Anyone will be your best buddy if you pay them enough, right? Guess what? In Japan it might not be as bad as it sounds.

You nervously contact an organization that can put you in touch with people who like to ‘hang out’. Someone you don’t know meets you at an agreed upon location, does an activity or two of your choice with you and then leaves, but not before you thank them for their services and give them money.

Get your head out of the gutter.

If you’ve spent time in Japan, especially urban centres like Tokyo, you might already know about the practice of platonic companionship-for-hire. It might seem borderline creepy to those not that familiar with the culture, but sometimes the Japanese like to do things a little differently.

They have chin rests on their subways and horse-flavoured ice cream. You can go to a café just for a good cuddle, or if you need something a little more adventurous try a place filled with ninjas who are actually pretty decent chefs. The point is, it can be a little peculiar at times in comparison to Western living.

(Or maybe you’ve just spun through a drive-thru wedding chapel in Vegas and are beginning to understand one person’s ‘what the…?’ is another’s ‘whoop dee doo’.)

If you were the prying type and attending a Japanese wedding you might be surprised how many of your fellow guests didn’t even know the lucky couple.

With several agencies currently operating and many charging in the $25-$30 an hour range plus all travel expenses friendship doesn’t come cheap, but it’s worth the price for lonely Japanese who want to have both a meaningful interaction with someone while at the same time helping to blend a little more naturally into a culture that takes personal relationships very seriously as it pertains to an individual’s social status.

Don’t look at this as arranging what one might consider a traditional blind date, either; it doesn’t have to be a dinner and a movie kind of night out. For that simple reason, those that work for an agency are often asked to produce Oscar-worthy performances. (Surely there’s already a Best-in-Ninja award out there somewhere?)

If you can’t tell who is paying who, chances are everybody must be having fun. Photo: Hikaru Kazushime/Flickr

For some clients of the friend rental industry, they just need someone to chat with that isn’t their family (lest they be judged by those who undoubtedly have issues they themselves probably need to get in the open but are afraid to).

For others it’s a varied list of requests: someone to talk with to help break up the silence of waiting by themselves while they fish, single mothers wanting a husbandly father-figure to help their kids with homework or as an uncle at a school function, even a young couple paying guests to attend their wedding day (a speech or a dance is above and beyond the hourly rate).

Sometimes it’s just a bride or groom doing it on their own in an effort to impress their future spouse with the sheer volume of people they know.

In North America, the activities suggested by rental friend advertisements might be a little different but the happy faces are universal.

Whether you’re a dejected cosplayer who functions great in the online world but has nothing to show for in their personal life when the computer is off or you just want to hang out with people who aren’t co-workers and possibly keeping a judgemental index of fashion hiccups, renting a friend in Japan isn’t practiced by everyone but those that do feel it’s helping to fill a major void in their life.

Some folk in North America have been discovering the same services on home soil, and looking at one company’s website what they offer ranges from helping people find workout buddies to dance partners to having a smiling face in front of them that can teach a new language or two. How do you say, “I’m not sure about this?” in Mandarin?

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Jay Moon

Jay Moon is a writer who has turned the wanderlust that found him backpacking around Canada and the U.S. as a young lad into a writing lust that has him embracing the opportunity to cover topics about anything (and everything) he can get his now middle-aged eyes, ears, and hands on.