Renting A Friend In Tokyo
March 26, 2016 3:14 AM   Subscribe

 
Note: As with pretty much all articles on Japan, "Do what the locals do" means "Do something 99.9% of the locals have never even heard of and would find just as weird as you would."
posted by Bugbread at 4:44 AM on March 26, 2016 [77 favorites]


My wife works with people who have major psychoses or personality disorders. For a lot of them their illness is managed, at least as much as it's going to be, and their absolute number one problem is loneliness. Their care teams become the only friends they have, for the same reason as the friends in this article: they're paid to be there.
posted by teh_boy at 4:46 AM on March 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


Bugbread nails it with that comment just above.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:47 AM on March 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Vice has a series called Gaycation, and there's a short segment where a Japanese man needs moral support to come out to his mom, and hires a rent-a-friend for this. (youtube link, starts at 30:56)
posted by Xere at 4:56 AM on March 26, 2016 [5 favorites]




As far as emotional labor goes, I think Japan has it all over the West when it comes to actually financially rewarding it. Instead of the western model where a woman is expected to smile and flirt and sympathize as part of her job as a whatever, in Japanese contexts, you often also get a tangible financial reward in the form of tips, gifts, bonuses or whatever.

The point is that the benefits you provide by helping people relax and socialize are recognized as being worth actual money and are actually paid for instead of you just "taking one for the team".
posted by jfwlucy at 5:59 AM on March 26, 2016 [21 favorites]


What a load of crap. Bugbread, nailed it. And, jfwlucy, "Instead of the western model where a woman is expected to smile and flirt and sympathize as part of her job as a whatever, in Japanese contexts, you often also get a tangible financial reward in the form of tips, gifts, bonuses or whatever. " Whut? No.
posted by Gotanda at 7:41 AM on March 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


The comparison with host/hostess clubs is kind of interesting -- after watching the Great Happiness Space, I felt that (not surprisingly, in hindsight) that comparing hosts and hostesses is just as foolish as any other kind of blind "gender swapping," since the dynamics seem very different.

As for the idea of renting friendship -- I kind of feel like my therapist pretty much serves the purpose of a person to unload all the annoying emotional baggage and frustration with rather than inflicting it on my friends, where I would feel like I was taking advantage. Renting a friend might be cheaper in the long run, although probably not covered by insurance.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:51 AM on March 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Ah, a large part of the lyrical shtick of Tubeway Army's 'Replicas' album was about renting friends ('Are "Friends" Electric?', etc) which was due in no small part to the young Gary Numan not being very good at dealing with other humans and using sf dystopic ideas to imagine worlds where machines filled in the gaps without all that mucky business of needing some sort of emotional competence in return.

Japan often serves as a stand-in for $futuristworld. I suppose it's heartening, in a disheartening way, to see the theme hasn't changed much in getting on for 40 years.
posted by Devonian at 8:09 AM on March 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Along with the rounds of the articles about "renting-a-friend" services in Japan that one can see making the rounds every few months and over years, you can also see articles about similar services in the United States.

So here are a few articles about "renting-a-friend" services in the US that popped up in google, but I've seen similar articles in other news sources over the years.
posted by Wolfster at 8:19 AM on March 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


I first saw this on Andrew Marr's Megacities in which he traveled to Japan, rented a friend and also seemed to imply it was a common thing:

"Andrew compares the sleek skyscrapers and rapid modernisation of Shanghai to the colourful street culture and geographic sprawl of Mexico City. He spends a night living in a one-room shack in Dhaka's toughest slum, taking his turn to fetch water, cook and clean; and he rents a friend in the efficient and high-tech, but alienating, city of Tokyo."
posted by vacapinta at 8:22 AM on March 26, 2016


Gotanda, that's my lived experience, and that of many of my friends, both gaijin and nihonjin.
posted by jfwlucy at 8:22 AM on March 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


As far as emotional labor goes, I think Japan has it all over the West when it comes to actually financially rewarding it. Instead of the western model where a woman is expected to smile and flirt and sympathize as part of her job as a whatever, in Japanese contexts, you often also get a tangible financial reward in the form of tips, gifts, bonuses or whatever.

