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The Booming Japanese Rent-A-Friend Business (theatlantic.com)
699 points by Firebrand on Nov 9, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 255 comments



Went into reading this article expecting it to be a one-off, rental boyfriend type deal (that kind of trope is used very frequently in movies/tv shows/manga there), but this way way deeper than I expected. I'm pretty mind blown at how far they are taking this fake/real replacements. Pretty close to some dystopian scifi actually.

>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.

>Morin: You’re offering a more perfect form of reality?

>Yuichi: More ideal. More clean.

This is so Truman Show esque.


Now imagine a future technology where you could undergo some hypnosis / gaslighting treatment to forget you even hired this person.

I.e. pay a lot of money in advance, it's invested and the actor gets paid from the interest. You undergo memory treatment, and now your mother who you see once a week is real as far as you know, but really she's an actor you hired years back because your actual mother died.


>You undergo memory treatment, and now your mother who you see once a week is real as far as you know, but really she's an actor

Sounds like a sort of reverse Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; things could get really awkward and confusing when you end up having partial memories.

But also, possibly a brilliant way to fund nursing homes/increase visitation.


Yes, I was thinking that this should be a Charlie Kaufman movie, or that it's like a Charlie Kaufman movie come to life.

And it's like the opposite of Darth Vader. "Luke, I'm not you true father, I'm a member of the Family Romance corporation."


> things could get really awkward and confusing when you end up having partial memories.

All memories are partial.


Memories are modified on retrieval and colored by current emotional state and ideas (and vice versa :)). So they're not even partial. They're messy re-imaginations of past re-imaginations.


read-modify-write


Look up the movie _Synecdoche_, where a theater production about the producing of a theater production (about... (about... )...) starts recursively eating real life.


There is no way another person doesn't get emotionally invested in their role the only difference is your paying them to put up with your shit and pretend to be your ideal one.

That's a pretty bad deal for both to be honest the client gets a fake they may even fool themselves is real (as they did) and he basically goes through all the bad parts of a relationships without being able to complain.

I kind of agree with faking it to keep up appearances like fake weddings for a lesbian daughter or a fake father so the school doesn't complain about something that is none of their business to begin with since Japanese society is the way it is but long term fake boyfriends and the like can't be healthy.

Well maybe some people are ok leading a fake life but personally if I have a void in my life that motivates me to fill it instead of patching it with a temporary stop gap.

It's the same reason I fix the cause of bugs in software not patch the symptoms they create. If I didn't do that I wouldn't be much of software developer.


he basically goes through all the bad parts of a relationships without being able to complain.

Isn't that why the service provider gets paid? I believe the service provider knows that this is the deal.


He definitely knows it's the customer that tends to forget weather intentionally or unintentionally.

At the end of the day it's bad for both parties even if they don't realise it I mean he did say he doesn't want a family because of all the shit he puts up faking it although he framed it more politely.

Because of his work he thinks that all families are like the ones he pretends to be a part of but is that really true?

You choose your partner but not your customer so it's not the same and a important distinction.


This was explored (all the way to its grim dystopian conclusion) in tv series Dollhouse. Might want to check it out.


I only watched the first season, but wasn't it the reverse of the suggestion?


The later seasons explained things a bit more if I remember correctly. There was more to it than what was in the first season.


The second season also went completely off the rails with the mind reprogramming noise that can be broadcast over the radio or a phone line. They also glossed over the whole "Your body will have a police record thicker than the backup dancers in a rap video when we put your mind back in it, and also you will be wanted for treason." problem. Luckily they collapsed society before that problem came up.


Spoiler alert The dolls aren't the only ones that have their minds tampered with by the end of the show.


WestWorld too.


Spoiler ahead

In season 1 of the modern adaption of Westworld it's the robot actors that don't know they are not real. The customers know it's not real.

If anything else happens in the books or the movies or other series I don't want to know.


Employees also ambiguous.


At least one of the employees is a host, the one played by Elon Musk's ex wife.


Less Dollhouse and more Eternal Sunshine for a Spotless Mind (except making memories instead of removing them) .. makes me thinkg of the new Blade Runner a bit too


This would make an incredible Black Mirror episode.


I was thinking the same thing. At first instance it reminded me of "Be right back" episode


You might begin to suspect all your close friends are really just paid actors if that became possible...


Yeah have you noticed how your friends are always checking the time discreetly and tend to meet you and suddenly need to leave on the hour or the half-an-hour?


Without going into too much detail, Oldboy [0] has a bit that reminds me of this.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldboy_(2003_film) , I haven't seen the 2013 remake


And to prevent further awkwardness, the acting company would need insurance to pay for a replacement actor, if the original actor playing your mother died... it's turtles all the way down!


No, your wife unaware that you'd hired a fake mother will hire a fake you when you die least it break your geriatric mother's heart. Now you'll have two actors unknowingly interacting in perpetuity.


Sounds very similar to what the Dollhouse TV series was about.


isnt that kind of the premise of Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind?


> Pretty close to some dystopian scifi actually.

But it's not really that surprising, as much as I love Japan, the way they've commoditized casual social interactions has always been downright scary to me.

Hostess club culture might be the most obvious example, but it's only the most well known atop a whole mountain of service industry which revolves around people paying for casual social interactions, which imho belong among basic human needs.

The notoriously strict Japanese social hierarchy probably played a part in the widespread establishment of such practices: Can't show any weakness among social peers, so people rather isolate themselves and even keep their casual social interactions on a "professional level". This also removes the need to keep up with peer pressure in a very dense and very socially competitive environment, just outsource all the venting to a service worker.

I fear in a not so far-flung future this will become more common outside of Japan because high population density probably also played a role in the establishment of these strict social hierarchies and all their resulting woes.


There's a great documentary about host clubs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pW0RV2nSg0


Thanks for sharing, it's really very well made! I always wondered what kind of women would earn enough money to visit host clubs, the answer is quite depressing, just like pretty much everything about these social dynamics, lonely broken people lying to other lonely broken people.

The tragic thing being that we are all just lonely broken people but nobody likes to admit it, so we just keep on playing games of pretend with each other.


Same here. I can't help but wonder about the ethical implications of lying to a child about something so fundamental for her entire lifetime.


The article specifically mentions the positive outcome of the arrangement - the young woman's confidence has improved, destructive behaviour stopped, bullying stopped, and she has the father figure she obviously needs at this critical part of her development. And from all appearances he is genuinely doing his best to be that.

It's very hard for me to condemn this when the outcome seems so inarguably positive. Truthfulness is important, yes, but so is outcome. And if this woman after ten or twenty years, when she is well-adjusted with a career and family of her own, finds out the truth, would she be angry with her mother - or thank her?

Ethics is not black and white. It can often be a struggle between multiple competing imperatives. This is a Trolley Problem for the human soul.

O righteous crusaders for truth, if this girl was put in front of you, would you tell her?


It seems positive from what he says, but we only have one side of the story.

How does the daughter feel about having a father she sees so infrequently? Is it hard on her? Does she wonder why he won't come help her when she calls him out of the blue over some emergency? Now that she's older, would it be easier for her to know the truth?

We don't know. What I do know is eventually she'll find out, somehow. What happens then?


This question should be possible to be semi-answered by psychology studies. Do stability during the teen years outweigh a large negative event during adolescence? Seems like a question that researchers has been poking at for the last 100 years.

Bullying also has its own share of research (https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/bullying/conditionin...). It will not be easy to get a fair evaluation of harm vs harm mitigation.


Her real father left.

So the real question is: is the 4-hours a week of fake fatherhood better than being a bullied, emotionally traumatized kid throughout some of the hardest moments of growing up?

Its a fake, rent-a-father for 4 hours a week. But that fake fatherhood is probably way better than no fatherhood at all.

Its a difficult moral question for sure.


"O righteous crusaders for truth, if this girl was put in front of you, would you tell her?"

Maybe yes. Along with the fact that her fake father dreams about telling her the truth, but is afraid to do so. So then they can maybe have a real relationship and see each other whenever they want to and not only when her mother pays him to be professional.

Because clearly both have a real connection.

Btw. is he not scared of openl publishing all this? Or does no one in japan reads english magazines?


He may have sent an actor along to represent him for the interview / photoshoot.


> the young woman's confidence has improved, destructive behaviour stopped, bullying stopped

What makes you think that wouldn't have happened over time by itself? What's the message here, bullying someone for having lost her father is okay, not having a father is not okay? That's normalizing people being bullied for being humans. It's normalizing not allowing a widow to find another lover who at least may have an actual "bigger brother" style connection to her children than some actor who has none.

We don't need "figures" and "role models" for what they seem like, like pixels on a screen. That need comes from being someone, at least the natural initial desire to become someone, and it aims at people who are someone, too.

