Japan, a country at the forefront of robotics, has come up with a solution for loneliness. No doubt robot companions are in our foreseeable future, but the Japanese, like the rest of us, know it’s no substitute for genuine contact. That’s why a company in that country has come up with a human solution. It provides customers the opportunity to rent a friend by the hour. I’m not talking about that skimpily clad girl or boy selling sex on a street corner. I’m talking about buying time with someone where no sex is involved.
The Japanese work schedule is long and extends into the evening. Ten hours is minimum, which explains why a third of Japan’s suicide rate can be attributed to overwork. (“You’ve got a rented friend,” by Chris Colin, excerpted from AFAR Magazine , reprinted in The Week, July 1- 8, 2016 pgs. 40-41.) Client Partners offers person to person contact outside the daily network. For $75 an hours, cheaper than the price of a therapist, a real person will listen to a customer with complete attention and sympathy. When the time is up, the parties walk away, no strings attached and no judgments. Since “face” is a large part of Japanese culture, the encounter is a rare opportunity to be candid without the need for stoic forbearance, Gamin, in Japanese. (Ibid pg. 41)
Gamin is a primary cause of loneliness in that country because hiding one’s true self is expected. Client Partners breaks with that tradition and allows a person to expose feelings without shame.
Not all the assignments for rent-a-friend are soul-searching. Some can be amusing. Take, for example, the young man who hired a woman to play his sister at his wedding. The real sister had broken contact with the family long ago. When the hired one arrived for the ceremony, she got on swimmingly with the other guests, especially the groom’s mother. As it turned out, the mother was rented, too. I hope the bride wasn’t.
In this brave new world of automation and robotics, the need for human touch won’t go away. Man is a social animal. As one rent-a-friend observed about her work, “a dollop of emotional contact with a friendly person is powerful even with a price tag attached.” (ibid pg. 40)
(Originally posted 7/14/16)