The point is that the benefits you provide by helping people relax and socialize are recognized as being worth actual money and are actually paid for instead of you just "taking one for the team".


If you are a woman and you work in a hostess bar, maybe.

On the other hand in Japan people think a lot more about the demands they are placing on others. But women are expected to do a lot more than their counterparts in the West, both in the workplace and in the home.

The junior female office staff are expected to serve tea. They don't get a tip for doing it, and earn 50% of what a male counterpart makes.

A housewife or homemaker is expected to run the household and everything that that entails, including managing family relationships (much more complex than in the West), schooling, everything.

All of my assertions are my lived experience by the way (25 years in Japan, and a Japanese to English translator).
posted by My Dad at 9:11 AM on March 26, 2016 [22 favorites]


I rent friends all the time. We call them bartenders, though.
posted by rodlymight at 9:42 AM on March 26, 2016 [17 favorites]


Definitely my opinion was shaped by working as a woman in Japan for many years, I agree. But since most emotional labor is performed by women, that doesn't obviate my thesis.

And I agree that housewives do perform a lot of emotional labor (some of the most intense) without financial reward (just as they do in virtually every country on earth.) OLs, however, do get bonuses that can vary according to how much effort (including emotional labor) they are seen as putting in around the office, so indeed, the more cups of tea you pour, and the more you support and cheer on the salarymen, the better your financial reward.

But mama-sans and hostesses are able to charge the amounts they do precisely BECAUSE their emotional labor is seen as a commodity worth rewarding. If you are attending a party as a translator/hospitality person, you get better tips FROM MANAGEMENT if everyone has a good time.

Compare this to a waitress at Hooters, who might give exemplary service all evening, but get stiffed on a tip by a big party of drunk assholes.
posted by jfwlucy at 9:44 AM on March 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


See, this is why I take guitar lessons. Not only do I get to spend an hour a week hanging out with a guy who's much younger and hipper than I am (allowing me the illusion that I'm still able to hang with the Cool Kids), but I've also gotten better at playing the guitar.

Of course, if I really need to talk about heavy-duty emotional stuff and get genuine support, that's when I go get my hair done.
posted by Daily Alice at 9:47 AM on March 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


I think it'd be a fun art project to set up some vending machines near a place where tourists (better yet if you can target reporters!) hang out in Tokyo.

Sell really strange things for really strange prices, and set the machine up to imply they are ALL over Tokyo. Have a series of machines each selling only one item with a ton of varients.

EG: a square nail vending machine... Each one is sold in different colours. A broken glass machine,each selling in different colours. A vending machine dedicated to selling Alex Trebeck figures, each in a slightly different pose. One of these machines should sell plastic trolls, obviously.

The art project would ideally have a few participating artists using the machines. Perhaps forming up a queue. All speaking good English, ready to give interviews "Milli Vanilli, oh yeah, they're huge here, have been for years, we don't care that they were lip syncing, they have the idealized hair-do's that we all go crazy for, there are at least 30 other Milli Vanilli vending machines scattered through the city."
posted by el io at 10:02 AM on March 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


jfwlucy,

I think you're misinterpreting what's going, which is that positions where the job is "emotional labor" may bring rewards for such. Hostesses and OL's, for example.

OL positions usually entail routine, menial tasks meant to support the male workers, with very little chance of advancement and were specifically designed so that women would leave for marriage before their thirties. Hence the other term for this kind of work, shokuba no hana or "office flower".

It's not rewarding emotional labor, it's even further devaluing the women in the office to essentially decoration. If part of your job is serving tea, of course you're going to get rewards for doing that well.

