Rent-a-Person Industry in Japan
Japan has long ago made a solution for people who lack the ability to make friends, have toxic family ties, or are just in it for the purpose of not being alone. This country has a bad record of high suicide rates for decades now. And the reason for this could be the absence of real social interaction.
Right now, there are already various companies that offer actually hired employees that people could rent for certain occasions. They provide clients with a particular person they badly need, such as friends, family members, boyfriend/girlfriend, or just a plain companion for social gatherings. This service is not new to Japanese people; this has been going on in the country since the early 1990s.
The earliest company that provided these services was called Japan Efficiency Corporation (Nihon Kokasei Honbu), their operations started in the fall of 1991. The company was run by Satsuki Oiwa, who first trained their employees back in 1987. But their first attempt to popularize this concept was a failure because they received various complaints about the service that their employees offer.
The clients were unsatisfied, and the services became unfeasible. But after a while, the company made changes with the concept of their business and began to offer "soft service" given by their hired professional actors. The soft service ought to reach their clients with a sympathetic heart. After a year of their official operations, the company had 21 clients, a waiting list of 84 more, and more than 400 applicants interested to be a professional stand-in.
Their services were highly patronized, and ever since they were already more companies popping up offering the same services.
Some rent-a-person agencies thought that this kind of culture was exclusive with that of the Japanese people, concerning their social etiquette. But this wasn't the case since this kind of service is being offered to several other countries. For example, wedding guest rentals were prominent in South Korea back in the late 1990s.
The country, too, has this desire of showing the public that they are well in terms of familial ties and other types of relationships. This kind of rental was also not only exclusive to wedding guests alone. The character roles that they could rent expanded in the 2000s. In 2007, there was a site named "Super-grandparents" that matches children in France with adoptive grandparents, which could last from one month to one year.
And in 2009, a man named Scott Rosenbaum became interested in the concept of renting a person. So, he founded the United States-based rent-a-friend agency in October of the said year. The service was open for clients across the world. The clients or the paying subscribers would be provided with contact information for platonic companions that are based on their local areas. They can hire them and pay at rates that are set by the companion.
In 2010, there were Chinese companies that would recruit foreigners who will act as employees or business partners. Technically, they would appear outside the major cities to make it seem like that particular place is attracting international attention. This would boost real estate investment and the likes. This practice was known as "White Guy Window Dressing," "White Guy in a Tie," or a "Face Job."
Some Chinese companies would also offer "romantic" partners for clients, which they could introduce to their parents. This will make the client's parents worry less about their child's civil status. The service of the companion is what is rented in this setup, and not their body as stated in their contract. However, there are allegations that this kind of service could potentially lead to prostitution, which is definitely illegal in China.
At the present times, the company Family Romance is the leading service provider of professional actors who could be rented in any given situation. Ishii Yuichi is a 38-year-old man known as the father to over 25 families and a husband to over 600 women. But it's not the sexual affairs that we would normally think about. Ishii is the founder of Family Romance, and he has employed over 1,200 actors at his company. Ishii himself has already experienced how to be a stand-in father for a certain wedding and even a make-believe groom. He also became a dad who has been missing for years to a long-lost son.
Placing an order for a family for hire is simple. The customers can look and place an order directly at his Tokyo-based family rental company. The starting pay for the service is 8,000JPY. And in that amount, the client can already choose a professional companion based on the specific characteristics that they desire. They can customize their temperament, appearance, behavior, and likes. They can rent for a person who could pose cute Instagram-worthy pictures with them or a man to appear as a groom for a scripted wedding. They can even hire an infant to serve as a grandson to a couple of longing grandparents.
Ishii Yuichi came across this concept of a family rental when he experienced being hired as a father to his friend's child whose kindergarten admission was denied because of their family background. He was 24 years old back and has worked as an actor in various TV dramas, movies, and commercials. After that, he realized the need for this service because this scenario could happen to various people with differing needs for a certain person to fulfill a particular duty. That was when the Family Romance was born.
The company is running for more than a decade now and has become timelier than ever because of continuing social issues that Japan fails to eliminate after all these years. And in the midst of a global pandemic where people have been isolated for almost a year already, this kind of business will no doubt fill up the hollow feeling that the quarantine has caused.
The company's goal is primarily designed to fill up the gap left by the actual people who should be standing in that place. Japan is a country that glorifies nuclear families. So, if you happen to be a single parent in this country, there are high chances that you will encounter discrimination because of your status. This is where family rental becomes beneficial since it will save a person from being the subject of gossip. Family rentals such as Family Romance act as a service that troubleshoots the messed up and judgmental society that Japan has.
There are already more or less ten companies that offer the same services as the Family Romance. One example is Client Partners. This company is known as a detective agency in Shibuya, Tokyo who allows clients to lend a "friend." The estimated cost for 11 hours of rental is over 800 USD, but this depends on varying situations.
