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Japan Businesses The Almighty Buck

The Booming Japanese Rent-a-Friend Business (theatlantic.com) 276

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Atlantic which talks about a growing business in Japan wherein you can pay an actor to impersonate your relative, spouse, coworker, or any kind of acquaintance. The reporter has interviewed Ishii Yuichi, CEO of a Family Romance, a company that rents such actors. Yuichi believes that Family Romance, and other companies that provide a similar service can help people cope with unbearable absences or perceived deficiencies in their lives. In an increasingly isolated and entitled society, the chief executive officer predicts the exponential growth of his business and others like it, as a la carte human interaction becomes the new norm. An exchange between Yuichi and the reporter, from the story: Morin: When was your first success?
Yuichi: I played a father for a 12-year-old with a single mother. The girl was bullied because she didn't have a dad, so the mother rented me. I've acted as the girl's father ever since. I am the only real father that she knows.
Morin: And this is ongoing?
Yuichi: Yes, I've been seeing her for eight years. She just graduated high school.
Morin: Does she understand that you're not her real father?
Yuichi: No, the mother hasn't told her.
Morin: How do you think she would feel if she discovered the truth?
Yuichi: I think she would be shocked. If the client never reveals the truth, I must continue the role indefinitely. If the daughter gets married, I have to act as a father in that wedding, and then I have to be the grandfather. So, I always ask every client, "Are you prepared to sustain this lie?" It's the most significant problem our company has.

The Booming Japanese Rent-a-Friend Business

Comments Filter:
  • wow (Score:5, Interesting)

    by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <kepler1@DEBIANhotmail.com minus distro> on Friday November 10, 2017 @12:23PM (#55526577)
    I am always amazed, impressed, disgusted, disbelieving, aghast, saddened, at the level of the Japanese culture of repressing emotions, guilt, refusing to speak things plainly, and bottling things up.

    Leads to some great things, admittedly, but also sometimes very saddening!
    • I am not sure that this is a result of Japanese culture per se. I think it is quite symptomatic of modern materialistic and individualistic society that is prevalent throughout the western world. But it might actually be better to turn Japanese and keep a bit more of things bottled up. Many times I'd rather that than all the BS that is spewed via Twitter and Facebook all day and night.
      • I don't think it's due to materialism and individualism, even though those terms have been very popular since decades to describe the cause of all wrongness in our society. These days I'd sooner blame things on narcissism and entitlement.
        • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

          He mentioned principles. You stated personality traits based on extremes of said principles.

          It's the same thing.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I find the other extreme, regularly encountered in California, to be disgusting, depressing, etc (wearing emotions on sleeves; making every decision based on emotional whim; manufactured outrage; unable to live with being offended).

      • wearing emotions on sleeves

        Is that an expression or did they actually start wearing coloured bracelets or something?

        • That is a common English idiom. "Wearing your heart on your sleeve", "wearing your emotions on your sleeve", etc. It means exactly like it sounds -- people who display what they are feeling for all to see.
        • by slew ( 2918 )

          Doesn't anyone remember any Shakespeare?

          For when my outward action doth demonstrate
          The native act and figure of my heart
          In compliment extern, 'tis not long after
          But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
          For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.
          --Shakespeare, Othello, Act 1, Scene 1

          Of course it originally didn't mean what people think it means today. Following the Othello reference, it is meant to denote someone who is potentially aggressively expressing a thought or belief to appear to be faithful, but in reality has a subversive intent. Think of it the counterpart to another common Shakespearean phrase: "The lady doth protest too much."

    • In my country we call this job an "escort."

  • Oh, come on... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @12:24PM (#55526579)

    The mere existence of such a business is a strong indication for the need of some society-wide social engineering and an improvement in mental health care.

    • I remember reading that in the Gilded Age everybody who wasn't destitute had multiple servants because it was so cheap to them. Lots of folks looking for any work they can get their hands on.
      • If that many people are "destitute," you might want to ask yourself why you excluded them from you calculation of who "everybody" is?

        • Because nobody's really destitute... at least nobody important.

          As you imply, it's important to remember we all have the instinct to overlook or discount those below us in the social order... and not do so.

    • by Njovich ( 553857 )

      Does the existence of X somewhere in America indicate that there is a society wide problem? Do you think nobody in America would use this type of service?

      • Do you think America doesn't have some serious issues requiring some social engineering and improvements in health care?

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      The mere existence of such a business is a strong indication for the need of some society-wide social engineering and an improvement in mental health care.