> Ethics is not black and white.

Except of course for the father figure she "obviously" needs, and how the confidence has "improved" (implied: from not good enough to good enough), during that "critical" part of the development as if there were any non-critical ones in life.

> O righteous crusaders for truth, if this girl was put in front of you, would you tell her?

That's not the question. The question is, would you fake being her father, or would you hire a fake father, and the answer to both of that for me is no, I can bet you my life on that, in writing. Oh righteous crusader for deep considerations, can you at least not turn faking being a father into the burden of "telling the truth" in a situation we would not have incurred in the first place?

When something makes you sad, there is usually good reason for it. Why not simply give her drugs to make her happy, and money to make it not matter if she has a career? If truthfulness, who you actually are, is just this thing on the side trumped by "outcome", why arbitrarily stop there? Why not permanently install on VR helmets and drug pumps onto everybody right after birth, done?

What would people who don't mind something like this have to withstand something even more twisted? How about this is already 20 iterations past sane, how about no? How about having a decent society instead of a rising tide of shut-ins and suicide and elderly people with plastic robot dogs? If you can't see those elephants on the couch, how can you be all life coach about this maybe not being the sad, nutty thing it is on the surface because it's possible that in 20 years it might have turned out well? Start everything like you want it to end. If you can't handle even someone else's mortality, how about your own? When I worked in a hospital, I was constantly amazed at the idle chit chat relatives made with people who had very short time left. I felt like those of the stuff who made human connections were the only ones remotely realizing what was going on. The visitors just dipped in, coated in a shell of activity, and left before anything could sink in. And I believe many genuinely loved those they visited, for some they were the apple of their eye; they were just so inept at life that they wasted those last moments together, too. In short, just to repeat, no. No to all of it. No to that entire branch.

edit: while I don't like to add even more to such a long rant (please don't take it personal in the accusative sense because I mirrored your "oh.." phrasing, take it as personal as meaning a lot to me), another thought occurred to me that actually does make me a bit angry: he's not "giving" her a fake father, he's taking her real and unfortunately dead father away from her. In the sense of role models and emotional support a LOT of things and people can do -- in the sense of the person you are and who your parents are, there are no substitutes. This is unforgivable to me; not that it's my call in this case, but if I was that girl, and I found out one day, that guy would have to fear for his life. How is it even possible that it's legal for him to not own up when she turns 18? Just because the lie started when she wasn't an adult? There is not one single aspect of this that isn't utterly fucked up to me. No, it's not understandable. It's understandable as in you needed to clean the dishes and now there is a 100 m tall sea monster destroying the whole block.


Being a real parent is essentially pretending to be a good parent most of the time, because you have no idea what you're doing. This guy just does the same thing in four hour chunks for $200 a pop, while the real thing doesn't get a wage or keep fixed business hours.

Having acted as the perfect boyfriend, husband, and father, in bite-sized chunks, even while exhausted, subject of the article is in an ideal position to take on the real thing. The only difference is that the actors get to stop playing their roles when the scene is over, while the real people have to keep their masks on forever.

As screwed up as it may sound, this guy is actually removing one of the layers of mutually-reinforced illusion from Japanese society, by openly admitting that the other person in an interaction is playing a predefined role in exchange for valuable consideration. It's like that old cynical description of an older profession: you're not paying for that, you're paying for them to leave afterward. You're substituting cash for the emotional investment you would otherwise have to put in as your half of the exchange. It's brutally mercenary, but some people are happy enough with the illusion. Why else would novels and teleplays be so popular? If my entire life is a lie anyway, why not pay a little extra to make it a good one?

This article is one of the reasons why I think Japan will be the first to industrialize companionship AI, and thereby blow huge, gaping, unrepairable holes through their own culture within the span of a single generation. Some forward-thinking researcher had better install a secret matchmaking protocol into the model before version one ships, or we're all doomed.


> How about having a decent society

Everyone wants this. An end to bullying would be great. Social expectations, roles, and conformity is harmful when it leads to groups ganging up on individuals.

And it doesn't end in school. I have personally had job interview in which the lack of popular social activity outside schools hours resulted in me not getting the job. Every time I see a studying looking at appearance and conformity to social expectations and norms I see a global phenomenon where society rewards conformity and punish non-conformity. Faking conformity is not a solution, but I can't say there has been much progress in removing the underlying issue. From my view there was progress until about mid 1970, in which the trend reversed and now we have a polarized world in which you either must conform to a naturalist or purist view (The Chromium Fence).

> When I worked in a hospital, I was constantly amazed at the idle chit chat relatives made with people who had very short time left.

Measure the stress levels and I think you would get a interesting correlation. There were a study done on parents to cancer sick children, and there were some direct correlation between behavior and stress management. In short summery to what I recall, suppressing the idea that the child was sick gave short-term stress reduction but that had a major price to pay when reality crashed in. Those that accepted reality early and gave themselves some room to exercise control (like making sure someone was in the room, that the nurses read the right bed-night story, and so on) generally faired better in the long run. It is not a fun study, but it is a good explanation for human behavior.


You are dissatisfied at the situations - we all are. We all understand that society is getting more isolated. However you deflected the question "righteous crusaders for truth, if this girl was put in front of you, would you tell her?" with a completely unrelated question.

Society has never been perfect, and it's a very tall order to say that an individual had the agency to build one where this situation would not have incurred in the first place. A single man cannot undo decades of societal decay.

In this situation, you have the agency of one person, to (try) improve the life of another's. If you were the widow, how long do you think you would have to search and deal with various male figures before you finally found the right guy? If you were Yuichi, do you take up this case and try to live honestly with the daughter forever and abandon your old life? Or you can, as you seem to be arguing, do nothing and hopefully the daughter deals with bullying. Those are your options. It isn't fair to the daughter to say "these people who tried to help you are wrong, what they should have done is solve Japan's suicide problem."


> A single man cannot undo decades of societal decay.

Rosa Parks didn't put the powder in the keg, and she didn't want to light no fuse. She was just sick and tired of something she considered wrong and demeaning for herself.

So yes, if it helps, I would probably want to tell that girl. It's dumb to "give an answer" to such a hypothetical. If you were Trump's old school buddy, would you still go jogging with him? Anyway, you know how they say to ignore bullies, and hiring a fake father is going so far in the opposite direction (apart from the totally fucked up priorities in the first place IMO, your actual identity > discomfort that prompts you to grow). And it's not "unfair" to expect people to not make things worse.


> When I worked in a hospital, I was constantly amazed at the idle chit chat relatives made with people who had very short time left.

Last week, for the first time in my life, someone I care about died. There was lots of "idle chit-chat" as we sat around him (in a coma) in the hospital for 2 weeks, waiting for the end. IMO the content of our conversation didn't really count for much, it was being there for each other that mattered. Words are not the only way you can express deep emotions


[flagged]


I don't disagree that this is dishonest behavior, as a son I'd prefer the bullying to discovering this. That said, your cavalier attitude about how she should just "find a real father" is not appropriate either. If she was battered, as the answer implies, it's completely expectable that she has trust issues with starting any new relationship, let alone bringing someone into her daughter's life.

Japan may be full of single men, and I'm sure many are wonderful people, but she already failed once in her judgment, so how can she trust herself not do to it again? Is it laziness to avoid swimming after you've almost drowned before?

Plus, you're actually reinforcing her position, by treating "a father" as something you just go out and get, like a car. What if she simply doesn't want to be intimate with anyone? How many single men are prepared to be a father without being a husband?

What you're essentially saying is that you agree that she should hire a father for her daughter, only that she should pay with her body instead of her money.


> Her mother is a lazy, dishonest bitch who bought a fake father rather than finding a real one for her daughter. Japan is full of single men so it's not like that option wasn't available to her.

I think that's harsh and short sighted. Why is marrying a single man better for her daughter? How is that more "real"? It's certainly not true in all cases. If her mother remarried to an abusive alcoholic do you seriously think that's better than hiring what's essentially a professional father?


It is more real because she believes that the father spends time with her each week because he loves her and wants to look after her.

In every social interaction we can never really be certain of the other person's motivations or feelings about us, or even if they really have feelings as opposed to being an automaton or a hallucination. In many cases it doesn't really matter that much. When a waiter smiles and laughs with us, they might just be thinking about their tip and how much their shoes hurt, but we can still enjoy their company.

Parenthood, romantic love, close friendship are not like this. They rely on a deep level of trust. If you pretended to be my lover, it wouldn't be enough to say "well you couldn't tell and you enjoyed it". There is an implicit shared emotional connection.

In particular, children need to be able to trust their parents.


[flagged]


Really? Do you think that an adopted child would prefer their birth parents over their loving adoptive parents if their birth parents were abusive alcoholics, criminals or drug addicts?

