Japan’s ‘Rent Men’ Who Are Paid Just to Listen

Japan’s ‘Rent Men’ Who Are Paid Just to ListenJapan’s ‘Rent Men’ Who Are Paid Just to Listen

From lonely pensioners to Japanese schoolgirls with shattered dreams, Takanobu Nishimoto and his crew of middle-aged men will lend an ear to clients who would never dream of spilling their guts to a therapist or worse, their families.

Anyone in need of company can sign up to his online service to rent an “ossan”, a man aged between 45 and 55, for 1,000 yen ($10) an hour, AFP reports.

“For me, the service is a hobby more than anything,” says Nishimoto, who first came up with the concept four years ago and who now has a growing network of some 60 men across Japan.

Japan has struggled with problems of social isolation, most notably the phenomenon of “hikikomori” where people, often teens and young adults, refuse to leave the house or engage socially, instead opting to play video games or remain in their rooms.

Those who use the service say it allows them to forget the expectations of their family and friends and speak freely, an option which experts say is especially useful in Japan, where social roles can be tightly defined and expectations rigid.

Psychologist Hiroaki Enomoto stresses that in Japan there are social norms governing what can and can’t be said even with close associates.

In recent years, a number of agencies have been offering “rent-a-friend” services paid by the hour.

Customers can rent an agency employee as a fake friend, family member, or companion for various occasions such as weddings, funerals and parties. Some use them just to have a conversation partner to ease times of loneliness and isolation in old age.