With virtual distance narrowing and emotional gaps widening, more and more 'rent a friend' agencies are emerging in Japan as many look for either a friend, husband, wife, boss, uncle, etc.
Ryuichi Ichinokawa is one such person, who launched his Hagemashi Tai (I Want to Cheer You Up) agency three-and-a-half years ago, after abandoning plans to become a qualified counsellor.
AdvertisementThe 44-year-old, who takes days off from his job at a toy manufacturer to go on assignment, said that requests came flooding in after he successfully stood in as best man and gave a speech at a wedding.
"People wanted women, old and young people, all sorts, but of course I couldn't play all those roles myself," the Guardian quoted him as saying.
The affable, bespectacled man presently employs 30 agents of various ages and both sexes, across Japan with the skills and personality to temporarily adopt a new identity.
Ichinokawa's agents charge a modest 15,000-yen to turn up at a wedding party, but extra money is charged if they are asked to make a speech or to sing karaoke.
His preparation is exhaustive, examining every possible question that, if answered incorrectly or not at all, will embarrass his client and ruin his reputation.
"In three and a half years I've never once been caught out," he added.
The number of rent-a-friend agencies in Japan has doubled to about 10 in the past eight years. The best known, Office Agent, has 1,000 people on its books.