      But isn't such a business part of the solution?
      That's a logical step in specialization society : people with great social skills get paid to make up for the lack of other people social skills. Just like people with no fishing skills buying fish from skilled fishermen.
      It doesn't mean that we can't improve society and psychiatry at the same time but the existence of such businesses is not a bad thing.
      Just like prosthetics : sure, it shows that we can't regrow legs and that medicine still has work to do, but i

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 10, 2017 @12:27PM (#55526597)

    I'd pay to read good comments here.

  • by chronoglass ( 1353185 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @12:30PM (#55526609)

    it's always been a thing...

  • Very sad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Diakoneo ( 853127 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @12:40PM (#55526665)

    When I saw the headline, I was going to come here and post a joke about the "world's oldest profession". But after reading the summary/article, I'm really saddened. Every family has skeletons in their closets, but this deception goes right to the core of who we are as humans.

    • In the US an "escort" is exactly what is described in the summary; a fake date. People who don't really understand what it is often confuse it with prostitution; understandably because sex is the most important part of a date to many people! But the reality is that a large part of the work is actually "escorting" men to social events and impersonating a date; not having sex, but pretending to be romantically interested. So that other people can see him receiving attention; so he appears normal. You can't go

      • Re:Very sad (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdflat.cELIOTom minus poet> on Friday November 10, 2017 @02:20PM (#55527403) Journal
        A professional escort is not generally obligated to lie to others about who they are.
      • In the US an "escort" is exactly what is described in the summary; a fake date.

        What is described in the summary is not a "fake date". This is someone who is being paid by a third party to act as if he's a girl's father. This is a long-term usually genetic relationship, which involves deep emotional ties and trust. A "fake date" ends at the end of the night, it's a low-level social interaction for a few hours.

        Those who hire escorts to attend some function with them are fully aware of the situation and the temporary status of the "relationship". They are generally not deluded enough to

    • When I saw the headline, I was going to come here and post a joke about the "world's oldest profession". But after reading the summary/article, I'm really saddened. Every family has skeletons in their closets, but this deception goes right to the core of who we are as humans.

      In the USA, this kind of deception could have legal consequences that might be bad for the actor. In most if not all US states, child support is viewed as the right of the child. That means that states can go after deadbeat dads. And there have been cases where non-biological fathers thought they were a child's biological father and found out that they weren't but they still had to pay child support because it's the child's right to get support and that trumps a lack of a biological connection.

    • Re:Very sad (Score:4, Informative)

      by Falos ( 2905315 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @04:06PM (#55528127)

      I finally came back to RTFA.

      Most posts here (including some in this thread tree) keep talking about prostitutes and escorts. Which isn't unreasonable given TFS.

      But TFA goes further. It's surreal. This sort of acting, of... reality orchestration, is the kind of shit reserved for fiction. The Truman Show. It's unexpectedly similar to Dollhouse, if you've seen it:

      [regarding a 60-year-old man whose wife died]
      Morin: "Did she have the same memories as the wife?"
      Yuichi: "There are certain memories, yes. There’s a blank sheet, and the client writes the memories that he wants the wife to remember."

      This is the stuff of fantasy, Hollywood CIA professionals who replace people (could be friend, could be foe) with a trained lookalike. If you told me such a business existed, I'd mock the sheer practicality of it (many posts have) but it turns out people will take what's available. Limited durations (not if the money keeps flowing) or capabilities aren't a problem for some scenarios. Give TFA a read, people. I can see how various "apology" actors would be useful.

  • Don't forget to upgrade your friend rental to include a dog on the side [dailymail.co.uk].
  • ...Just when I think we've reached the limits of how crazy fucked-up the Japanese can be, they show me I'm wrong.

    Keep shining, you crazy Japanese.

    • Re:Hm.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @01:04PM (#55526815)

      ...Just when I think we've reached the limits of how crazy fucked-up the Japanese can be, they show me I'm wrong.

      On the other hand, they don't seem to be spending any time shooting people at music festivals, churches or schools every other week.

      • by Megol ( 3135005 )

        Yeah but is that because they don't have access to weapons or because it is against their culture?

        I admit I'm trolling. Still relevant.

        • Yeah but is that because they don't have access to weapons or because it is against their culture?

          I admit I'm trolling. Still relevant.

          Your question doesn't seem like a troll - though I'm sure some moderators here would (someone modded me Flame-bait for this joke [slashdot.org]) - and I'd be curious about the availability vs. culture thing too.

      • Real gun control in Japan. I worked at a company that would have Japanese clients from time to time. One of their favorite requests was to go shooting at a range. We had an AE that spoke Japanese that would take them.

      • Re:Hm.. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by steveha ( 103154 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @02:49PM (#55527625) Homepage

        [the Japanese] don't seem to be spending any time shooting people at music festivals, churches or schools every other week.

