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"I am your rented father."

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

By Kalyani Jagadhane

Movie: Star Wars (1980)

Scene: That iconic one

(During a showdown with Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader says something that leaves everyone, including the viewers, in shock).

Darth Vader: … Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.

Luke: (Furiously) He told me enough! He told me you killed him.

Darth Vader: No, I am your rented father.

A spoiler for two kinds of people: For the ones who haven’t watched the movie (Seriously, you must’ve heard of this even if you aren’t a fan though) and the Star Wars fans, for whom this iconic line has been ruined by me now. But do you guys know that this is a phrase which a number of Japanese kids might get to hear in the future? Or maybe already have?

Yes, you read it right. There are children in Japan who have a rented father. But it doesn't end only there. Mothers, sisters, wives, husbands, sons, daughters, friends or even a family can be rented in Japan and they are so. This could be the most bizarre thing you have heard today, but it is not a delusional concept someone just came up with. Rather, it is a recognised business that nestles in the country of the rising sun.

First of all, is this even allowed?

Yes, it is. The family and friends rental business is absolutely legitimate and has been expanding impressively since the last two decades.

(Late night show host Conan O’Brien rents a family in Japan / Image courtesy: Team Coco channel on YouTube)

Okay, but why are people being rented anyways?

At first glance, one might wonder whether this is one of the solutions for combating the population crisis in Japan. While the population crisis hasn’t got anything to do with the friends and family renting business, the actual reasons for renting someone are as diverse as anything you can imagine:

  • If your friend bailed on you after saying they’ll attend a party with you, you hire a friend, because otherwise- how awkward would it be to go alone?

  • Want to go see a movie or have dinner but want some company so that you can laugh or chat with someone? Hire a friend!

  • Maybe you have a high school reunion and are just dreading the thought of everyone except you being either married or in a steady relationship, and so to avoid any pity glances thrown your way, you also want to have a partner of your own but just for the day. Yup, then you can even rent a lover.

  • Think that the guest list for your party or wedding is too short and want to increase the headcount? Those rentals even offer multiple members at a time that fulfils the your ideal guest number at your event.

(There are kinds of services where you can hire people just to scold you and make you realize your mistakes, and also where you hire acting staff to pose in pictures with you so that your uploads can get enormous likes and make you popular! / Image Courtesy: Family Romance website)

  • Or, if you always feel like having a little baby and want to hug it and kiss it and pamper it all day but don’t want the responsibility of actually having a child? You can even hire a freaking baby!

  • Suppose your professor demands to see your parents because of some stunt you pulled in the classroom, fear not! Just rent some parents and get away with it!

We’re kidding with the last one, but other than that, let’s be honest, we all find those reasons relatable.

On a more serious note, there are much more genuine reasons for hiring people that go along with the aforementioned light-hearted ones. According to Mr. Yuichi Ishii, the CEO of a family renting company named Family Romance, there was a father who had disowned his daughter because she had married a man he didn’t approve of. However, after some years, when the father understood that he only had a few months to live for, he contacted his daughter and expressed his wish to see his grandchild.

This was problematic for the daughter as now she was divorced and the custody of their child had been given to her husband. Therefore, to have her father die in peace, she rented an infant and decided to give him the satisfaction of seeing his grandchild before passing away.

Perhaps you wish to get a closure with someone or feel guilty about something and want to have a clear conscience about it but it is difficult to do so in-person for some reasons, you can hire someone as the person to whom you’re directing the closure towards, and finally move on with your life with at least the satisfaction of having done the effort.

Mr. Ishii himself helped out in a case where he was hired to be a dad because a 4th grader girl was being bullied at school for not having a father and her mother was very concerned about it, so she used the Family Romance’s services and could rent Mr. Ishii as her husband and her daughter’s father.

Hikikomori or withdrawn, a term used in Japan especially for the young Japanese men who stay confined in their homes for months or even years while self-imposing extreme degrees of isolation from the society for a variety of reasons such as the conscious knowledge of their failure, cases of bullying, any traumatic incident, the burden of expectations from the society, and so on. They generally do not receive timely help as there’s a social stigma attached to having a family member with a situation as this. For such hundreds and thousands of withdrawn men living in dire mental situations, there’s a rent-a-sister service provided by an organization named as ‘New Start’, where the employees act as caring sisters persuading their Hikikomori brother to gradually return to and continue the societal life.

