It can be difficult to get along without female friends.

In Japan, work ethic and subsequent exhaustion tends to tie many men to their work places beyond the call of duty, and gender roles can be highly restrictive. If you’re a single man who is not socially confident, how do you get enough positive human interaction? We all need to tell someone about our troubles, and yarn about the day-to-day minutiae that friends and family share.

Maybe you want to go out to a nice restaurant… but how can you go alone? Maybe you have relationship difficulties and want to confide in someone. Maybe you need help with your computer, or organizing your stuff, or careers counselling. Everyone needs a female friend… and in eastern Japan, Client Partners KK is one company which offers a rent-a-friend service. Billed as “women-only odd-jobbers” (josei dake no benriya), the services they offer do not include anything untoward. In the commodification of today’s world, “rental friend” should come as no surprise. What is surprising is just how much this kind of human contact benefits lonely people.

How much does it cost?

It differs depending on the service and staff member, but basically there’s an outcall fee of US$30 (3,000 yen) plus about $30 per hour.

What kind of service can you expect?

A recent article in the Asahi Shimbun gave a rundown of one customer’s experience: a 35-year-old single man from northern Kanto who uses the rent-a-friend service once a month. Let’s call him Kenji.

Kenji travels into Tokyo city to meet his rental female friend at 11am at their customary meeting spot, in front of a clothing store in Harajuku. Having said their hellos, they make their way to legendary nerd wonderland Akihabara.

Kenji is a fan of pro-wrestling, so they browse through the aisles of masks and T-shirts. He’s embarrassed and diffident, but before long is opening up about troubles in his life. She draws him out and shows genuine empathy for his mother who is in hospital. and all the other concerns he has been shouldering alone each day.

They have curry for lunch, and continue shopping. When it starts to rain, he shelters her with his umbrella. At 7pm they part ways, and Kenji passes his rental friend about $310 in cash (31,000 yen).

Kenji first got in touch with Client Partners last year, after seeing their ads on TV. He was going through a difficult time—his partner had broken up with him the year before, and he didn’t want the relationship to end. He couldn’t stop himself calling and going round to her place, and was given a warning by the police. In the midst of his trouble and heartache, the rental friend service proved to be a life-line. Having the chance to speak with a kind and caring listener and trying new things like billiards and darts helped him not to obsess over the past.

Most days, Kenji wakes up at 6.30am to go to the factory and interact with machines all day. He would get home at about 8pm, and had nothing to do but sleep. With a schedule like that, making friends is difficult. You might be thinking, why doesn’t he go to a bar to try to meet people? Well, Kenji doesn’t drink, and he doesn’t have a naturally sociable disposition.

A sea change has come over him since he started using the rental friend service. Initially he didn’t like the idea of paying someone to be a companion, but he soon realized how valuable a change of scene and good conversation has been to his mental health. Even his workmates have noticed that he’s not as irritable as he used to be.

At the end of the day, everyone needs a friend, and rent-a-friend services have become increasingly available worldwide. One website, RentAFriend.com has over 500,000 friends for rent in different countries.

This is great news, and can be incredibly useful, but I sure hope my friends don’t start charging me by the hour…

Source: Asahi Shimbun Digital
Featured image: Client Partners