        I'm not sure if you are trolling but I think this is in fact a valid point, and it's one of the reasons why I and others are opposed to banning firearms.

        I recommend a book called The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy [goodreads.com] which analyzes gun control and gun violence in Japan, Canada, and the USA. The conclusion of the book: gun misuse is overwhelmingly a cultural thing. Japan may have gun control laws, but it's not the laws that keeps gun violence low there, it's the culture.

        I believe that even if the USA adopted the exact same laws that Japan has, gun violence in the USA wouldn't change very much. Changing the culture is much harder but also much more likely to have an effect.

        BTW Japan has a whole lot of suicides [wikipedia.org]. Someone who is really super upset there is more likely to kill himself rather than trying to kill a bunch of others.

        P.S. Mass murder events do happen in Japan: http://time.com/4423216/mass-killings-japan-tsukui/ [time.com]

        Japan doesn't have as many as the USA. Japan has a smaller population, so one would expect fewer events, but even after adjusting for population it's less. However, it's not zero.

        • Re:Hm.. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by citylivin ( 1250770 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @04:17PM (#55528177)

          "I believe that even if the USA adopted the exact same laws that Japan has, gun violence in the USA wouldn't change very much."

          Then you are a fool. As a canadian, I've been in physical encounters with people where they have drawn weapons. If I or they had a gun instead of a knife, things would have ended much worse for someone.

          It is nearly impossible to get a legal handgun in canada. Most guns used in crimes are smuggled from the USA at extreme risk. And if you carry it around and someone sees that, you are going to jail.

          Like it or not, if you want to change the culture of gun violence in the USA, you have to start by restricting gun sales. That means depriving people of owning guns that are not meant for hunting. All automatic weapons, all hand guns, and probably more types too (i am not an expert on guns, nor would i care to be). It means getting people to give up the "personal self defence" aspect of gun ownership. I doubt anyone has guns for that purpose in canada, simply because they are so restricted with how you can transport them and use them, any situation where you would need to have the gun "at the ready" for defence, simply wouldn't be possible.

          So i would argue that you have no idea about canadian gun laws and how they are influencing society. The laws shape the culture. I'm not sure how you could possibly miss that fundamental point. When americans say that the government can't take away their guns, that statement is clearly part law and part culture. Change the laws and you would change the culture, for sure.

          • > I doubt anyone has guns for that purpose in canada, simply because they are so restricted with how you can transport them and use them, any situation where you would need to have the gun "at the ready" for defence, simply wouldn't be possible.

            Weapons and ammunition in separate locked gun safes, I believe. It's been a long time and I never kept a gun at home, so I'm not the best resource for that information.

            On the other hand, all sorts of medieval weapons are perfectly legal and I have a few on my wal

          • Re:Hm.. (Score:4, Informative)

            by steveha ( 103154 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @06:03PM (#55528685) Homepage

            Then you are a fool. As a canadian, I've been in physical encounters with people where they have drawn weapons. If I or they had a gun instead of a knife, things would have ended much worse for someone.

            Okay, here's a thought experiment for you. What if we took an area where it was not generally legal to carry a pistol, and changed the laws so that it became generally legal to carry a pistol? Would violence go up, go down, stay the same? By your argument, it should go up.

            Well, the experiment has been tried, and violence was observed to go down.

            https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jul/14/murder-rates-drop-as-concealed-carry-permits-soar-/ [washingtontimes.com]

            Does this prove that legalizing concealed carry causes violent crime rates to drop? No, because correlation does not prove causation. However, if your argument were valid, concealed carry would cause an increase in violence, and this data clearly contradicts this proposition.

            So, you were rude to me, and you offered your own opinion as if it were fact, and the facts don't agree with your opinion.

            Most guns used in crimes are smuggled from the USA at extreme risk.

            It's not legal to possess crack cocaine anywhere in the USA. Yet crack addicts buy it everywhere all the time. So I'm not sure what your point is... if your argument is that the laws in Canada keep criminals from getting firearms, could you please explain how the crack addicts get crack?

            For that matter, since it's against the law to commit murder, why do murders still occur?

            The laws shape the culture.

            That's an interesting idea but I notice you didn't support it with any kind of references or statistics or anything. I'll grant that laws can exert some kind of influence on culture but I reject the idea that government has the power to directly shape culture, that if it could just pass the right laws human nature could change. I disagree with you on this point, but I won't insult you.

  • Ours are euphemistically called escort services.
    • The ones you can afford euphemistically call themselves escorts, the ones that work for legit escort agencies are actually escorts and do the job in the summary! The most often case isn't impersonating a family member, but impersonating a real date. Usually for a business function.