Children who have been adopted are also "tricked" but I don't think all of them prefer their birth families.


You are responding to something I didn't write: "over being tricked like this." Adopted children aren't being tricked as they almost always know that they are adopted.


Some people prefer the gate of ivory to the gate of horn. It is not my place to choose for them.


I don’t understand why this is being downvoted.


Because the problem isn't that the woman doesn't have a husband, the problem is that society is shitty to kids who don't have a father. That's the problem the woman is solving.

The comment above is implying that the woman is "a lazy, dishonest bitch" for not going and finding a boyfriend or husband so that the girl won't be bullied at school, which is a pretty clueless thing to say. The idea that a family needs a father in order to have any worth or be treated with any respect is the cause of the problem in the first place, and this comment is just reinforcing that ignorant and incorrect position.

In other words, the reason the woman needs to hire someone in the first place to keep her daughter safe is because of people like the person who posted that comment.


Personally, it's the "Her mother is a lazy, dishonest bitch who bought a fake father rather than finding a real one for her daughter." part of the comment. It's very strong language that I don't think is deserved and it makes it sound like finding a new father would be easy.

There's a well documented reason why there are a lot of single men in Japan.


> There's a well documented reason why there are a lot of single men in Japan.

What is that reason? (Serious question)


Young people in Japan aren't interested in relationships: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/20/young-people-j...

The reasons behind _that_ aren't so well understood but generally seem to be disillusionment with the idea of falling in love, getting married and having a family, unwillingness to fit in with traditional expectations (housewife taking care of the kids + hard working salaryman husband) or simply seeing relationships as too hard.


Western men are deeply conditioned to feel sorry for women in all circumstances. Even when that sorry-feeling is not warranted. They would have no problem understanding that a man doing the same thing to a child is a dickhead, but a women doing it, is a victim of bad circumstances.


We generally think it's ethically acceptable not to tell a child that they were adopted for a long while (possibly into adulthood), or not to tell a child that their biological father wasn't their mother's husband. We also find it ethically acceptable for a couple not to ask who fathered their own child.

We also generally find it ethically acceptable to form and especially continue relationships based on factors other than true love, including stability of a family environment and economic stability.

What, really, is different about this? Just the fact that we're not lying to ourselves about what the relationship is?


> We generally think it's ethically acceptable not to tell a child that they were adopted for a long while (possibly into adulthood), or not to tell a child that their biological father wasn't their mother's husband.

I would strongly favor honesty in both those situations once the child is mature enough to understand, except, in the latter case, when it's clearly in the child's best interest not to have a relationship with her biological father.

> We also find it ethically acceptable for a couple not to ask who fathered their own child.

That sounds to me like an extremely toxic relationship.

> We also generally find it ethically acceptable to form and especially continue relationships based on factors other than true love, including stability of a family environment and economic stability.

Those are at least real emotions and real decisions made honestly, not elaborate and unthinkably cruel deceptions.

Imagine you learned the person you thought was your parent, or sibling, or spouse, was really another person entirely. They never loved you, they never wanted to spend time with you, and all your memories with them were a lie. They were just a hired actor the real part of your family paid $50 an hour to deceive you.

It's hard to imagine anything that could be more painful. It's far worse than a death in the family. It'd be on par with learning your loved one were a murderer or rapist. It's like a particularly unsettling Twilight Zone or Black Mirror plot—I'm aghast that it's a real thing.


the difference in regards to adoption is that adoptive parents actually love you, while in this case is strictly for show. I'm not sure why you would lie about this anyways.

"We also generally find it ethically acceptable to form and especially continue relationships based on factors other than true love, including stability of a family environment and economic stability" In this case, both of the people involved are grown adults and usually know reasonably well what's going on.

The real problem here is how deep a break of trust this would be if they ever found out, and how wrong of an idea this would give ppl of relationships.


We also find it ethically acceptable for a couple not to ask who fathered their own child

Wait, we do? Social issues aside, what about family medical history!?


I think this was referring to sperm donation.


It's not lie if everybody accepts and supports it, merely a convention.

There's father-by-birth, and then father-by-adoption, and then father-by-convention.


Sorry, but it's just terrible. The mother is paying $200/month for a service that could disappear at any moment.

The daughter thinks the rental is her real father. That's highly likely to unravel sometime in her life time. Certainly at his funeral...he is using a fake name and personna.


I think the fact that the daughter or her surrounding world has troubles rooted in the lack of father representation is the terrible part.

Not that someone has to be blamed, but it’s the shitty start of the story.

From there if the mother can fake it until her daughter is in a better situation, I think it’s positive.

Even if it doesn’t turn out that well, I am not sure it would much more devastating than having been bullied for all that time she was decieved, and it could a start for a discussion on how she deals with her father image.


> The mother is paying $200/month for a service that could disappear at any moment.

The real father actually did disappear, after a history of abuse.


Presumably if her mom is about to run out of money, she pays for a final session where the dad gets hit by a car and has a funeral, right?


If it costs $18,000 USD for a wedding, I wonder what it would cost for a funeral. Likely more than $200.


The daughter doesn't support it


It’s common to lie to children about religious dogma. Society is currently still accustomed to lying about fundamental issues.


True, and it may be unavoidable. The human species needs myths and storytelling to form cohesive societies. Make-believe is the cornerstone of money, government, social contract and so on.


We do that sort of thing already - see Santa Claus for example, where children are continually lied to about the identity of the person who brings them presents.


Children are not stupid. They know.


And yet grown-ass adults can believe that an alien overlord flew their souls to Earth millions of years ago in space-faring DC-10s and blew them up in volcanoes, or that you can baptize the idea of a person long after they have died, or that the strongest wolf is held down by chains made by dwarves from widows' sighs and morning mist, or that the Earth is flat, or that putting money in a brass dish will spread your values around the world.

Smart children know. Very smart children hide it from you, so the loot keeps coming. Children that are too smart for their own good denounce all the cargo-culting rituals, introduce a cleaner, less obfuscated, and more efficient process, and end up getting socks, underwear, and mechanical pencils.

But obviously some kids never figure out the tricks, even long after they are grown. I am thankful that if I did have a kid that thick, I could hire a Japanese man at $50/hour for the express purpose of spoiling it for them and telling them to grow up, even as I insisted that yes, kid, there really is a Santa Claus. I guess you never know for sure that they are on board with the program until you're a grandparent.


The TV Series "Dollhouse" also explores this, although there the actors can only be rented on a day-to-day basis and their memory is wiped (OR IS IT?) after every assignment.


Gibson's Neuromancer touches on this with the backstory for how Molly Millions paid for her cybernetic enhancements as a "meat puppet".


That seems like a wiser operating plan. Avoids any long term deception.


You should check how Dollhouse ends then :) .


Suddenly and without resolution? :)


Like every other Fox sci-fi series. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me five times, shame on me.


I thought they destroyed society by the end? All of the nuanced ethical considerations replaced by straight up supervillainy with mind reprogramming noise being broadcast over the radio to everybody in the world and turning them into crazed murderers.


It's a remarkable piece. But plenty of 'real' relationships are maintained partly by paying for them, too - think of the friend who always picks up the tab, the boyfriend or suitor who pays for dinner and buys gifts for his lover. A Marxian could even claim that traditional families aren't so different... The temporary nature and upfront pricetag though are distinctive.


We all create our own version of reality, and this is just an intentional, multi person extension of that. That's what most "entourages" are anyway - basically rent a friends. I see nothing wrong with living in a more advanced fantasy land if you can afford it.


Truman Show yes, but even more like The Wedding Ringer.


> There was one case of a man in his 60s. His wife died, and he wanted to order another copy of her. We provided that.

This was incredibly poignant to me.

Japanese society can be incredibly restrictive in its social circles; it's too simple for me to imagine a guy in his 60s with few friends, few opportunities to make more friends, and then his only friend and long-time partner dies. It's too easy to imagine how lost and desperate he might be, why he might want this kind of service to create a fake reality to live in.

Some people might read this and think "wow, twisted that people can sell this kind of thing in Japan," but as someone who's lived here for a while, I think "wow, twisted that Japanese society forces people to feel like they need this kind of thing."

I struggle to find any kind of up side to the fact that society enables this kind of service, or rather, that this kind of service is even made necessary. Does anyone else see one?

Edit: To go into a bit more detail, my problems with society enabling this kind of service are really:

1. Social expectations and pressure

2. Lack of mental health care/counseling/options and awareness


What's stopping an otherwise normal late middle aged man from making friends?


It's pretty hard to just up and make friends in Japan. People generally stick to social/activity circles, but even then, you have boundaries.