A similar service is provided where an ‘Ossan’- mostly a man in his 40’s or 50’s is paid only to listen to you. The customers vary from college students to old women who only wish to clear out their hearts and talk about things they could never discuss with their acquaintances.

(You can choose what sort of uncle you want! / Image courtesy: Ossan-rental website)

After reading those reasons, perhaps now you’re holding your chin thinking, ‘Okay, even if it sounded strange at first, the idea does have a lot of potential and reasoning attached to it.’

Well, now that we have convinced you at least this much, let’s move on to the next question.

How does it work?

The process of renting someone could not be easier. Clients only need to fill up a request form in which they jot down who do they wish to rent (A sister, mother, husband, friend, etc.), and also request any specifics they would like these people to have, such as having a cheerful husband or a doting grandmother or maybe a strict father- anything you’d want your rented member to be like. Clients can even mention any particular mannerism (Such as covering your mouth while laughing, cracking your neck every now and then, maybe smirking in a particular way) that they’d like to see in the hired person- this is especially for the people who wish to relive the presence and company of their deceased loved ones.

(The service requesting process at Family Romance / Image courtesy: Family Romance)

(Describe how you want the person to be- from looks to mannerisms and voila! / Image courtesy: Family Romance website)

Interestingly enough, as mentioned before in the examples, you can even rent babies! In most cases, the baby’s mother is already an employee at the renting company and hence, also lists down her child’s name down for being hired. However, in this case, the mother needs to accompany the child compulsorily while being rented.

After this stage of arrangements, a member is assigned to the client. Generally, in case of renting a family member, once you’ve been designated to a particular client, you’ll continue to be rented out till the time the client doesn’t need your services. In fact, Mr. Ishii, who was rented as the father of a girl because she was being bullied, has been playing this role since the past 10 years!

In this way, a single employee can be assigned to around five families at once. This is because the smaller the area of concentration, the better and the honest services the employees can provide by bringing justice to their character, as even though acting, their job entails going as close to their described character as possible. And this includes knowing their clients’ family, hobbies, interests, jobs, etc. like any normal friend, spouse, or sister would do.

The pricing policy for those services differs for each company but mainly the prices are in the range of USD 50 to 114, depending upon the time you’ll be renting the employee for. If the services are needed for more time, additional costs are added accordingly. In case of any transport charges, they also have to be covered by the clients.

The charges also change on the basis of the service you’re rendering. The prime example would be that the Hikikomori individuals have a tendency, thought not always, to get violent towards people. And therefore, considering the impending risks that come along with approaching such a person, one of the rent-a-sister companies charges USD 900 for a weekly visit that lasts for about an hour.

What about the relations where physical intimacy is concerned?

If you hire a husband, a wife or a lover… How far can you go with each other?

Mr. Ishii spoke about this in his Asian Boss interview- that even if you have hired someone as a lover or a spouse, you can only go as far as holding hands with them. Even hugging is off-limits, as then it becomes harder to set limits and the business might assume a different nature than providing help and companionship through people. Even Support One, another rental business, states that no sexual services are provided through their platform. Therefore, any physical intimacy beyond the point of holding hands is simply not allowed irrespective of the relation.

Can the employees start an actual relationship with their clients? Has it happened before?

Companies make it strictly clear that no actual romantic relationships should be initiated between the clients and the employees. But if it does happen, which is quite expected and has taken place on some occasions, the employees will have to be let go.

What if they develop any platonic attachments?

It is very possible for the employees to develop a perhaps paternal attachment towards their grade-school daughter, or for the client to find solace in a hired grandmother, which could result in insistence of spending more time than specified or something along the same lines from the client’s part. However, whatever the case may be, after a stipulated period, the employees will need to take their leave even if leaving makes them emotional- as they are and always made aware of their role as a professional, and are expected to adhere to their duties as employees.

How big is this family and friends renting business?