And those "rewards" don't hold for jobs where the point of the work isn't to be pretty and smiling and subservient. Ask my wife, who is from Tokyo and is a licensed attorney there, what "rewards" her emotional labor got her at her law firm.

Hint: you don't get shit because that's just expected of her as a woman, and it certainly doesn't keep clients from not taking you seriously, ignoring you when you're with a male colleague, and your male colleagues doing the same. You do however get punished, or at least shit from other people, when you're not performing that emotional labor.

If you are attending a party as a translator/hospitality person, you get better tips FROM MANAGEMENT if everyone has a good time.

Compare this to a waitress at Hooters, who might give exemplary service all evening, but get stiffed on a tip by a big party of drunk assholes.


The culture surrounding tipping in the US and Japan is so different that it doesn't make sense to compare them. Customers don't tip at all in Japan, for one. For another, the attitude a waitress displays in the US certainly can influence how much tips she gets.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:02 AM on March 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


But mama-sans and hostesses are able to charge the amounts they do precisely BECAUSE their emotional labor is seen as a commodity worth rewarding. If you are attending a party as a translator/hospitality person, you get better tips FROM MANAGEMENT if everyone has a good time.

Yeah but the rest of Japanese society doesn't work this way. In my experience yearly bonuses in the workplace are not performance-based. And are we really going to compare the merits of "mizu shobai" with Hooters?

In fact, Japanese society is so oppressive for Japanese women that a not-inconsiderable number of them leave the country to "learn English" and end up getting married to a Canadian or an American so they never have to go back to Japan.

What other experience of Japan do you have besides working in a hostess bar? I must admit I don't know much about hostess bars because I find that whole aspect of Japanese culture tawdry and generally unpleasant. But I can speak authoritatively about home life.
posted by My Dad at 10:11 AM on March 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yes, I know many OLs. "If part of your job is serving tea, of course you're going to get rewards for doing that well."

That is part of my point. That that kind of labor is also EXPECTED in the west, but it is not rewarded financially.

"And those "rewards" don't hold for jobs where the point of the work isn't to be pretty and smiling and subservient. " I agree completely with this point. I also have known many professional women in Japan, and was involved in supporting the defendant in the very first sexual harassment lawsuit brought in that country.

"For another, the attitude a waitress displays in the US certainly can influence how much tips she gets."

Sure. That's true for many kinds of emotional labor. My point is that it is seen and recognized as LABOR in Japan, not the perquisite of customers as it is in the west. The waitress in Japan GETS PAID, regardless of the mood of the customer (as you point out, tipping system is different.)

I think you've hit on a useful phrase when you say "where the job is "emotional labor" That speaks directly to my point, which is that that aspect of work that is involved with many women's jobs everywhere is not directly acknowledged OR rewarded in the west as it is elsewhere, including Japan.

PS -- if you are actually trying to have a respectful conversation with someone with a different viewpoint, -- cutesy constructions like "Hint . . ." sound a little condescending.
posted by jfwlucy at 10:20 AM on March 26, 2016 [14 favorites]


Actually, I have never worked in a hostess bar, but thanks for the implication. You've worked in academia as a male-presenting person (from your photograph), correct? What other parts of Japanese society have you worked in as a female-presenting person? Because your experience will be radically different.

Mizu shobai is more honest than Hooters, is my point. I'm not defending how any of it works, merely pointing out that Japan has a more efficient system of recognizing and rewarding emotional labor in some particular areas of its economies.

Japanese wives do have it unbelievably tough, I agree. Can't imagine why they don't want to get married and pop out kids like the government wants them to.
posted by jfwlucy at 10:25 AM on March 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Pfft, just a friend? In Portland you can rent a cuddle.

EG: a square nail vending machine... Each one is sold in different colours. A broken glass machine,each selling in different colours. A vending machine dedicated to selling Alex Trebeck figures, each in a slightly different pose. One of these machines should sell plastic trolls, obviously.