For example, if you have a golfing group, you guys may go out for drinks but that would be that. You'd almost (key word) never go over to someone else's house, or go see movies together, or any of that -- they're your "golf people."

But that's assuming that you do have a golf group or whatever. A large number of people just go through life with their friends from elementary, junior high, or high school... and then their friends from college. Then friends from the workplace, if you make any beyond the level of "drinks after work."

I know a lot of people who have "drinking friends" from various adult social circles, but their only "real" friends (in the Western sense of people you can chat to about almost anything, do almost anything with, etc.) are a tiny handful of people they've known since junior high or high school.

Loneliness is a huge problem in Japan.


This is common in the U.S. too. I can't begin to tell you how many threads I've encountered where people go "How do you make friends after college?" or studies that show that people lose friends over time and hardly gain any after college, on average.

But, I don't think it has to be that way in the US. I myself went from having few friends to having more than I can keep up with, thanks to a period of two years where I went to a ton of Meetup.com events, writers groups, board game groups, and the like. Generally speaking I just had to keep showing up, make a little small talk, and then eventually people knew me and trusted me enough to start inviting me to things outside of it.

And I'm an introvert at heart. I still struggle to talk to people outside of these events and I still get exhausted by social activities.

Most people don't make that effort here, though, and that's one reason why they struggle (also there's some personalities that are either very abrasive, self-defeatist, or otherwise off-putting, and those people struggle as well). I find it's harder to keep up with myself now that I have a long term girlfriend and a puppy, but I still make an effort.

I wonder if that's possible in Japan as well, or if that's not even really a valid avenue over there.


> Most people don't make that effort here, though, and that's one reason why they struggle

As far as "making an effort" goes, I can only speak for myself (in the sense that it's not worth judging whether other people are "trying" from their appearance), but it's definitely pretty difficult to get past that initial "social circle" restriction.

For example, I've worked at the same company for a few years, gone out for drinks with a few coworkers... attempts at casual chats between work, invitations to stuff beyond work, etc. are all politely rebuffed.

I've also done airsoft before; with the exception of one guy who's also actively looking for friends, nobody is interested in doing anything beyond airsoft. As far as I can guess, they're in that group to do airsoft, not to make friends or do other things with those people -- they just want to do airsoft.

As I said in the beginning though, this is just me and I don't think it's fair for me to judge whether other people are "making an effort," but my own efforts seem to indicate that it's a problem beyond that.


Well there are certainly friends where I mostly just do board games nights or talk about board games with. However, board games are inherently social and you tend to talk about other things while playing the games usually. In fact, I count some of those people among my closest friends now. It's also my primary hobby (in fact I design board games now), so I naturally spend a lot of time thinking about them anyway.

So part of it may be the activity. I've noticed it's been easier or harder to make friends depending on what it is. Dinners seem to work well, movies less so (although if you pair the movie with dinner it can be good). Board games are nice because if you don't really feel like chatting you can just be quiet and focus on playing the game. I bet other sports can be that way too. I remember Pool and Darts feeling that way at times. Trivia nights at pubs sorta worked as well for the same reason.

As for people at work.... I'm friendly with coworkers, and from time to time I will do something with them outside of work, but I've noticed that coworker friendships tend not to stick very well. I've actually found my first coworker friendship that I think might stick in over 20 years, and that's because we both have dogs and set up times to go to the dog park together (he also helped me find my dog when he went missing for a week).

I actually used to feel pretty cynical as well about making friends because I had such bad luck turning coworkers into friends. I stopped trying there a while ago.

I've also had bad luck at "Networking" events. Too many people are just there trying to find the next person to hire them or work with or pass their business card to. I have started having some luck at Hacker nights, though, again because I found one I just keep showing up to, and it's pretty low key.

And for the most part I didn't reach out too aggressively. I mainly just showed up to events, said hi to other regulars, listened in on some conversations, say something here and there, and showed up often enough to become a regular myself. I didn't start getting invites to private events by some people until I'd seen them at 10-20 events previously sometimes.


Spot-on. I'm working on this myself after making a significant move to a big city from the mid-west. Never having started from a zero friend base is tough. While our culture doesn't always make it easy to make new friends, it's also very permissive about breaking molds. I'm constantly going to different meetups and group events and trying to say 'Yes' to every invite. Even other new people to the city aren't doing this but I don't get ostracized for being different. Occasionally people are even willing to tag along.


I had this exact trouble, and though friendly, didn't know how to tell how to make closer friends. I so wanted, but was so awkward and made social errors. I lucked into finding a bunch of accepting geeks in LA and then SF so I could err in their presence and become friends with some of them, gradually. But even then, knowing how to be closer and accepted as friends was hard. At last, one solution presented itself, through a lover. Being able to talk about myself, being vulnerable, sharing myself, allowed other apes to share about themselves too more, and feel closer. I now can make friends better than I used to. And miss all my friends in the Bay!


> It's pretty hard to just up and make friends in Japan

Certainly not unique to Japan. I see many lonely people in western big cities for instance. Surprisingly, I find it much easier to find a girlfriend than a friend. You just go to a dating website, find someone "similar" and spend time together and you can get close very quickly. It's not the way regular friendship works where it takes much longer to get intimate.


> I see many lonely people in western big cities for instance

Not true for Berlin, though. If you regularily visit some hackerspaces (or other meetups with like-minded people, such as various user groups such as Emacs user group, political groups such as FSFE, whatever), or go to university and study there, you have very good chances finding friends, some of whom may turn out to be very good friends.

Sometimes it seems hard to get into groups, but usually this is just a matter of having the courage to talk to people, and not so much a matter of being actively rejected by others (although that happens sometimes, too, of course, because every "club" has some low percentage of anti-social-minded people, but those people are easy to ignore).

I assume this is true for the other large cities in Germany as well (Hamburg, Frankfurt/Main, Munich, Bremen, etc.) but I don't know for sure.

EDIT: To those who downvoted: Do you care to elaborate? Did you have different experiences in Berlin? (especially as technically-minded people)


One problem with your comment is that you do not actually address the point you quote. Instead, you present an anecdote about how you went to lots of places where you met new people, had the courage to talk to them and made friends.

I agree that what you described is a good way (maybe the only way) to make friends. But consider what proportion of attendees at those meetups ended up becoming your friends. I'm guessing a single digit percentage, at best.

For people who don't go to many social events/don't talk to many others there/don't deepen those ties as much, it's very easy to be lonely in basically any city. Making friends takes work, and success is not guaranteed; if you're not putting in that work for some reason, e.g. your personality, you'll end up without friends more likely than not.

Let me present my own anecdote: I grew up in Berlin, and I certainly met lots of new people through school, sports, study groups and so on, but I always kept those separate. If I were into golf, my fellow golfers would be my "golf people", nothing more. I don't tend to attempt conversations with strangers (or people I know, for that matter), so very few of those acquaintances even learned my name. In essence, I don't have any friends.

I wouldn't call myself lonely, though, since I'm happy that way. I wouldn't even know what I'd do with friends if I had any. But I'm pretty sure that there are lots of people (also in Berlin) who are living essentially the same friendless life as me and suffer for it.


> Making friends takes work, and success is not guaranteed;

That's the gist of it.

In our society, people think human relationships are obvious, should be natural and self evident.

It's a concept that is reinforced by the medias, but also by the childhood memories where it kinda was.

But in the adult world, there are many social contracts and artificial boundaries you have to overcome, and connecting with people IS work.

What's more, it's work a lot of people are not trained to do anymore. And it's work with important consequences, good and bad.

I lived in Africa for a while, and there, you HAVE to connect to people to live. In some countries, basic informations and services can only be obtains by direct contact with another human. So the locals have no problem with loneliness, they make and break relations with ease.

Our modern society are making us kinda handicaped in that mesure, providing so many ways to avoid human contacts: delivery services, text informations everywhere, listings of things, etc. You don't have to ask where to find a product, what it contains, the price, then negociate it. You go to the shop, read, then pay, sometime even to a machine, or order it online.

It clicked, going back. I realized how easier my life was, and what a "cheat code" it is to just be able to talk to a random girl or joke with the guy next to me in the waiting room. I don't miss my times of being an introvert. It had zero benefits for myself.

We may mock Japan, but we are not making progress ourself.


> For people who don't go to many social events/don't talk to many others there/don't deepen those ties as much

Indeed! But my point is that making friendships in those cities is not prevented by the people or social norms in that country (while in Japan it apparently is, if I understood the previous comments correctly).

> But consider what proportion of attendees at those meetups ended up becoming your friends. I'm guessing a single digit percentage, at best.

Of course. However, if most people would refuse me due to social norms, that number would have been easily dropped to zero.

> I don't tend to attempt conversations with strangers (or people I know, for that matter), so very few of those acquaintances even learned my name. In essence, I don't have any friends.

