get the job done. But not in every case.

The wakaresaseya network (the word literally means “break-uppers”) became globally newsworthy when one of its members ended up killing the woman he was hired to seduce. Takeshi Kuwabara was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the murder of Rie Isohata, whose husband had hired Kuwabara to deliberately entrap his wife in a compromising situation. Photographs were taken and were to be used to file for divorce. Unfortunately, things never got that far.

The death of Isohata had opened a can of worms, and the wakaresaseya networks had to face a slew of regulatory restrictions and the consequences of having their operational methods thrown wide open for everyone to see. The public became warier after this and the network struggled to carry out their operations. They almost became obsolete at that point. But only almost.

This was back in 2010. A decade down the road, such networks are once again surfacing. One count suggests that there are at least 270 such “agencies” who offer their services online to niche customers. The practice itself is naturally considered to be less-than-honorable by most people in Japan, but there are still those who engage the services of these unscrupulous operators for their own benefit.

And the service is not cheap, as you can imagine. Some of the more seasoned operators can charge as much as $5,000 for a “regular” case. Special cases are often charged to the tune of $150,000 or more.

There are even consultancies that guide clients to different agencies, collecting a commission from them for each signed-up client.

Contrary to what might seem obvious to most of us – that most people hire a wakaresaseya to break up their marriage – the fact is that many clients actually do this to try and break up an affair they suspect their spouse is having with someone else. The process is very complex and involves three or four other agents, all of whom have a specific role to play.

It begins with someone hiring a wakaresaseya to spy on their spouse to confirm the affair. Once confirmed, a colleague of the wakaresaseya befriends the target, and another colleague befriends the target’s lover. After months of painstaking efforts to coordinate movements and plans, a dinner party is arranged, where the target and the lover are invited by the people who befriended them. A fourth colleague now enters the scene to seduce the lover away from the target. The job is complete when the affair breaks up, but sources say the client often comes back because their spouse is having another affair with someone else, and the cycle starts all over again.

It’s almost like a spy movie where the enemy is infiltrated and then sabotaged from the inside. But in this case, hearts are broken and relationships ruined.

The industry itself is quite large in Japan and has been around since long before the Kuwabara-Isohata case. As early as in 2020, The Los Angeles Times did a report on such agencies where it was reported that a handful of agencies operating in Tokyo could be making tens of millions of dollars in revenue with hundreds of clients. And some of these agencies say that even though breaking up a couple is a tough challenge, they are able to boast of success rates of up to 90% in many cases.

Legitimate agencies claim that their agents are well-versed in Japanese law and never break them in the course of their work. That’s possibly why the Kuwabara case received so much attention. It led to the worst crime of all. Murder. However, it is not entirely unknown for an agency to blackmail a target, threatening to expose sensitive information if they objected to the divorce or threatened action against the agency. It works because Japanese culture places great importance on modesty and honor, especially where women are concerned but it is equally true for men, albeit in lesser measure.

In one particular case, an accountant husband was the target of a wife who wanted to be with her old college lover. The strategy was to lead the husband to be infected with an embarrassing venereal disease and then blackmail him to voluntarily divorce her by threatening to release his medical records to his company. Such cases are not unusual and clearly show that not everything is above board in this industry despite what the agencies claim.

Today, the industry is thriving like it was before the gruesome incident in 2010. And the James Bond-like excitement of the job profile attracts many well-to-do professionals who want to work as agents because they’re bored with their lives. It’s not unusual to see resumes and applications from lawyers, stockbrokers, doctors, and other professionals, according to reports from agencies offering this service.

There’s a huge market in Japan – and even other countries – for companies offering “relationship services” like this one. It is possibly one of the most dishonorable extensions to already-seedy reputations that private investigators have. Whatever happened to simply spying on someone to catch them in an act of infidelity? Sigh, I miss the good old days.

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