Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Incredibly True Story of Renting a Friend in Tokyo

When you’re alone in Tokyo and you need someone to talk to, do as the locals do: Rent a friend

By Chris Colin. Excerpts:

"Miyabi isn’t a sex worker, or an escort or an actor or a therapist. Or maybe she’s a little of each. For the past five years she has been a professional rent-a-friend, working for a company called Client Partners. 

There was the string of teenage girls struggling to navigate mystifying social dynamics; at their parents’ request, Miyabi would show up and just be a friend. You know, a normal, companionable, 27-year-old friend. She has been paid to cry at funerals and swoon at weddings, lest there be shame over a paltry turnout. Last year, a high schooler hired her and 20 other women just long enough to snap one grinning, peace-sign-flashing, I-totally-have-friends Instagram photo. 

When I learned that friendship is rentable in Tokyo, it merely seemed like more Japanese wackiness, in a subset I’d come to think of as interest-kitsch. Every day in Japan, it seems, some weird new appetite is identified and gratified. There are cats to rent, after all, used underwear to purchase, owls to pet at owl bars. Cuddle cafés exist for the uncuddled, goat cafés for the un-goated. Handsome men will wipe away the tears of stressed-out female office workers."

"Miyabi’s career mostly comprises the small, unremarkable acts of ordinary friendship: Shooting the breeze over dinner. Listening on a long walk. Speaking simple kindnesses on a simple drive to the client’s parents’ house, simply to pretend you two are in love and absolutely on the verge of getting married"

"I’m paying her roughly $115 for two hours, some percentage of which Client Partners keeps."

"all types of clients: Widowers who need someone to watch TV with. Shy guys who could use a dating coach. Shy gals longing for a shopping companion. And that one dude who just wanted a friend who’d do him the solid of waiting seven hours outside Nike to snag these fresh sneakers for him when they went on sale."

" I believe Miyabi when she says her job is satisfying because of the personal connection. But I have to ask her why there’s such a demand for it on the clients’ side.

“Why?” Miyabi asks. “Because this is all a lie.”"

 "Yumi cheerfully tells me about the gigs she has had since joining Client Partners. (The six-year-old agency is the largest in Japan, with eight branches across Tokyo and another that more recently opened in Osaka.) There was the mystery writer who wanted her to read the novel he’d toiled away at for 10 years. Another man needed someone to talk with about his aging parents—not in person, but via months of emails. Like Miyabi, Yumi works weddings. For one she was hired to play the sister of the bride, a real living woman who herself was in a family feud that precluded her attendance. The mother of the bride was also a rental. The two impostors got along swimmingly. 

Yumi explains that these are just the more theatrical gigs. The bulk of her clients? They just want basic, uncomplicated companionship."

"And there’s the apparently growing problem of people who literally work themselves to death; a third of suicides have been attributed to overwork. All of that, Yumi and Taka say, but you act like everything’s fine. I gather this is the lie Miyabi was referring to.

Enter the rent-a-friend. Not a miracle cure, no. But maybe a pressure valve. “With us,” Yumi says, “people can talk about their feelings without worrying what their real friends think.”"

"Say what you will about rent-a-friends, but they bypass that whole dynamic. You don’t wonder about such a friend’s real feelings about you because you know them—in fact, they abide by a clearly delineated rate. With the matter of intention taken off the table, you’re free to focus on just having a nice time, on connecting in that very moment."

Related post:

If It Pays To Have Friends, Can You Pay To Have Friends?

It discusses two articles:

1. "The boyfriends you can buy! Chinese website offers men by the hour to women ashamed of their single status"

2. "The rise of paid friends: How wealthy New Yorkers are socializing with hired staff over 'real' companions – because they’re easier 'to control'."

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