Other than Family Romance, Support One, Ossan-rental, New Start, there are quite a few other family and friends rental services in the country with considerable customer bases. In fact, Japan is not the only place where you can benefit from such services. The United States (Rent-A-Friend), China (Hire Me Plz- for hiring boyfriends and girlfriends), France (Super-grandparents), South Korea (Oh My Oppa- to have a travel friend when touring Korea), etc. also have similar services though they are outnumbered by their Japanese counterparts.

(Choose an Oppa to tour South Korea with! / Image Courtesy: Oh My Oppa website)

Who are the employees at those rental businesses?

The employees (Or sometimes referred to as the “acting staff”) form an extensive demographic since they are rented for a variety of roles, from grandparents to infants as well as men and women of all ages. Therefore, the age range is approximately 0-85 years. High-school students are not allowed to work as employees and minors need the consent of their parents to work (The Japanese age of adulthood is 18 as per an amendment in 2018,

effective 1st April, 2020). Some in the acting staff are full-time employees while housewives, salarymen and retired workers mostly carry out their duties during the weekends, however, the schedules depend on the employee’s preference of working.

To be a part of such rental services as an employee, one is usually required to send a mail to the company stating the things they clearly list to know about you.

(Image courtesy: Support one website)

The essential qualifications for becoming a part of those services are fairly straightforward, which, if loosely translated, include: You should be a cheerful person, have good mannerisms, a common sense of the general behaviour in society, should be courteous, physically and mentally healthy, have good communication and empathizing skills, are responsible and can work in good faith. Even if this seems easy and generic, the recruiting process is very meticulous and only a few individuals are actually recruited as employees after being interviewed (Family Romance has 2200 employees nationwide) since those jobs are extremely demanding. After being selected, there is training for the selected candidates and then, you can begin working.

And this is how this industry of family and friends renting business works in Japan.

How We See This As

The idea and intention of renting out friends and families is actually admirable. For the most humane reasons of having someone to accompany you somewhere because you don’t want to go alone, hiring a husband because otherwise no kindergarten would take in your child because of the illogical reason of you being a single parent, having someone to hear you out quietly without judging you, or even scold you to knock some sense into your head- it certainly is a relief.

But when you’re merely hiring a husband to seek affection and have stated specifically what the ideal husband should be like, is it any wonder if you end up falling in love with them? You are spending time with someone who is only like your dream husband because you paid him to be so, isn’t it only an illusion? A utopian world nestled only in your mind, where nothing is true.

If you hired someone to play your daughter’s father but even years later when she’s an adult and doesn’t have a clue that the father she always sees is not hers but someone rented? And who is also shared by perhaps other five-six kids as their own father?

Of course, raising a child alone or being single is difficult and there are so many challenges you need to face, with which this business does help. The client has the privilege of veiling the truth as long as they'd like (Rightfully so). But the impending danger with this is that the family rental businesses are advertising themselves powerfully these days, appearing in TV interviews, documentaries and magazines. And it is very possible for the child to see their rented closed one, or hear the truth from a third-source or an outsider. And after that revelation, perhaps the most probable emotion to feel would be betrayal even if for the moment.

For this, Mr. Ishii has said in an interview with The Atlantic, “Once I assume a role (As he has with the girl being bullied), I’ll have to play it unconditionally under various circumstances such as going to the daughter’s parent-teacher’s meeting, her graduation, her wedding, the birth of her children… It is something that needs to be carried out until the client feels to put an end to it.” Which is why, he always asks every client, “Are you prepared to sustain this lie?”

Many Japanese people actually avail those services specifically to create a picture-perfect image of themselves. Especially during weddings, a number of guests are rented so you could have lots of wedding guests to show off, say a few nice things to your in-laws, dance or sing or give a mind-blowing speech about you (After being paid extra bucks for that), just so you could have THE ideal wedding for everyone to see. And all this is only to “save your face”, which is a considerable deal to the Japanese society, where they unfortunately feel the need to display how flawless their relationships and statuses are.

The Japanese culture also doesn’t offer any room for speaking your mind or expressing your thoughts or insecurities. Due to the increasing lack of communication, solving each other’s problems through discussion is unfortunately not something that the Japanese go for and thus, has caused the accumulation of unsolved issues, frustrations, longings, and uneasiness amongst people. This is exactly why most of the hikikomori patients don’t receive treatment right away as families don’t want to admit that there’s a “crack” in their perfect family foundation. Turning in to counsellors, therapists or psychiatrists for any mental health issues is so frowned upon because taking their help would then give off the message that there’s something wrong with your family.

