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In Need of a Company? Japanese Has an Answer for You


Have you ever used a rental service?  If your answer is yes, then it would most likely be cars for holidays, or DVDs and CDs back in the days.

Have you heard about Rent a Family?

Family Members to Let

In Japan, there is a trending business sector called Rental Family.  It does not need a second guess to know what the service provides. Customers can call or use the internet to book a person or a group of people to pretend to be your family.  The idea captured the imagination of creative minds, and there are films, novels, and TV dramas featuring those who hire and are hired, highlighting the psychology of those involved.  These fictions attracted attention in real life, and the business grew.  Here is the trailer from a documentary film.


Necessity Is the Mother of New Business

The concept of paying professional actors/pretenders for “attendance” is nothing new.  Since the biblical era, women have attended funerals to cry their eyes out in return for money.  In many areas in the world, it is essential to have people crying as loud as possible to secure a good afterlife for the deceased. Another example is members of an audience hired to applaud and clap. In Japan, often in the Kabuki theatre, they are called Oomukou, and in France, they are called Claque.  It is an important part of the theatrical experience. (Please refer to the article on 9th June 2017.)

But there is a different feel about this most recent service.

Family Members Needed in Many Ways

The above examples are social creations in which there is no pretence involved of family relations. Rent a Family, on the other hand, initially started by filling a need of making up the headcount of attendants at family ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. It is important in Japan that the number of family members matches that of the future in-law’s. The number of guests from workplaces and circles of friendship needs to match to keep the balance, as well as to show that the two families are socially equal.  It could amount to a large sum, but for a big life event, it is worth every penny. The rate for hiring someone to turn up costs typically about 10,000 yen per hour.

There are changes in the requirements now.  Some clients hire a man to make a speech pretending to be his best friend or a company boss. In some cases, a father is needed – for example where a client did not tell her future in-laws about her severed relationship with her family. The rate varies in these cases. Being a father will be significantly more expensive than a man posing as a colleague.

But the newer requirements are more personal and casual, and show modern family life in traditional society:

Going to parents’ school interview for a children’s entrance exam, when a parent cannot take a day off work.

Taking children to the funfair, because a parent cannot make time.

Pretending to be a new partner to meet with ex-spouse (or to-be-ex) for an important meeting for a new life.

Meeting parents as a committed partner, so that a client can persuade that he/she does not need an arranged marriage.

Rental Friends for Small Experience

At the other end of the spectrum, there are rental girlfriends and boyfriends. Clients may seek the experience of having a partner to go for drink with, and to practice having a pleasant conversation with the opposite sex for a real-life situation.  Rented friends will make sure that the clients will have a genuine experience. (Of course, there are strict rules regarding what clients can and cannot ask). They are also available just as a friend to go shopping with, or to go to Karaoke to escape loneliness.

The most casual service costs 1,000 yen per hour, and it is Rental-Ossan.  (“Ossan” is a middle-aged man, but with a bit of self-deprecation).

The price and name of the service lowers the bar for many users – men and women.  The users often just want someone to listen to their stories and anxieties. Others want Ossan to accompany them for a property viewing or for a concert, or to deliver an awkward message on his/her behalf, or to cook and share a meal. It is different every case, but Ossan themselves do not pretend to be something else.  People rent them for who they are.


Supply and Demand:  Increasing Availability of Volunteers

With heavy media exposure, the number of people seeking to work as rental family members also increased. More people across all age groups are willing to work flexibly. To fit into the roles of mothers, fathers or young sons and daughters for a short period, sometimes eating and drinking at customers’ cost, is seen to be easy part-time work.  From the growing pool of “talents”, as they are often referred to, the service companies are obliged to supply the right person to fit the bill at the appropriate price.

At the opposite end, these would-be “talents” may be looking for alternative opportunities.  The rental girlfriend talent may be looking for a chance of acting practice; the rental Ossan may be looking for an opportunity to pass on his/her experiences to help others, the rental father may be looking for a different kind of family relationship away from his real life. It could be the ultimate escapism for some people.

Some argue that this industry is a projection of modern society. It provides temporary comfort for Japanese people who value highly social cohesion, relationships and respect.   Critics have very cynical views, but it could be a very positive self-healing opportunity for an individual who wants to participate actively and contribute to society.




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