Need a friend in Tokyo? Get ready to pay up.

News flash from the BBC: Money can buy happiness! If you’re a Tokyoite, that is.

Friendship has long been a free-market commodity in many parts of the world, but according to BBC correspondent Duncan Bartlett, the realm of the World’s Last Emperor takes things even further by presenting the lonely denizens of its capital with an astounding array of choices for paid companionship. Want to hobnob with female university students? Head on over to the Campus Cafe. Need to rent a relative to deliver the eulogy at Great-Uncle Shigeru’s funeral? No problem – just give Hagemashitai a ring and they’ll be glad to loan a third cousin or two. Heck, they’ll even throw in a part-time father if you need one:

The website says the “dad” will help the children with their homework. He will sort out problems with the neighbours.

He will take the kids to a barbeque or to a park. He could also appear at the daunting interview with a nursery school head teacher which parents are required to endure in order to persuade the principal to give their child a good start in life.

Of course, after a long week at work dealing with the worst specimens of humanity you may be fed up with your own kind. In that case, try unwinding at Akihabara’s Neko Ja La La, which offers a selection of seductive felines for lonely Tokyoites to stroke and pet to their hearts’ content. (Lola the Persian Cat comes highly recommended.)

But let’s face it: professional friends tend to last only as long as the money holds out – and then they’re off to lick someone else’s hand. (Though I suppose that’s also true for many so-called “real friends”.)

“When I look into his eyes, I think he’s my dog,” Kaori told me. “But when I take him back to the shop, he runs away from me and starts wagging his tail when he sees the next customer. That’s when I know he’s only a rental dog.”

C’est la vie. Just shake it off and try the next rent-a-friend place.

Source: Rent-a-friend in Japan (BBC News).

(By the way, the hiatus announced on 07 January is still on. I just thought this quirky bit of news was worth tossing out into the blogosphere.)

UPDATE (13 January): I actually found Hagemashitai’s website. No, I will NOT link to it – I’d rather not have the webmaster see a spike in stats, track it back here and then dash off an angry e-mail saying that the baka gaijin shouldn’t make fun of their honest business, etc., etc. (In any case, it’s easy enough to dig out via the usual web tools. And they’re free to carry on whatever legitimate trade they’re engaged in – I’m not exactly objecting or anything.) They make no secret of what they do, either. One of the first lines right under the banner reads “Rental Family, Father [Otousan], Husband, Wife, Father [Chichioya], Mother, Boyfriend, Girlfriend”. Incidentally, apart from a plain difference in terminology, can someone tell me why they used two different terms for “father”? I can’t quite grasp the difference between “otousan” and “chichioya” – I know they both mean “father”, but any other nuances of use or custom escape me.

UPDATE (14 January): Found Ja La La’s website. (I have no qualms about linking to this one.) Oddly enough, Lola the Persian Cat (from the BBC article) isn’t on the staff page – but there are many other cats of various breeds for us to gawk at.

4 Responses

  1. Nothing surprising on this one, really. We’ve heard worse, like selling sons and daughters for debt payment, absurd cases (really!) of organ donations, maids in hi-speed Ducatis, and student prostitution. It’s not just about catering to foreign people or something, and I’m sure they have their reasons. But this isn’t really surprising, knowing there are far more bizarre cases of trying to earn money.

  2. Perhaps otou-san and chichioya command different levels of respect from their children? Just a guess.

  3. @Shance: Agreed, in the grander scheme of things this barely registers on the bizarre-o-meter. But in my neighbourhood the corner stores don’t normally stock dads for hire, so I find it quite unusual. (No neko cafes either, sadly enough.)

    @Zeroblade: Yeah, I suspected as much, although I don’t see the need for two different terms in this case (unless a Rental Otousan performs different services from a Rental Chichioya).

  4. Chichioya and Otousan mean the same, but useage is different. Otousan is more formal and the other is not. A rough English equivalent would be like Father, Dad and Daddy. Could you imagine an adult referring to his father as, “Daddy”? Or would it be better to use, “Dad”?

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