It's not easy making friends. For some in Japan, it's even harder. Enter "Rental Friend".
According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, the country's largest newspaper, a Tokyo based firm called Client Partners offers a "Rental Friend" service—among other services—at its locations across the country.
The article recounts how last summer, one lonely 25 year-old named Kouichi (not his real name) rented two female friends to go to a dance club for ¥30,000 ($341). For a part time worker like Kouichi, that's a hefty fee. But he ended up having a great time at the club and hanging out at a restaurant with them all night.
"There's a feeling of security when you are accepted unconditionally," Kouichi said, adding it was better to pay for friends than getting rejected.
The services Client Partners offers aren't simply companionship at dance clubs. At its Akihabara branch, for example, there is a whole array of possible services, such as dejected cosplayers can hire people to take their photos at events, lazy gamers can hire people to wait in line for them on a console's release day, or lonely strollers can shell out for someone to talk a walk around Akihabara with. (There are many, many other possible scenarios—from hiring people to move furniture and even renting family members or people to check on your grandma. However, this is not a sexual service.)
Making friends in Japan can seem hard. For adults, many relationships are centered around work; you spend your after work time socializing with co-workers or customers. Personal relationships are key to doing well in Japan. This set up works for those in the corporate world, but not for those who aren't.
Client Partners' Rental Friend service isn't mainstream in Japan by any stretch. But services like this are not new to the country, and there is an established practice of hiring phony customers and stand-ins. What's more, there are dozens of rental friend customers at Client Partners each month, who hire the companionship sorely missing in their lives.