There is an increasingly growing and curious trend in Japan where lonely people who have no families of their own or have lost close family members to death or estrangement are turning to paying out and renting “replacement relatives.”
There are a number of agencies in Japan that rent out so-called replacement relatives that the concept of a rent a family has become a growing industry. It could be a wife to a widowed man; a granddaughter to accompany a lonely grandmother to shop; a son to a grieving mother, anyone, and anything. Those renting can even “order” or request for specifics like a certain age for the pretend family member, physical characteristics that will approximate the original family members, etc.
There are rules to follow, however, like the no intimate touch policy to ensure the protection also of the “actors” or the rented family members. For the most part, the rented family member cannot go to the client’s home alone. A mother and daughter pair is allowed since they can look out for each other.
For nearly $400 dollars, a lonely person missing or craving for the presence of a family member or members can spend dinner or go out with his or her “rented family.” The for-hire family can ask for instructions from the one renting how they should act and behave. One elderly Japanese working man who had lost his wife to death recently and lost touch with his daughter in her 20s due to a spat told his rented wife how his original wife used to toss her head to shake back her hair. The rented wife tried to imitate as told. He also specified how his daughter used to playfully poke him in the ribs. The rented daughter tried to do the same as requested.
During the first few meetings, the rented family members can strictly play pretend family as requested by the one paying them. In some cases, as the meetings become more frequent and the people involved- both the one renting and the ones rented- become more comfortable with each other and start to open up their real selves, their lives, and their concerns. At times, the rented family even become an instrument and an inspiration for the one renting to reconcile with a family member.
Interestingly, the founder of one such agency renting out “family members” named Family Romance, Yuichi Ishii, says he and his “cast” actively strategize to engineer such outcomes as real family reconciliation for their clients, so that eventually the clients will go back to their real families and will have no more need for a rented substitute family.
Ishii says their goal is “to bring about a society where no one needs our service.”