But that's a purely personal choice, not something imposed onto you by the society, isn't it?


Meeting groups of people is certainly a good starting point (and probably what I'd do if I was trying to meet knew people), but it can take time before making actual friends and it's not guaranteed.

I can give my experience. I've always been in some kind of sport club or another (not a gym but group activities such as swimming, boxing...), I go there a few times a week, sometimes for years at the same club. I eventually get to know the people there (but it can take months), sometimes we hang out but rarely have I made friends there.

I also went to events designed to actually meet new people (for instance, europeans living in NYC, that kind of things). Not much success there. I tend to dislike these events as I'm not really comfortable in social events where I don't know anyone.

Then I made very good friends in total random circumstances. For instance, talking to a guy sitting in a coffeeshop next to me, or with a fellow hiker at the top of a mountain.


A few years ago I would wholeheartedly agree with you, but for me things have changed unfortunately.

Working in a startup job each day leaves me exhausted - not exhausted in regards to meeting people, but to planning such meetings. Too often I will just end up stuck to the internet.

The people I used to do things with either moved away or don't respond to such suggestions anymore.

Social circles seem to fall apart quickly without some condensation nuclei.

I hope working hours are getting more predictable now, so I will try the Meetup route.


I should use meetups more too. One mistake I have made is assuming that the first people that respond positively are going to be good friends, and compatible. Some natural sifting and more effort is needed even then. And self-examination and feeling as to what you want! I think this whole process helps us feel who we are. And projecting that, attracting similar-accepting humans. (while working on listning more and becoing better humans too!) / I think a bunch of people on here struggle, for obvious reasons no fault of our own, but there are definitely solutions to be found (see my other comment on this too nearby for one more). I'm reading and learning more here also.


It's pretty hard to just up and make new friends in America past a certain age. Sometime after 30 a lot of people seem to decide that family and career are the only important things in life, and friends get relegated to occasional weekend meetups. They're certainly looking to make any new friends. So if you're in that age bracket and you're looking to meet people your own age, you're largely out of luck.


You start losing energy around your 30s due to a lower metabolism, increased responsibilities, and the beginnings of health issues (for a lot of people), so going out during the week when you're already coming home worn out from work can seem like too much work. Or if you're going to the gym to maintain your health, and coming home and cooking dinner, take the dog out, do dishes, etc, well suddenly it's 9pm already and maybe you've got an hour or two at most before you need to sleep, and hey, the tv's or internet is right there...

I do some things during the week with friends, but it's usually for a specific productive reason (playtest our game designs, or go to starbucks and write), and usually only once a week. But some weeks I'm too tired to do that.


This is exactly my experience. I felt that the only "western level" friendships of openness and directness [1] were made before college.

[1] To be fair each society has its own expectations on what interpersonal relationships should be like. American openness/directness likely isn't inherently virtuous.


Americans are direct only about a certain set of things.

My Thai friends are much more direct discussing appearance, for instance. As an American, that was actually quite a shock visiting Thailand -- but you get used to it and adjust, and now it feels weird that there is this taboo in the US.

Americans are more open and direct than Japan, but I don't know that I'd say they're particularly open and direct -- about the only thing I'd say Americans are uniquely is boisterous. But that's probably still only among the developed world.


I find American friendship to be super complex and difficult to navigate. Since inviting certain people to certain places is almost mandatory in America, it is often hard to tell if an invitation or an expression of interest is sincere. In the Czech republic, I get far fewer invitations, but if they are in person (not through facebook) then they have always been sincere.


Non American here: what do you mean by "inviting certain people to certain places"? Like to a wedding?


Well, for example, if 11 members of the 20 person track team are going somewhere after practice, you have to invite everyone you meet even if you don't want them there. Even if its totally impractical to invite them there. If you're at a park throwing a Frisbee with some people you know, and you happen to be going somewhere with one friend afterwards, it's almost mandatory to invite the others who are there, even if you don't want to. I don't understand the rules, honestly. I was from a family who hardly ever invited anyone. But I've been frequently exposed to conversations about "who we've invited and hope doesn't come". As well as found myself in circumstances where I later realized that I was invited somewhere out of politeness rather than any desire that I be there. Both situations are really weird to me and it's just an extra complication that I don't need in my already tenuous understanding of social interaction.

In the Czech republic people don't talk as much and generally these situations occur rarely. And the example that I gave of the people in the park just doesn't happen in the Czech republic. There is no requirement to invite someone someplace just because you are going there yourself.


> There is no requirement to invite someone someplace just because you are going there yourself.

That wasn’t the effect you were demonstrating above. It was more “you have to invite [friend A] if you invite [friend B] from the same social group, unless you want [friend A] to think that you value them less than [friend B].”

Which is sometimes obviously what you want them to think—if you have known [friend B] for years and you’ve just joined the group that introduces you to [friend A], then hanging out solely with [friend B] (in a way that [friend A] will find out about, like by inviting them in front of them) is a way to assert that you’d like [friend A] to get to know you better, because you’re still not at the level where you feel comfortable adding them to your more close-knit friend group yet.

The problem comes when you’ve just joined a group and so only know everyone equally well (i.e. not that well), and yet only invite some of the group members somewhere anyway. This reads like the signal above, but without a justification: the people you chose to invite out did nothing to “deserve” the choice, and there’s no obvious thing (like more shared conversation) that you’re signalling that you’d like out of the people you didn’t invite. It can seem like you’re just sociopathically playing members of the group against each-other to win your favour.

But that’s really the only scenario where this applies: when picking a subset of acquaintances, from a shared group, to do something with that is usually reserved for friends. (It does come up a lot, because a “pool of shared acquaintances” describes a school pretty well. But it’s not nearly as much of a “thing” outside of that.)


I find that in the US, friend and acquaintance is hard to tell apart, because people are friendly and open in some ways. So I often can't tell who actually likes me well enough to figure out on deeper friendships.


That's a good point. We generally don't talk about our finances or deep personal life (vs the stereotypical Chinese aunt who demands to know your income as well as your dating history). American men tend to not talk about our emotions to one another.

I'm not sure how best to describe the difference. When I talk to Japanese "friends", I feel that I am talking to a mask, or that they're playing a part. In the States, on the subjects that we are open with, we seem to want to show our true selves, whatever that may mean. In Japan I feel that every aspect of your communication is guarded.


This might not be for everyone, but I think alcohol helps a lot in this respect.

The most sincere and interesting discussion were late into the night where half the people were sleeping under the table and the few left awake were articulating thoughts they had very deep in heart.

There’s of course the part where everyone is a bit more lubricated, but there’s also the social protection of “being drunk” that helps to shield from repercutions if we step too far on people’s feelings.

I found this specially true for people who are pretty strong to alcohol, and tend to wait for these “end of party” moments to start discussing intimate feelings, even if they are still almost sober.


Its also because Japanese dont have much to talk about in the first place. Look at their media, its all tabloid level at best, and you would have a hard time finding people who talk about other things than completely mundane subjects in ANY context. I think this is mostly due to an education trying to kill any ounce of individual thinking.


How much time have you spent in Japan or among Japanese people?


Iirc he lives in Japan.

At least part of his position is true though -- the education system really doesn't cultivate critical thinking or original thought (other than the elite prep schools which are great at fostering individuality).


[flagged]


I didn't downvote ekianjo (my question was genuine), but I do think if one is going to tar an entire 127M country as mostly devoid of individual thinking, it's reasonable to expect them to provide some reason for doing so. Extraordinary claims and all that.


10 years and counting. Most of my working life with Japanese people.


Loneliness is in no way limited to Japan. What you describes pretty much applies everywhere. I dont see folks in the west making their best friends late in life.


Will men from the workplace drift into your lifelong pals? My cousin was there last winter and was making some solid headway into a social circle, but ended up disgracing himself in a comedy of errors involving tequila and a runaway golf cart. He's back now and boasts to me that he has a way with the Japanese but I think he's always fudged up the truth some.


In Japanese business culture, there is a situation where you have to visit a company and say I’m deeply sorry for what I did and just bow and bow. <...> Usually, I accompany a salaryman who made a mistake. I take the identity of the salaryman myself, then I apologize profusely for his mistake. Have you seen the way we say sorry? You go have to down on your hands and knees on the floor. Your hands have to tremble. So, my client is there standing off to the side—the one who actually made the mistake—and I’m prostrate on the floor writhing around, and the boss is there red-faced as he hurls down abuse from above. Sometimes, I wonder to myself, “Am I actually doing this?”

This actually sounds like something that could be spun into a separate startup in Japan - people who will pretend to be you in intense politeness-related scenarios.