This reminds me of a story about an early Chris Ware project, where he set up a vending machine that dispensed homemade mini-comics. Except instead of coins, you had to give it your house key.
posted by rifflesby at 10:34 AM on March 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Actually, I have never worked in a hostess bar, but thanks for the implication. You've worked in academia as a male-presenting person (from your photograph), correct? What other parts of Japanese society have you worked in as a female-presenting person? Because your experience will be radically different.

My profile photo is Mitt Romney. I've worked in junior high school, high school, college and have run my own cram school. I now work as a copywriter and translator. In Japan I have also worked in construction, in restaurants as a cook and a server, and for a talent agency, working mostly in hotels. I've also worked as an on-site consultant to factories and biotech firms.

Sorry, I just totally disagree with your summary of emotional labour in Japan. I don't think think this is mansplaining, although I am sorry this has devolved into an Internet argument.

I think your experiences are valid, and I recognize and appreciate that you as a woman have many experiences that I will never have.

I don't think that means that whatever you say about "Japan" is going to be correct, though.

Analyzing and comparing "emotional labour" based on observations from the bar scene is just wrong.
posted by My Dad at 10:42 AM on March 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


So Miyabi “pokes daintily at her curry” and Yumi “nibble(s) at pork with ginger,” but we don't get a colorful description of how little Yusuke eats.

I know this is a thing, but always leaps out at me as lazy, clichéd writing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:59 AM on March 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


I can certainly see the appeal of a rent-a-friend for a tourist like the author of the article. You're essentially getting a tour guide for an hour or so, who can show you interesting places or give you a perspective that you might never find on your own. It doesn't sound like the actual service is optimized for that, but they'd probably be quite successful if they went after the tourist market.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:00 AM on March 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's not meant to be a summary of emotional labor; it's an observation from personal experience about a particular aspect of emotional labor in Japan.

And again, I have NEVER WORKED IN A JAPANESE BAR, HOSTESS BAR or otherwise. Did you miss that part of what I wrote?

I've worked in Japan in other hospitality areas, in the government, in translation and interpretation, as well as for a talent agency (who hasn't?), as well as teaching English in a variety of settings. I've also done these things in the US. So your comment about the bar scene is unwarranted and condescending.

And I stayed far away from term "mansplaining" precisely because I didn't want to be condescending to you. Nonetheless, I will suggest to you that our experiences of both Japan AND of emotional labor, and our understanding of what it entails are very likely to be different because of our experiences. I'm in fact curious about why you put quotation marks around emotional labor in your last line.

Do you not believe it exists?
posted by jfwlucy at 11:03 AM on March 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


Another thing that stood out for me in this story is the amount of trust that the professional friends need to have in their customers, and vice versa. Some of the relationships they talked about went on for weeks, and involved showing up at people's homes, exchanging email addresses, and so on. It's kind of... I don't know, touching that they can do that sort of thing without fear. In the west I think a rent-a-friend service would be a lot more intimidating, with stricter policies on interaction and a bodyguard always standing by on speed dial in case of emergency.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:07 AM on March 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


For those looking for a non-Japanese person, there's also Rent a Gaijin.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 11:31 AM on March 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I would probably have used this service when I visited Tokyo by myself if I'd known about it and if it was easier to navigate as a non-Japanese speaker. However the price quoted in the article is a little high at over $100 for two hours. It got me wondering whether it would be possible to rent discounted friends - imperfect friends maybe with some sort of slightly annoying habit like talking about Star Trek a little too much or chewing with their mouth open. Kinda like my real friends (who I'm sure find me slightly annoying in many ways, too!). Actually thinking about it I would totally prefer to rent from a cut price weird friend agency as spending time with someone whose social skills were at a polished professional level would be kind of disconcerting I think.
posted by hazyjane at 11:37 AM on March 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


Trying to make sense of "That space between your Self and your Persona, we call it kodoku" and I'd love for someone to elucidate what an alpha-bug with cursing/blessing potential has to do with this.