Hiring “friends” or a lover for a day instead of having real ones, paying for everything that you might eat, drink and do with those hired staff, just so that you could post choreographed, super-cool photos on social media to get likes as well as show people how amicable, appealing and popular you are or sometimes it is also used to get back at your Ex or make your boyfriend jealous. And these are other symptoms of the same problem.

That’s not all. According to onegai-kaeru, in China, Japan and Korea, a woman used to be specifically hired to cry during funerals since it is believed that the more the tears shed during one’s funeral, the better the chances of that person to spend their after-life in heaven. Because having someone cry at your funeral can really improve your status, even though you’re not alive to see it or live it.

Another aspect of this problem is using those services to get rid of your loneliness. Every living being needs and blossoms under care and affection. But with the increasing nuclear families or the increased preference for staying alone and not having any companionship, are some of the reasons for which the majority of Japanese have to retreat to those rental companies so that you can replace your loneliness with the actors.

At first glance, it may seem like a nice way of offering someone companionship, but in the end, it’s only an illusion people are creating for themselves. After the rental hours end, the acting staff will have to go back, and their clients will regularly escalate back into the awful reality of not having anyone in the end. This idea of renting a family member or a friend can give you comfort but only for a while because later, you will have to open your eyes and acknowledge the fact that it’s not true. And this constant state of moving back-and-forth between those stages can really create a negative impact on your already thus-affected mental health.

Hiring a member for such reasons is a short-term and unrealistic option. It may seem easy, something that you can avail just by spending a few bucks but nothing trumps it if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Rather, people need to understand that the path to their own happiness or contentment can only begin if they decide to take a step in the right direction.

Mend your relationships if they’ve been estranged in the past and try your best to improve them slowly and delicately. And if that doesn’t work, do not lose hope. Same goes for the ones who choose to rent lovers or spouses because they like the idea of having the most amazing partner just by paying some money and by filling a small form, without having to go through all of the initial dating “work”.

Try to concentrate your thoughts and energy somewhere else. Meet new people that share anything similar with you, get yourself invested in building however small but a few people of your own that you can rely on. Of course, you can’t replace your past relationships with new ones but you’ll have something to look forward to and people to spend time with, which is always more fulfilling as you’ve nurtured those relationships with time and patience. Read self-help books, attend seminars and workshops regarding the same. Please leave behind the stigma attached to getting help from a counsellor and go see one to gain some clarity, or if that’s too difficult, get an ossan to talk it out and make peace with yourself.

For the ones who lay too much importance on how society perceives them as: Always remember that the society undoubtedly plays an integral role in our lives and to some extent, also shapes our personalities. We should always respect that but also should know, contemplate and make sure that the expectations towards you are not the “never-ending burdens” in disguise, stopping you from moving ahead and living your life in a fulfilling way. In no way should one think rely too much on society’s perceptions towards you or on the other hand, should adopt a nature where you simply forget the society’s role in our lives as a human being. It’s all about achieving a healthy balance between both of these aspects and as difficult as it may seem, trust me, the feeling of satisfaction and light-heartedness will be so much worth it.

The idea of renting someone to listen to you open up your mind, accompany you to a game arcade, fulfil some mere formality, show you around the city- is certainly helpful and really, nobody minds using the renting services for those purposes. In fact, I’d recommend it! But overly-depending on those services to fulfil a strong psychological need or creating an illusion of a perfect image for the society can be more harmful to you than the outsiders. If you’re confident that this is not to overcome any loneliness or impressing the society but just to check something out, or to have occasional purely innocent fun with someone rented and are immensely aware of the very faint line between the truth and the “perfect truth”, there’s no reason not to use those services. It does sound fun after all!


  1. It is not directed, under any context, that the rent-a-sister surely solves the problems of Hikikomori men. It has only been mentioned here as an example of the number of services that come under the category of renting a family member or an acquaintance.

  2. Some of the translations of the images used could be imperfect as due to the unavailability of an English website or if it was not functioning well, Google Translate has been used.

  3. All of the images in the article are used courtesy of the particular rental business websites or through the internet. We do not own any of them.






















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