A 21st century revival of the whipping boy.[0]

[0]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whipping_boy


I understand within that culture an apology must be made, and there's a ritual to apology that has to be observed, but I don't understand why an employer would be willing to put up with the ruse. Is there really no social or cultural stigma involved with paying to have someone else to do it on your behalf?


The implication I believe is that the company is large enough that the boss would not personally know all the employees. The actor is pretending to be an employee that is responsible for the mistake that the hiring party made, but is not pretending to actually BE the person who hired them.


Or, the client company never met the employee responsible for the service company’s error (they were just tracked down by an internal investigation in the service company) and so theoretically the service company could have sent anybody and the client company wouldn’t have known the difference. The service company wants to send the error-committer, because going through this process is a punishment of sorts; but the client company doesn’t know/hasn’t met who they’re being sent, so the error-committer can fake things along the way.

They could probably correct the problem by just sending an escort along with the error-committer, but maybe this kind of thing doesn’t happen enough for them to really care.


Wonderful side effect: the company can honestly say that they fired them after the incident!


If you use and opensource project to do your work faster your boss will not be mad. You boss , your bosses boss , your bosses bosses boss only cares about one thing. Getting the job done on time and on budget. Whatever means you do it by as long as there are no bad repercussions is fine with them Im sure.

Just dont take credit for work that is not yours. Basically if asked dont lie. But if you are never asked then it seems the boss does not care of the details.


The better word would be submissiveness-related scenario. Politeness should not require you to accept abuse.


I don't mean to be insensitive but that is straight up bizarre behavior. In what way does Japanese business culture benefit from this? I'm open to ideas that it does add something.


I don't know if it's helpful but I can give two examples where it's harmful. In both cases the intense hierarchical culture actively obstructs bad news.

1. Asiana crash. Copilot did not want to tell pilot the approach looked wrong, and they flew into the ground. https://thediplomat.com/2013/07/asiana-airlines-crash-a-cock...

2. Fukushima and Tepco. Nobody wanted to say, "oops we messed up, might want to evacuate." http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-18718486


It's not beneficial, it's just how it is. I worked a job in Japan where one employee was late delivering a project, so his manager spent literally his entire day standing over his shoulder and berating him loudly for not getting it done sooner and being a failure. As you might imagine, this did not help get the project done sooner.


On a trans pacific flight many years ago, I remember watching a Japanese movie with exactly this premise. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name.


I think there are a couple of really different types of situations these actors resolve.

The fake groom for a wedding is just a workaround for a cultural issue, maybe not uniquely Japanese. The society requires a groom, so here is one. I wonder how many politicians today have fake family lives due to similar reasons, for instance.

But there are other situations, like fake boyfriends/girlfriends. What the company provides here is trust, sort or removing counter-party risk. The client needs to know that the friend will confirm to certain protocol, will be in a certain way. Many people would do that for free, but the actors are guaranteed to do that. If there was some mechanism to establish that kind of trust without the company, that would be nice. Without that trust, its just the usual dating, of course.

And then, there is a commitment aspect. That man acted as a father for 8 years. The must have been growth in that relationship. The actor and the girl developed an inner world in which they exist, are part of each other's lives, and, the girl at least, relies on him to be there in the future. Many man could probably act as fathers for some time, but 8 years, they'd actually have to want to be fathers.

edit: maybe its worth adding that this is not a suggestion that that business is a good thing overall. Just an attempt at the analysis of why it might be "booming" (if it indeed statistically is).


The fake groom for a wedding is just a workaround for a cultural issue, maybe not uniquely Japanese. The society requires a groom, so here is one.

Am I missing something? Is this a typo? This isn't just cultural; how can there be a wedding, without a bride and groom?


I think the fake groom was in the context of societal pressure to get married, or for a gay couple to marry opposite sex partners. Having a fake groom fulfills these obligations without actually having to live with the stand-in.


Wow, feels straight out of a Black mirror episode. What really disturbs me is this:

> With a burgeoning staff of 800 or so actors, ranging from infants to the elderly, the organization prides itself on being able to provide a surrogate for almost any conceivable situation.

Infants!! Reminds me of a Jim Carrey movie - The Truman Show.


> Yuichi: We have a huge variation of employees and the dedication to create an experience that surpasses reality. That’s why our motto is “more than real.” We had a case recently where a dying man wanted to see his grandchild, but it would not have been born in time. His daughter was able to rent an infant for the day.

This whole interview was way more gripping than I expected it to be.



Reminds me a lot of the episode "Be Right Back", where a woman orders an android recreation of her recently dead boyfriend built from photographs and memories. Powerful stuff.


Yes, I think it would make a really great plot for a Black Mirror episode!


This interview makes me wonder where we are heading as the human race. The Japanese society, so certainly very different in some aspects, does strike me as a glimpse into the future of western society. Technology has a much bigger impact on the daily life there and I believe that this is one of the main reasons, why (face-to-face) social interactions are becoming more infrequent. What struck me the most from the article was the impression that the customers of this service seem to feel especially lonely - or even more worrysome - that some of them view social interactions as hasselsome and being work. If that is the way humans as a whole start thinking than we will have a lot of problems in our future.

> For them, it’s a lot of hassle and disappointment. Imagine investing five years with someone and then they break up with you. It’s just easier to schedule two hours per week to interact with an ideal boyfriend.

> I don’t have a real girlfriend right now. Real dating feels like work. It feels like work to care for a real person.


> Technology has a much bigger impact on the daily life there

I see this a lot and I'd like to see what kind of technology you think exists here and has an impact on daily life here that doesn't exist/have an impact elsewhere.

Japanese technology that reaches the west is often the high-concept/prototype kind that definitely does not have any daily impact on anything, urban or rural.

The most ubiquitous pieces of technology I can think of that exist here that do not exist elsewhere are:

1. washlets (fancy bidets)

2. suica (cashless payment via touching a card)

and while neither of those exist as such elsewhere, similar things do... and neither of those really impact Japanese society to such a degree that I would consider Japanese society to be a "glimpse into the future of western society."

To me, Western society seems to be much further along any curve of alienization, with automatic cars and outsourced phone support (Japanese being a niche language, you're almost guaranteed to be talking to a real Japanese person for phone support).

One of the reasons I'm responding to this so strongly is that I dislike the continued "exotification" of Japan as some kind of strange, ineffable future-land and really strive to correct that kind of opinion wherever I can. It's nothing personal, but it only hurts all parties involved when Japan is seen in this light.


if 'cashless payment via touching a card' is what I think it is, it is completely widespread in London, in all shops/restaurants, and also on public transport.


> it is completely widespread in London, in all shops/restaurants

Probably needs "major" after "all" there. There's plenty of reasonably sized shops et al that haven't quite got around to contactless machines yet (Holland and Barrett, Ryman, etc.)


Ah, yeah. Oyster card? Same deal. I guess that just goes to show that Japan really isn't as "futuristic" as people would like to think. :)


> Technology has a much bigger impact on the daily life there

Strange to say technology has no impact on American lives spent entirely in front of TVs and steering wheels.


> Technology has a much bigger impact on the daily life there

Why do you say that? Fax machines are still in regular use in Japan, as are flip phones.


Flip phones are mostly reserved to seniors here. Smartphones are everywhere.


> For them, it’s a lot of hassle and disappointment. Imagine investing five years with someone and then they break up with you. It’s just easier to schedule two hours per week to interact with an ideal boyfriend.

I fail to fully relate to this sentiment. I get that a failed relationship that you've invested huge amounts of time in is heart breaking. It seems logical (albeit unhealthy) to thus stop chasing real relationships. What I then don't understand: Why is having a fake relationship preferable to one that might go south?

Either the "real" relationship turns out to be "fake". In that case the one that is "fake" from the beginning is no better. That is, the upshot is no true soulmate in both cases. Or, the "real" relationship turns out to be great. In that case the acceptance of uncertainty will pay dividends.

To me it seems that these people don't actually want a real relationship because no real relationship can come with the limited amount of attributes they desire. It's like they're complaining about an awesome Italien Pizza because it doesn't match a frozen one.


Can someone confirm that this is real? It reads like (dismal) satire.


I've lived in Japan for nearly a decade and never heard of anything like it. However it seems legit: domain name was registered in 2012 with a Japanese registrar and was renewed in 2015. The company (from their website) claims to have operated since 2010.

It's worth noting that most Japanese people would find this a pretty weird thing, I think -- it's not normal. I can't imagine that it would actually work out well if you got found out.


It's fairly common to rent people for commercial purposes; the term is サクラ (i.e. a shill, basically). While I don't hear about renting people to imitate personal relationships, I wouldn't be surprised if it was more commonplace than it appears.


