In Japan, you can hire a husband, a mother, a grandson. The resulting relationships can be more real than you’d expect. (Getty Images)

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The Real Relationships That Come From Japan’s Rent-a-Family Industry

People who are short on family can hire some when needed.

There are a number of agencies in Japan that rent out replacement relatives. Kazushige Nishida, a Tokyo salaryman in his sixties, lost his wife, and six months before that, his 22-year-old daughter moved out and had never returned. He was lonely. He tried to go to hostess clubs, but still felt alone at the end of the night, and they were expensive. So he contacted Family Romance, once of the family-renting agencies. They put him in touch with a woman and a girl in her twenties to play his wife and daughter. The two women started out acting as Nishida’s late-wife and his daughter, but over time, the two broke out of their roles and were themselves. Nishida found himself doing the same — instead of just acting like a “good husband and father,” he was able to relax and talk about his real daughter, and get advice from his new rental family. Nishida called his daughter eventually, something he told The New Yorker he wouldn’t have done if he wasn’t for his rental daughter showing him what he had said wrong. The next day, he came home to fresh flowers for his wife on the family altar, meaning his real daughter had been at the house while he was gone. He told The New Yorker that he “hopes to meet her again soon.”

Yūichi Ishii, the founder of Family Romance, told The New Yorker that his goal is “to bring about a society where no one needs our service.” He wants to engineer outcomes like Nishida’s, where the rental family becomes redundant in the client’s life.

In general, rental partners and spouses aren’t supposed to be alone with clients one-on-one. Physical contact besides hand-holding is not allowed, but The New Yorker writes that between 30 and 40 percent of the women in ongoing relationships with rental husbands eventually propose marriage.

Some people rent spouses, some rent friends. Some people, who were having an affair and were caught, hire a fake lover to apologize to their partner. Some women with marriage-obsessed parents have even put on fake weddings. Ishii says that happens two or three times a year.

Read the full story at The New Yorker