In the UK, owning a car is overrated. Why would you own when you can so easily rent? Simply download one of the many apps, set up a pay-as-you-go tab, and off you go. In Japan, the renting revolution is equally popular. But instead of playing with cars, they offer a unique opportunity for family rental.
The popular Japanese agency, Family Romance, allows you to rent out actors to pose as your family and friends. They attend weddings and family events, or they simply keep you company in your own home. Usually, the family rental actors take on the personality traits and names of your real family members. There is also the option to hire out more niche characters, like the popular, ‘Scolding Agent’. As the title suggests, this actor will advise how best to scold your subordinates. For a higher fee, he can even scold them for you.
The family rental service is well suited to Japanese culture, where a high-pressure work ethic often leaves little time for socialising. It is estimated that 15% of Japanese people have no social interaction outside the family. This can pose problems if the family unit breaks down due to divorce, death, or estrangement.
When a close tie is severed, Family Romance is the reliable family rental service that will help you pick up the pieces.
Rent-a-family in the West
The UK is not so dissimilar to Japan. In 2017, it was reported that 14% of Brits often or always experience symptoms of loneliness. Similarly, in the USA, 3 out of 5 Americans have admitted they are lonely. If Family Romance can alleviate these negative feelings, why doesn’t it exist in the Western world?
Family Romance provides many functions a Western audience may find useful. In Werner Herzog’s 2020 documentary, Family Romance LLC, a character hires the agency to pretend to be paparazzi. She prances down a Tokyo high street with the actors in tow, desperately snapping shots of her. In doing so, the character fools many ordinary people into thinking she is a celebrity and is soon mobbed by adoring fans begging for selfies. In this case, the character used the rent-a-family service not because she was lonely but because she wanted to boost her social image.
This type of performative behaviour is often seen in the Western world, especially through social media. Many social media users are prone to posting inauthentic photos that do not represent their true reality.
In London, you can pay to access aesthetically pleasing backgrounds. The company Selfie Factory offers ‘photo-friendly environments to up your Instagram game’. These backdrops range from a giant ball pit to a room covered in doughnuts.
Another Western scheme is the Private Jet Studio, where you can pay to take a photo on a grounded private jet. Props like food and champagne are offered to make your photo look more realistic. This behaviour draws a direct parallel to the family rental services. Individuals rent out backgrounds and props to pretend their lives are different from how they really are, just as users of Family Romance rent out actors for their own pretence.
Family Romance: The Reality
You may find it hard to grasp the concept of family rental. Yet manifestations of this idea exist and thrive in western cultures to this day.
Ever heard of Bumble BFF? The popular dating site Bumble has extended its services to friendships. It offers users the opportunity to meet up with like-minded individuals on a platonic basis. This is a free service but it caters to the same need as Family Romance, as its primary aim is to eradicate loneliness.
RentAFriend is another Western company that offers a virtual friendship service. This time for a fee. Users pay for a monthly membership to access a database of potential friends. Members can peruse profiles of local friends and can even select a list of preferred hobbies and physical traits for these friends.
As Western cultures begin to accept transactional forms of friendship, the concept of family rental is not so distant from our own reality. With more people working from home and social distancing becoming the norm, will the desire for social interaction lead to different types of friendship?