OSAKA — Atsuko Sato runs a private detective agency to help clients look for their first love.

The agency, appropriately named First Love, searches for people her clients fell in love with for the first time in their lives and spent time with but have not heard from again since parting ways.

“Of course, it’s OK if the person was not their first love. We can find 95 percent of the people in their memories,” Sato, 56, said, speaking at her office in Chuo Ward, Osaka, where stacks of phone directories are kept in order.

She set up the agency, which now has a staff of seven, in 1988 after working for an education materials company and a research firm.

She charges a flat fee of ¥55,000 as a startup fund and a ¥50,000 finders fee for successfully locating the person sought. The office covers prefectures other than Osaka and has handled about 20,000 cases to date.

It maintains a policy of not accepting requests for investigations that would violate public order and decency laws, or inquiries that are discriminatory.

“Many people come to us to look for people they have been concerned about for a long time or to pass on a word or two,” Sato said, adding that she has received many requests concerning the whereabouts of boyfriends who disappeared during World War II or comrades in arms.

She also said that recently there have been growing numbers of people who cannot accept that they were spurned by a member of the opposite sex and have sought the agency’s help to confirm they were indeed rejected.

Sato said the agency receives about 20 requests a month to find people lingering in her clients’ memories, but also handles cases involving people with extramarital problems and those trying to quit various cults.

She is currently studying law at a graduate school because she sometimes needs the cooperation of lawyers for requests that could lead to lawsuits.

“I want to help those who rely on me,” Sato said.

She entered the business after visiting a private detective agency to locate a man she met while engaged in the student protest movement in the 1970s.

She remembers the staff telling her the fees would amount to ¥30,000 a day and that the total cost would be open-ended.

Sato said her work has brought her strong person-to-person bonds.

“People may search for those they have not heard from for a long time, but may find themselves asking how they will deal with these loved ones again in their presence,” she added.

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