As Japan grows more mobile and “addicted” to all digital and online activities, there has been a growing problem of loneliness and alienation, especially among young people. This has prompted a slew of services targeting those who have no social skills to make new friends in what has been called the “rental friend” phenomenon.
A recent article on Yahoo Japan detailing the “date” between a 35-year-old man and the girl he “rents” to be his friend. Netizens of course had a field day with the article, with some comparing the service to that of hiring a prostitute. But some also were quick to emphasize that this was not paying for sex, but only for companionship. The man featured in the article says that availing of a “Rental Friend” has helped him with his social anxiety and having a “girlfriend” to talk to has improved the quality of his life. He says at first he was reluctant to try paying for someone to keep him company, but after trying it out, he says he can “can forget the disagreeable parts.”
The girl mentioned in the article is part of one of the “Rental Friend” companies that feature “female-only” handymen that cater to “client partners” in Eastern Japan. Customers pay as much as 40,000 yen (over $400) just for one day with these “friends,” and you can take them shopping, drinking, eating and even just talking with them, which apparently is a popular “service” that those who pay for these companions avail of. Netizens said this was “embarrassing”, “sad” and will only make the person renting the friend feel worse about themselves.