“Renting relatives” seems more and more to be part of the Japanese tradition … However, paying for the services of someone to pretend to be a relative is an idea that could seem to come straight out of a good humorous film. Very difficult in these conditions to imagine that this is common in a country like the Japan.
So why is this practice so commonplace for Japanese people?
What services are offered?
Family Romance is an agency known as ” rentaru furendo “, or “rental of relatives”. It offers its clients to hire the services of actors to interpret the role of relatives for a few hours, a day, a weekend, or even several years. The Japanese can thus hire actors to pass them off as bogus members of their family. So there is no longer any question of arriving alone at a wedding or of crying alone at a funeral. The actor can play confidant, boyfriend, and even go out and apologize for you.
To push the deception a little further, the Japanese now have the service Real appeal : it allows them to stage themselves with the hired actor thanks to sets, make-up and extras and to carry out a photo shoot. These snapshots are then used to make the official identity of the actor (for example a friend) credible via distribution on social networks.
Considering the void it fills or the uncomfortable situations it avoids for the Japanese, the rental service for relatives is not that expensive. Count 80 euros, or 10,000 yen if you want an actor to become a guest at your wedding, and an additional 8,000 yen if he has to give a speech. You will have to pay 12,000 yen for an outing with “friends” and 8,000 yen if you want him to participate in a 2-hour photo shoot with you.
An incredible choice
Hard to imagine that no less than 800 actors are used by the agency to interpret the different roles requested. The choice is practically made to order, indicating the age and the desired physique. Of course, the same actor is only allowed to take 5 roles simultaneously. Putting yourself in the shoes of a larger number of characters would be a source of confusion, error and could make the actor’s mask fall in front of everyone around the client, thus creating a great feeling of shame.
To expand its catalog of actors, the Family Romance agency can count on the participation of many students interested in flexible hours and retirees who see it as a significant additional inflow of money in their situation. The hiring of the actors is rather basic: a quick interview, a photo shoot and the delivery of a manual of instructions so as not to be unmasked.
How to explain this enthusiasm for this type of service?
This is one of the questions asked of Yuichi Ishii, founder of the agency Family Romance, in an interview for the magazine. The Atlantic. According to him, “À la carte human interactions are becoming the new norm”. Far from being a source of tension, these invented relationships are based on a contract between a person looking for a proper fake and an actor. Therefore, the person chosen from the catalog and rented must be able to meet customer expectations, and not cause him concern.
Conversely, a relative (real this time) is not there to meet the slightest expectations of a person. He may take offense, refuse, get angry, etc. The actor must react as the client asked him to. The role is so well framed that the client feels reassured, free from stressful human interaction and pressure. In Japan, it would almost be a new ideal of perfection. It only remains to wonder if robots programmed to be exactly what a person wants them to be might not just be suitable.
A good idea to fight against isolation and shyness?
Yes and no. In Japan, a phenomenon is widely talked about: that of the Hikikomori (引 き 篭 り), Japanese who have completely cut themselves off from the world, isolated from all. In 2016, official statistics counted more than half a million, this figure only including individuals under the age of 39. While the phenomenon developed widely in the 1990s and these recluses have aged since, they are not counted in the statistics. In any case, the figures have evolved further since then, and unfortunately are part of a logic of growth.
In 2018, the Government decided to launch the first national survey targeting Hikikomori aged 40 to 59, a study which should show that unfortunately the figures are part of a logic of growth and that the phenomenon affects all age groups. Concretely, these people remain locked up at home for several months without going to work or to school. They generally only have relational contact with certain members of their family.
If the phenomenon is poorly understood, the Hikikomori explain their situation with a difficult experience, complicated relationships whether in the professional or school environment, and a failure in the search for a job. To avoid falling into this extreme and this virtual absence of human relations, rental agencies for relatives can actually be interesting, if they cannot be helped by specialists. Renting a loved one can also facilitate social relations (even false ones) for shy Japanese (shy = 内 気 な, is pronounced uchiki na).
A very different opinion in the West
Unlike the Japanese, renting relatives is an idea that surprises many Westerners, a subject that is often laughing at because it is not anchored in mores. This strange practice made so much talk about it that a documentary was released in 2012. Entitled “Rent a family Inc.”, it traces the daily life of Ryuichi Ichinokawa, manager of a company similar to the Family Romance agency. This man has developed his business around the service of rental of relatives, and his own family ignores all of his professional activities. Hiding secrets can be a full time job, but as the director of such an agency, how do you hide your own? Here is a trailer for this amazing documentary full of mystery:
What could membership in such services mean?
The analyzes carried out on the use of this type of service are far from inspiring. The rental of relatives could indeed reflect the feeling of loneliness (孤独 = kodoku) from which a large part of the Japanese population suffers. In a book called Evaporates from Japan, published in 2014 by Editions des Arènes, Lena Mauger investigation into the phenomenon of voluntary disappearances in the Land of the Rising Sun. In a report in text and photos, she explains that 100,000 Japanese organize their disappearance every year, a staggering figure that hides a harsh reality. Regarding the rental services of relatives, she writes “The weight of agreements favors this double game, and rental agencies vampirize both this concern for appearances, the distress that results from it and a feeling of loneliness plaguing society. “
For the japonologist and sociologist Muriel Jolivet, it is more a question of “Seken no me” (” look of others “). She explains as follows: “That we do not know how to make friends is one thing, but others should not know it”. It is also quite striking that in this society the substance is much less important than the form. You have to be in conformity, be like the others.
Olivia Akiko Goto-Gréget, psychoanalyst and psychologist, sees in it a profound mark of the culture of success in business. ” In Japan disturbing each other is very serious. It is very frowned upon to abuseamaé“, The kindness, the benevolence of others. For the wedding for example, which is a very coded ritual, with a real ceremonial, it can be easier to hire extras so as not to make your in-laws uncomfortable, rather than forcing acquaintances to go through it. the country, at their expense, to attend the ceremony. “, she explains.
According to her, the use of such family rental services may also reflect a need to communicate. Since consulting a shrink is not well received in Japan, creating social links, even artificial ones, through the hiring of actors, can fill a gap, and prevent a deeply lonely person from depress. Far from ruling out the possibility of pathological use of these services, she recalls a real case, that of a woman who called on an agency to interpret the role of her absent father with her daughter, a role played during years. “It betrays in any case a strong anguish on the part of this woman, as for her daughter and her development. But there again, the anguish, the family secret, these are universal themes ”, says the psychologist.
Since its creation, the Family Romance agency has allowed Japanese people to not to lose face anymore, no matter the situation. Friend, spouse, father, mother,… The actors can play practically any role. But to rejoice in the existence of such a service would only be hypocritical because its creation highlights the social and cultural discomfort and pressures that some Japanese people may experience. After all, you have to be able to accept real life and admit, quite frankly, that the relational ideal does not exist, that human relations are conditioned on more or less pleasant exchanges and that inventing a new life with strangers will force us, sooner or later, and this time in a rather brutal way, to confront reality …
Vocabulary covered in this article:
- Shy = 内 気 な (uchiki na)
- Solitude = 孤独 (kodoku)
- Hikikomori (引 き 篭 り) = Japanese who isolate themselves and completely cut themselves off from the world …