Living in Japan for many years and i've literally never heard of anything like this. And it's important to bear in mind that there's a notable tendency for non-Japanese-media to play up the perceived weirdness/wackiness of Japan, particularly when it matches their established narrative (overworking, low birth rate, obsession with 'cute' things, &c &c)

On the other hand my particular social bubble is inherently biased so it could well be this happens all the time and I have no idea.


It is real. It has been featured on several national Japanese TV shows, the site has been maintained since 2012

Another commenter posted that the company is listed as "Established April 1 2009" but that is likely just for financial reasons, as April 1st is the start of the financial year.

That said, while the company is real I don't think it is common or in widespread use. I've never had a conversation about such a company or heard of anyone ever using one in the past few years in Japan. Remember, the media often likes to play up the "Weird Japan" angle.

(Of course, if they were doing their job perfectly then we would never know about it...)


They do have to get clients somehow.


Having been living in Japan for 4 years, i doubt this is fake. Loneliness is huge problems in Japan, you just can't become friends with stranger


If loneliness is a huge problem why don’t people become friends with strangers more often?


If they could do that then loneliness obviously wouldn't be a problem.


Would a 1.9m blond bloke find a role or would be considered too foreign? Few gigs would help with travel budget.


Very possibly the opposite! Companies will hire westerners to pose (like, literally stand and smile and nothing else) as C-level execs because having foreign execs correlates with a successful international business and thus looks good to potential partners and the like.


I thought that was more common in mainland China than in Japan. Rent-a-gweilo executive impersonation services.


I believe this is real, though I've not confirmed this outside of links here on HN.

My first exposure to this phenomenon was in March of 2016 right here on HN. [0] The linked article there was more in the vein of journalistic confession/reportage and like this linked article, it is a fantastic read. [1]

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11359641

[1] http://www.afar.com/magazine/the-incredibly-true-story-of-re...


It's fake IMO. The story is probably real but the implication that this is a crazy Japanese thing or that it is common is fake, just like most stereotypes about Japan. Want to see cosplayers? There's way more in the west than Japan. Want to see people dying their hair colors like anime characters? That's a western thing, not a Japanese thing.

The article is about a single company not nationwide trend.

Let me also add that coming from the USA I wasn't familiar with paying for companionship except for the idea of escorts which I've never hired and had mostly been led to believe were just fronts for prostitution.

After leaving the USA I found may countries, including Japan, have host/hostess clubs where you pay to have someone to talk (and flirt) with you. They exist in many countries, not just Japan, nor just Asia. I talked to Ukrainian hostesses in Turkey. My point is paying for companionship is common in much of the world.


Not really. You have westerners taking advantage of the "fake <whatever>" as well.

see:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/mar/05/everyth...


I also would like to see some corroboration. Like, really.


Halfway through I can't avoid thinking the same - this really reads like an enhanced dystopian version of what may happen in the future.


if you translate this page: http://family-romance.com/index.html

you'll find "establishment: april 1, 2009"

i think this is well written fiction


The fiscal year in Japan starts April 1st. This is not fiction, there is several companies in Japan providing such services. Source: lived in Japan 8 years and currently living there, I've seen advertisements for these services several times.


Almost everything the media writes about japan is exaggerated clickbait. This is true of all "exotic" cultures ( china, india, middle east, africa, mexico, etc ) but for some reason, it's especially true of japan. It's a form of cultural/racial fetishism.

Other countries do that with us too. Foreigners think that all americans carry guns, wave flags and settle disputes with a duel.

The media latches on to a fringe subculture in japan and then paints it as the norm. It would be like japanese media finding some fringe culture like furries and then making it seem like all americans are furries.


Are we (Mexico) exotic for the USA? Honest question.


Not for me, at least. I would imagine that's not the case for most people, but then again I've found my judgment to be less than 100% accurate (shocking, I know).


This reminds me of an episode of the podcast Weird Work where they interview someone who works as a bridesmaid for hire. For a fee, she'll help with wedding planning and go as far as flying out to act the part of bridesmaid in your wedding [1].

So this isn't just a Japanese thing. Just as I think that most people in the US would find hiring a bridesmaid in the US to be a little bit weird, I'm sure most people in Japan would feel the same way about the service described here.

[1] https://bridesmaidforhire.com/


there was even a kevin hart movie about it


This is sick. That girl is going to find out one day that he is not her father and she is going to be very fucked up when she realizes her entire life is a lie and she can't ever trust anyone.

I can't believe someone would be willing to do that to someone for $50/hr.


> The child had a father when she needed him most. It might have been a brief period, and she might know the truth now, but she had a meaningful experience at that time.

I find it hard to dismiss the concept completely. There are times when help is needed and perhaps sometimes this deception is better than having no help at all. I feel conflicted.


I am not dismissing the entire concept, but there is a difference between it being a shared delusion between willing participants and a deception. This service seems like it is primarily used to deceive others, and there are situations where that could be more appropriate like getting a kid into a private school. Most of the examples in that article are immoral uses of the service though.


Services like the ones being described are a symptom of the underlying problems. Should these services exist? Probably not. However, it's more helpful to understand why they do. Why do you think these services exist?


Because people have high expectations from life but low willingness to accept and adapt. So they'll rent a fake to cut corners.


How does that explanation tie up with the example given in the article where a girl was being bullied for not having a father? Is that driven by willingness to cut corners?


In that case the mother wanted to give the girl a fake father experience, she should have tried to give her a real adoptive father instead. The mother wanted to have the perks of a real father without doing the hard work of entering a relation, like everyone does.


Perhaps she wanted her girl to stop being bullied, have you considered that possibility?


Playing devil's advocate: how much different is this from adopted children to which adoptive parent's don't tell the truth? Is it mostly how likely is the truth to come out at some point?


The difference is when the truth comes out, the adopted child learns that someone cared enough about them to raise them, 24x7.

Still crappy, but less crappy than learning your dad was a $200/month actor that had no actual emotional investment in you.


I've read the article, it appears for the father role, the actor has some level of emotional investment. He enjoys creating happiness as the father, and feels guilty when he leaves her, and dreams about her even.


The adoptive parents genuinely love the child, they are not getting paid to pretend they do.


I think the motivation counts. Adopting out of a desire to have a child feels quite different from doing it for money.


I agree - this seems like abuse (especially to do to a child unaware of and not consenting to the lie).

I don't understand how someone could rationalize this to themselves as ethical. I hope the interviewer is just lying.


top notch journalism, I couldn't stop until I read the entire article, not skipping any paragraph.

the whole thing is just an interview/dialogue, but it's incredibly captivating

also, you could make three separate movies on existentialism just with ideas from the article.

lastly - the interviewee, he must have such strong philosophical dilemmas


It is in fact a suspiciously perfect interview with a man who specializes in giving optimized impressions.


yeah, it's so simply written, but the most engaging thing i've seen in months.


I suggest sending the author of the article a note with your complements!


The article reminds me a lot of a Murakami novel.


Trophy wife relationship might be not so different.

We already have commercial close day to day relationships like daycare, teachers, taking care of elderly. Then we have therapists and prostitution. Many lonely people have only workplace friendships that are more artificial than the importance they have in the life of lonely people.

But these are all fundamentally honest relationships with defined roles in the society. If a mother wants tho hire father figure for her child, I think the relationship should be honest towards the child and not based on lie. "Hired uncle" would be honest.


Familia 1996

'Santiago wakes up like any other morning. He goes down to the kitchen and his whole family is waiting for him: it's his birthday. They all sing "Happy Birthday to You" and give him presents. But when he opens the present of his youngest son, he gets angry and says he doesn't like it. The boy starts crying and saying that he loves him, but Santiago answers that he doesn't believe him and he tells the boy that he is fired and that he wants another son, who is thinner, who doesn't need glasses and who resembles him more.'


The story seems fake.

Does anyone have a link to this "Family Romance" corporation? Where is the proof?

Why would the guy be so ruthlessly candid about his immoral failings? Why does he talk in a carefully manicured, but cruel and amoral way -- why is he dissing his own product? Why would he plaster his face on The Atlantic when he depends on anonymity? They have 800 employees -- that's large; why haven't we heard of this before? Why is he so knowledgeable about what English-speakers don't know about Japan and so able to help us understand -- has he lived and studied extensively abroad? Why is he able to understand what he does is immoral but is unwilling to change even as it affects him so deeply -- why doesn't he get a new job? What would happen to his clients if he decided to stop working for them -- how legally binding would his contract be? Is he legally obligated to keep lying even if he changes his job -- that's impossible, right? No one is legally obligated to lie. Is the business really "booming" when it seems to be so unknown -- and, in fact, relies on keeping a low-profile for maximum effectiveness? How did the clients find them -- and how did everyone else not find them?

