Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rent-a-Friend services?

You would think that after a few years living here I would run out of stuff to be shocked at, but Japan is just an endless source of shock and awe. I was reading about the "rent-a-friend" culture developing in Japan over on the BBC the other day, and it goes much further than I ever knew about, so I figured I'd share my thoughts.

First, the story. It starts off with cat and dog cafes, where people who can't afford or handle actually owning a pet go to enjoy their pet time in hour-sized helpings. They even let you take a dog out for the afternoon and go to the park or whatever. This is old news to me, so we'll just move on to the juicier parts.

Next, we have the Campus Cafe, a new and cheaper alternative to the many hostess clubs and snack bars that have been around forever, but are apparently being hit hard by the recession. Now the Campus Cafe does fulfill every Japanese guy's dream of talking to girls that are way too young for them, but my faint hope when seeing the recession remark is that maybe this'll help J-guys sort out that they can just go out and talk to girls without having to pay crazy amounts of money just for them to sit down, and that doing so is actually more productive. Just to clarify, most all hostess club visits involve no chance of actually having a non-professional outing with the girls or even sex, thus it to me is pointless. It's basically paying $50+ (and that + can go waaay up) an hour to be teased by hot women that you can never have, and these places have regular customers. This to me is more futile than prostitution even - it's like mental prostitution. Sure maybe you can't get a girl to go home with you, but who can't even get a girl to talk to them?

They saved the craziest part for the end: the so-called Hagemashi-tai. This place rents relatives. Yes, you heard that right, relatives. Need people to fill the seats at that wedding or funeral? No problem. Got a dead-beat dad and need a replacement to help talk to the neighbors or take your kid to the park or go to that PTA conference? We gotcha there too. They even have a story of a blind guy that calls them up to rent-a-dad for a day to talk about his issues.

Ok, now I can understand that there are certain people out there that have difficulties talking to people and making friends - there are socially inept people the world over. And that sucks when you don't even have family there to back you up, so I feel for them there. But some of the stuff they describe towards the end just seems to underline something that's always been missing in Japan, and that's that they are seriously lacking in mental health support. They aren't very good at reacting to or even recognizing mental disorders either - sort of goes along with the "if we ignore it maybe it'll go away" mentality. Psychologists? Fuggetaboutit.

Call a rent-a-friend if that makes you more comfortable, but if you're having a rough time of life and need to talk about your problems, and your friends and family can't help out then that's when you turn to professional help. Basically though, with rent-a-friend you're just paying for a shrink without the professional training.

Anyway, again here's the full article if you're interested.

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