      • I've known a few escorts. They were, without a doubt, both impersonating a date at social and business functions, and preforming sexual services. This stuff is well known. Go to "Escort Agency" at Wikipedia, and they lay it bare https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escort_agency [wikipedia.org].

        Nevertheless, your point is taken, especially now that the up-and-up Japanese juggernaut, RentAFriend.com, is servicing the US too.

  • Where I live we have inflatable 'friends' for various purposes, not the least of which is to sit in the passenger seat while driving in the fast 'ride share' lane.

  • I wonder how much that 12-year old paid to rent a father, because, 12-year olds don't really have a lot of money.
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @01:21PM (#55526969)

    I'm no expert on Japanese culture, but the glimpses Westerners get to see are...quite interesting. Between this and robotic female companions going semi-mainstream, it seems like there may be a couple of social screws that need tightening. I wonder if selling human interactions, beyond the obvious oldest profession, will be a thing when people don't have manual labor to fall back on.

    In my opinion, and it's just an opinion, this is what happens when you have a culture where high achievement is celebrated, but not everyone gets to participate fully. You're just expected to have an outward appearance of success, and I can imagine that can be hard for someone who really isn't meeting expectations. I've heard of this among Ivy League college students...they act like nothing fazes them even if they're struggling like mad to keep up with their peers. The ones who were the smartest kids in their high school get dropped into an environment where _everyone_ is either the smartest or most well-connected kid in their peer group.

    I read about an interesting trait of Japanese society...that of lifetime employment. Apparently, large corporations only hire new graduates [wikipedia.org] and if you miss out on it, you never get another chance because they do not hire experienced employees. Talk about having to keep up appearances...imagine not meshing with the crowd for whatever reason and ending up working in a convenience store the rest of your life even if you were an engineering student.

    • hence, karoshi

    • by slew ( 2918 )

      Interestingly, you see it as some thing born out of modern society, but I see this whole thing as a modernization of the Geisha concept from Japanese history.

      FWIW, originally Geisha were MEN, it was only later that the profession became dominated by women. Also despite common misconceptions being a Geisha isn't about being a prostitute or even an escort**, but a Geisha is considered an entertainer (focused on music and engaging conversation, not sex although that is not unheard of) who is professionally tr

  • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmhNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday November 10, 2017 @01:23PM (#55526987) Journal

    What happens when he has a scheduling conflict between two roles he has to play?

  • by CustomSolvers2 ( 4118921 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @01:25PM (#55527005) Homepage
    Even though this is certainly an extreme example (at least for me, not sure in Japan), lack of attachment to others and fake appearances are surprisingly common in most of societies. Internet and the way in which things like "social" media have evolved is a good reflection of that reality. Lots of people are not interested in actually knowing others, but only in blindly following trends, getting temporary certainty via poor information about everyone, having a high number of likes, friends, references, showing that they are happy/sad/angry, etc. Similar ideas apply to the real-life routines of many people, who are so scared of really giving and getting something (and, consequently, potentially losing/being hurt) that prefer to be systematically involved in meaningless relationships with others.

    Some people might consider me some kind of hermit since some time ago, a person not able to enjoy the small pleasures of life or others' companion. This isn't true. The reality is that I am only interested in getting involved in somehow meaningful relationships, but most of people are not. Should I join the big circus of hypocrisy, meaning-nothing conventions, playing-very-safe-and-as-instructed and lies to eventually find just one worthy person? No, thanks. I did that in the past and know where it ends: tolerating more lies, hypocrisy, in-case-of-doubt attacks, unreasonable prejudices, etc. From my current position, I don't see a big difference between this article and what happens almost everywhere: people living to show and to do/be scared/angry/happy/etc. as instructed by whatever trend or convention, rather than really having/enjoying/experiencing. I don't even find any of this sad anymore.
    • by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @05:27PM (#55528517) Homepage

      The thing is: developing actual, meaningful relationships requires going through a lot of superficial crap. You don't know in advance which people you are going to be able to relate to, so you sample around, and you first meet lots and lots of people who don't work out for you. If you don't go to that trouble, just how are you supposed to magically meet the rare person you actually hit it off with?

      Now, you may say "it's not worth it". And who would I be to disagree? I make about 1 good friend every 20 years, because I mostly can't be bothered to socialize. But be aware that this is the price you pay for being a "hermit".

  • I'm pretty sure I've been doing some of these roles for free. Time to start charging.
  • by barbariccow ( 1476631 ) on Friday November 10, 2017 @02:30PM (#55527485)
    Wish we had that here. Could finally have a reason to step out of my mother's basement!

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