Best I can think of is, those who feel unable to speak heart-to-heart with anyone may feel like they're under such a curse?
posted by Taft at 11:54 AM on March 26, 2016


It got me wondering whether it would be possible to rent discounted friends

Maybe "Rent a Friend Who Will Make You Appreciate Your Real Friends?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:20 PM on March 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


A broken glass machine,each selling in different colours. A vending machine dedicated to selling Alex Trebeck figures, each in a slightly different pose. One of these machines should sell plastic trolls, obviously.

The vending machine outside my apartment building used to have little cheap remote control cars in it for 1000円 each. But this is Osaka, so obviously it's just a weird thing those Kansaijin do.
posted by emmling at 4:51 PM on March 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Setting aside who has worked in which industries, my read is that both sides are kinda right. I haven't seen or heard of OLs making extra pay for putting in good emotional labor, and I haven't heard of career women getting rewarded for emotional labor. On the other hand, while we seem to be dancing around hostess and host bars, the fact is their existence is testament to the fact that the value of emotional labor is sometimes recognized. When you describe them to westerners for the first time the first reaction is that they must be brothels, and the second reaction is "Why would someone pay for someone to be nice/flattering to them?"

I think the problem comes from looking to examples to try to draw a sweeping conclusion about emotional labor in Japan. There are things which would make you think its value is recognized, and things which would make you think it's not.
posted by Bugbread at 4:58 PM on March 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


Trying to make sense of "That space between your Self and your Persona, we call it kodoku" and I'd love for someone to elucidate what an alpha-bug with cursing/blessing potential has to do with this.

Best I can think of is, those who feel unable to speak heart-to-heart with anyone may feel like they're under such a curse?


孤独 (isolation, lonliness), not 蠱毒 (poisoning). Homophones, Japanese is full of them.
posted by emmling at 5:01 PM on March 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Cool! Thanks!
posted by Taft at 5:28 PM on March 26, 2016


Didn't geisha use to perform some hostess duties alongside their performing arts work? I know it's not exactly the same thing, but it seems related.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:03 PM on March 26, 2016


Sorry I was abrupt and a bit rude in my comment above, jfwlucy. What I should have written was something more substantial like Bugbread's comment.
posted by Gotanda at 6:22 PM on March 26, 2016


Is it yourself, or your persona that needs the friend or the flattery? Kodoku is a space I recognize maybe from Eliot's work, "Between the desire, and the spasm, falls the shadow." In me it is the space where cooperatively I get some good work done, right between the core identity and the persona. The idea of renting a friend, the idea the idea happened at all, that lead to this, is so very practical, and frank. I know about the concept of face, and it makes the contrasts in Japanese society, an amazing math problem, six faces, a conversation, or relationship is 36. Add in the mix of ages and activities different age groups in Japan enjoy, and it becomes a multi-layered hall of mirrors. The frankness of it, the surrender to the understanding we humans need contact, but not necessarily sticky contact, that is pragmatic. It is the mark of a curiously bound, and yet free society.
posted by Oyéah at 8:32 PM on March 26, 2016


Thanks Rent A Friend!
posted by PHINC at 12:43 AM on March 27, 2016


Bugbear, I think you are quite right. I should have been more explicit in my original statement that this applies primarily to a subsection of society.
posted by jfwlucy at 4:48 AM on March 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Bugbread
posted by andrewcooke at 1:40 PM on March 27, 2016


No big deal.

Also, since this seems like the thread for it, the origin of Bugbread:
(Shortly after arriving in Japan as an exchange student, knowing a little Japanese but not a lot)
Me: "What is that you're eating?"
Friend: "むしぱん"
Me: "虫パン?!?!"
Friend: "No, no, 蒸しパン"

The exchange really stuck in my head.
posted by Bugbread at 3:02 PM on March 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Homophones, Japanese is full of them. 笑
posted by emmling at 2:43 AM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


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