Another company that operates this way is Support One; this company is said to be managed by a woman. So, women feel more security in availing of their services. The rental costs 5,000 JPY per hour plus the travel cost. And lastly, the Hagemashi Tai, whose founder is Ichinokawa. He himself started as a rental guy who would appear in weddings, but clients wanted more characters, so he had to hire other agents. You could hire one for 10,000 JPY plus travel cost.
If the western culture is now fond of dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and the likes, Japan, on the other hand, is into girlfriend rental. It might sound weird, just like renting a family is, but this has become a trend in Japanese culture these past few years. There are people in Japan who happen to overwork themselves, disassociating them from the real world. This leaves them alone and lonely. But this kind of service saves them from that dreadful feeling.
One YouTuber named Shihomi tried one girlfriend for rent and video-recorded what it's like to have one. It was only during their date that the rented girlfriend revealed the price for her service. In her company (which was not stated in the video), clients have to pay 6,000 yen per hour for a two-hour minimum rental. This makes a total of 12,000 yen to rent a girlfriend. The client could also select their girlfriends as to their physical attributes.
For first-timers, there is no extra charge in their payment. But after the first date, they will have to pay an additional 2,000 yen if they will make selections. The actual payment that the rental girlfriend receives is half of the rental cost. As to the age of the clients that patronize their services, it's estimated to be males in their mid-20s and upwards.
The men who commonly use their services are those who spent almost all of their time in their careers. They were too busy to find a life-long partner. That's why they had to resort to a rental girlfriend to ease their loneliness. Some are also males who never had a girlfriend before or those who never asked a girl out before. They are using the service to practice their social skills for them to be able to properly handle a woman when it's already real.
There are also clients who rent a girlfriend to introduce to their family during gatherings as a strategy to escape from the questions "when are you going to marry?' and "why aren't you bringing any girlfriend/boyfriend?". But these are not the only roles that a client could rent from a certain agency. There are also workers who were hired to make their client's ex-girlfriend/boyfriend jealous.
Renting a girlfriend comes with some strict restrictions both with the rented person and the client. Everything that comes in between the two must be professional. The clients are not allowed to contact the rental girlfriend directly. So, the hired one must not disclose any contact information during their dates. The services that the rental girlfriend offers are far different from bar hostesses, topless dancers, and erotic masseuses. They are not up for any sexual intimacy, for that will be considered as prostitution. They are also not entitled to accept tips and expensive gifts from their clients.
It may sound weird, but in Japan, you can actually rent a handsome man to be a companion as you have your mental breakdown and have them wipe your tears dry. The Tokyo-based company named Ikemeso Danshi or "Handsome Weeping Boys" offers you various handsome men whom you would like to be your tear-wiper. And what's even weirder is that they're down to wipe your tears with anything, including a toothbrush—it seems like some Japanese are into that.
The founder of Ikemeso Danshi is Hiroki Terai, a Japanese businessman. Hiroki has always kept an eye on how emotional health could give him profit. Before the creation of Ikemeso Danshi, Hiroki once ventured on a business that offers formal ceremonies to mark the end of a marriage.
The service leaves the clients with a good cry, and that eventually eases their emotional stress. He then started to make free screenings of sad movies in 2013 that were initially aimed to make people cry together in public. This was up until Hiroki decided to establish a company where people can actually hire men to cry with and dab their tears dry.
All the guys that are hired by the company are licensed in "therapeutic crying." The client will pick the guy they'll spend their cry with, and he will go to their place on a given schedule. The guy would make the client feel good by letting out those pent-up tears through watching tear-inducing movies or just a nice, honest talk. Once the client starts crying, the hired guy will just wipe the tears. After the job is done, he will just leave like nothing happened—well, in most cases. The service costs a price of 7,900 yen or $65. It might be a little pricey, but the emotional release is said to be worth it.
If renting a person who will dry your tears after crying weirds you out, maybe a man for rent to do nothing might also raise your curiosity. A man who goes by the name Shoji Morimoto, 35 years old, has accumulated an enormous online following and a nice life after allowing himself to be rented out and just be a silent companion.
He now has over 270,000 followers on Twitter, the platform he uses to advertise himself. Shoji never thought that he'd be flooded with thousands of requests to hire him despite the fact that he has no professional skills. The price for Shoji's services is 10,000 yen or $70. This doesn't include the expenses for his travels and meals, so the client has to provide for that. Shoji will come to meet the client, have a drink with him/her, talk a little if necessary, and then that's it.
There are various reasons why people choose to rent Shoji. Sometimes he would be hired to make up for a specific number in a gaming session. He was also sometimes asked to send off people who are moving away. There were instances where he was hired to accompany someone to file a divorce. And he also worked as a listener for health workers who would share how exhausting their work is.
Shoji's clients always leave him with great feedback since they enjoy his company so well. They consider his presence silent support on their individual endeavors and allows them to feel better since they are not alone during those times. People might think that this is a waste of money. But for people who badly need someone who will just listen and stay with them silently, services like this are a necessity.