Where are other, reliable articles about this? The only other source I find is The Sun and people have mentioned Yahoo! Answers, which aren't reliable sources. Can someone in Japan confirm this?

It screams of fictional writing.


There is a fairly recent manga ("Kanojo, okarishimasu.") fictionalising the rental girlfriend version of this business. In a two-page preface to one of the chapters, the author depicts a date that he sent his editor on with a girl rented from a real service for the purpose of "material collection". In the wake of that, the author (@miyajimareiji) and the service in question proceed to exchange a series of Twitter PR backrubs, and notably it turns out that the employees of the company (@aoi_renkano and others) all have meticulously maintained Twitter presences. Based on that, I suspect that (1) the people doing the hiring are pretty good at suspending their disbelief anyway and would rather have more information about the "product" they are getting, and (2) the people who are actually going to be deceived are not even expected to track down a Japanese Twitter account, let alone an article in an English-language newspaper with near-zero name recognition in Japan.

Regarding the point about the interviewee supposedly being knowledgeable about what English speakers don't know, have you ever seen raw transcripts of a typical newspaper interview? The interviewer and translator (and there almost certainly was one: the English is far too idiomatic, and the person who ultimately penned the article seems to not even know that Japanese names are given surname-first, given how the article is written as if Yuichi were the surname) probably provided a lot of leading that was ultimately left out, or even added in explanations of their own.


This entire interview is very Japanese. There’s certain mentalities, especially an ironic, self-aware, self-deprecating cynicism, that is really present in some Japanese people that Americans can only understand with some effort. Maybe the business could be fake for some unrelated reason, but the interview itself is entirely consistent with a Japanese mode of thinking, and the writing does not scream as fake at all to me.

The writing is definitely more self-aware and humorous than you would expect from an American in the same situation.


Link is provided in the article. Am also surprised that the actor allowed his photo to appear. In fact, the website, which is in Japanese, has many photos. I wonder if they are of employees who work there. That would seem counterproductive.


You are indeed right that there is a website.

A website could be manufactured if this is part of a clever viral campaign for some dystopian book or film.

Where is reliable proof? Can someone in Japan confirm this?


I'm living in Tokyo. There are a few companies providing these kinds of services. I get print advertisements in my mailbox weekly for them.


The linked domain was registered 5 years ago -- if this is promotional stunt or fake piece, it has been impressively planned out.



Well, since it is a buisness and beeing professional it is OK for him.

So I would only think it is fake, because he openly speaks about it. Advertisement I suppose, but counterproductive for his clients. But maybe he also don't want to put it up anymore and just focus on the management part?


This book is very much aligned with the topic presented in the article if you want to examine how similar services are springing up in the west https://www.amazon.com/Outsourced-Self-Happens-Others-Lives/...


"In an increasingly isolated and entitled society..."

If true, it seems an odd mix of outcomes for a national psyche, but perhaps it can be explained.

How would a society become both isolated and entitled? Are they independent outcomes with independent causes? Correlated by some common cause? Or did one cause the other?


The article is titled "Rent-a-Friend" but the whole story is about a "Rent-a-DAD" for a little girl.

That is so much different than Renting a Friend....


How wrong was Robet Nozick in his argument about the Experience Machine [0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experience_machine


>There are certain memories, yes. There’s a blank sheet, and the client writes the memories that he wants the wife to remember.

>For them, it’s a lot of hassle and disappointment. Imagine investing five years with someone and then they break up with you. It’s just easier to schedule two hours per week to interact with an ideal boyfriend. There’s no conflict, no jealously, no bad habits. Everything is perfect.

The fundamental problem with being human is that there are other humans. They're so unpredictable to deal with. Let's hope the AI finally comes soon, at least you can save/reload those.


Wow, this was a surprising article. I am shocked that they are renting themselves out and lying to children about who their parents are. It's unethical and he speaks about it as if it's just fine.


Except that it was presented as a reaction to other unfair situation: being refused the entrance to a school or being bullied because the father is not here..


>Yuichi: There’s a manual for everything in this company. We use psychology to determine the optimal outcome. In this case, the standard tactic is to make me look like a yakuza [gangster]. Typically, I arrive with the wife, and the husband is there, and suddenly I will just bow then deeply apologize. Usually, the husband will berate me, but because I appear to be a yakuza, he won’t pursue the matter further.

Ethical questions aside, this is dangerously brilliant. Better hope the actual Yakuza doesn't find out...


Wow, I recommend everyone to read the whole piece. The title does not do the interview justice.


There is an industry in japan where people can get fake married[1]. Its very popular among women. Its a sad outcome of a country that penalizes marriage. I remember when a Goldman advisor told Japanese govt to make baby and child care easier to bringing more woman into economy, he quipped "But madam, thats why we are building a big robot industry"(presumably to solve the child care system which is heavily backlogged[2][3]).

[1] https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B06Y1JVLD4 [2] https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/04/17/national/day-ca... [3] https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/01/05/460801951/...


Is this the world that we're creating in modern life?


The best world money can buy, with organic gluten-free interaction with real humans./s


This is so wrong on so many levels. A friend of mine (Germany) was told that the mother's boyfriend is her real father. When she was told that he is not, she started suffering from panic attacks.

The article already describes the problem but not really the consequences which must be devastating.

IMHO this practice should became illegal and if at all there should be programs or even companies to fix the actual problems.


A danish director made a film on the topic: he follows a Rent-A-Friend business boss who hides what he is doing for a living to his own family Imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3242460/


A greek director also made a movie based a very similar idea http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1859446/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Also check out his newer movies like The Lobster... really good movies!


I wonder if having your picture appear in a relatively high profile publication like this would be wise...


It would be funny if he hired someone to take the picture for him


haha someone from a competing firm


This, especially the case of the grandfather who wanted to see his grandchild before dying reminds me of the game "To The Moon".

Creating new memories, new reality because the one people are living is just not good enough....


The logistics also remind me of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse.


This made me weep a little bit. Such loneliness in this world!

I feel like this is what the logical endpoint of total capitalism would look like- things have been headed in this direction for a while with first the making of household items, and farming, then the preparation of food (restaurants) and the raising of children (schools) now performed by paid labor. I guess it could go even farther, one could imagine a future in which all relationships are mediated through money.. it's not a future I like.


Reminds me of one of the main plot lines of Noriko's Dinner Table http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468820/

The main character works for a similar company to the one mentioned in the article. Not sure if there was a precedent at the time of the film's writing. Looks like fiction has become reality.


If anyone of you reading this comment from Tokyo and want a buddy to work from cafes/co-working, hit me up :)

same username on twitter


http://family-romance.com/index.html

translated to english, you will find in the page: Establishment: April 1, 2009

the only reason i would consider this real at all is because "Japan", but i can't buy this

this must be an (enjoyable) work of fiction


I googled the Japanese name of the company and there are Yahoo Q&A threads about if it's awkward etc. so it is very real.


The fiscal year in Japan starts April 1st, no relation to April fool's day. I live in Japan and have seen ads for these kinds of services, this is very real.



Seems like a focus on money and everything fake has left us to this. This is very depressing.


The first example is bringing on a fake husband because the private school doesn't accept children of single mothers.

Regardless of the social weirdness, I wonder how often a service like this is used for straight-up fraud?


I really hope that employees of this company are provided with access to mental health services as one of their benefits. Without judgement one way or the other, in that line of work, you'd need it.


There's a movie on business like this: The Bride of Rip Van Winkle by Shunji Iwai. But not sure if it is inspired by the exact same company.


There is a lot of buzz around virtual reality, but it seems to me this kind of business is scarier than any head-mounted display.


Fascinating. The level of dedication reminds me a bit of Christian Bale's character in The Prestige.


horrible interview. Who cares about actors playing as your spouse or whatever.

Why didn't interviewer get into the logistics of being able to rent a human infant!? This is perhaps the most inconceivable aspect of this business.

Any guesses on the logistics and safety protocols for renting one's infant?


Probably the same as already exist for when you rent* one's infant to modelling agencies or film sets?


the guardians can be on set while an infant is on the job. You can't have the real mom follow around while the fake mom is using the rental infant.


A fair point, well made.


Sounds like the mind of psychopaths.


Obviously not, he's just pragmatic.


He is building up a lie that if unleashed could destroy a person. If not the person, defensively the relationship between the kid and the mom that hired him.


"booming" business ? Does it indicate something wrong with the society ?


Why is he showing his face by the way? What if his fake daughter find that out?


How can they possibly get anyone to do this job for $50 per hour?


Just imagine the cost for providing five-nines on that service.


Reminds me of a flick called The Wedding Ringer.


Unbelievable. I am shocked. This is so sad on so many levels.


This seems to be one step away from The Island movie


Sounds like the script of a Black Mirror episode.

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