There’s an agency in Japan that helps people rent out actors to impersonate their relatives, spouse, co-worker, or really any kind of acquaintance.
Ishii Yuichi started his company, Family Romance, 8 years ago in Shinjuku, and has amassed a total of 800 employees of all ages, gender, and appearance.
The company takes pride in being able to provide an ideal surrogate for almost any imaginable situation. For just ¥8,000 ($74), you can get one rent-a-friend for two hours!
Olivia Goldhill from Quartzy decided to hire Urala Fuji as her friend for the day. She says that hiring a “friend” has made her understand more about relationships, “The defining feature of friendship is that it’s not always pleasant…Instead, they [paid friends] take on the least pleasant elements of friendship, going along to events out of a duty to the client, rather than for their own enjoyment.”
Fuji says that she “just listens” and that “they’re paying to vent…When you’re paying for someone’s time, you don’t have to worry about whether they’re having fun; you can focus on your own needs.”
The Atlantic had done an interview with the company’s founder, Ishii Yuichi. He justifies that his business is trying to balance society and bridge people together, “The Japanese people are not expressive people… In conversation, we do not express ourselves, our opinions, our emotions… I believe that the world is always unfair, and my business exists because of that unfairness.”
He says that he aims to create a more perfect form of reality with “less concerns… less misunderstanding and conflict.”
Even for himself, an experienced actor/surrogate, he at times feels separated from reality and the thin line between his personal life and the life that he plays out.
“There are times, when I’m done with work and I come back home, where I sit and watch TV. I find myself wondering, ‘Is this, now, the real me, or the actor?’”
Goldhill wrote that “there’s significant stigma around mental illness in Japan, explains Urala, and many people are reluctant to seek professional support.”
Many of these “rent-a-friend” people oftentimes have to play the role of a therapist “to those who want to talk through negative feelings or have company when they’re down,” says Urala.