He was charming and single, she was bored and stuck in a sterile marriage, and their encounter in the aisles of a local supermarket seemed like a chance for them to change their lives for the better.
But the affair ended in betrayal, recrimination and death after a sequence of events as lurid as the plot of a pulp novel.
Prosecutors in Tokyo called Tuesday for a 17-year sentence for Takeshi Kuwabara for murdering his lover, Rie Isohata, last year.
But the most extraordinary thing about the case was not the killing — by strangulation, after a bitter argument last April — 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 as a professional wakaresaseya — or “splitter upper” — hired by her 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.
As Isohata’s father said 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 prise off 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. The classic wakaresaseya operation was the one commissioned by Isohata’s husband.
Kuwabara approached the 32-year-old mother in a supermarket in Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo, in the guise of a chatty stranger, and asked her if she could recommend a place that sold good cheesecake.
Before long they were lovers. He used the false identity “Hajime” and made no mention of his own wife and children. By arrangement, a colleague photographed them covertly as they entered a “love hotel” where rooms are rented by the hour — and Isohata’s husband used this as evidence to divorce her in November 2007. By this time, however, she and Kuwabara were in love.
But when the truth came out in April 2009 the couple had a furious fight and she announced that she was leaving him. It ended with her being strangled with a piece of household string. Kuwabara surrendered to the police that same night. “At the beginning, I thought of it as just a job,” he told the court. “But I came to really love her. I told lie after lie out of fear that she would hate me. I was driven into a corner. I still love her.”