Katsumi Kasahara/AP

Despite Rough Economy, Japanese Still Paying for Companionship

January 13, 2009 12:06 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Lonely people in Japan are still willing to pony up for rented friends both animal and human, and even rented families.

Rent-A-Friend Services, Pet Rental Companies Still Going Strong

BBC correspondent Duncan Bartlett reports that agencies where people can rent pets, friends and relatives continue to do brisk business in Tokyo.

It is not unusual to pay a stranger for companionship on the island nation. Campus Cafes, where men can go and socialize with female university students, have been seeing increased business, as they are a cheaper alternative to upscale hostess clubs where businessmen and politicians drink with women dressed in kimonos. The exchanges involve more verbal flattery than sex.

At another agency called Hagemashi Tai, or “I Want To Cheer Up, Ltd.,” actors can be rented to pose as relatives at weddings and funerals, or to dispense life advice. Other agencies provide single mothers with temporary “husbands” who do housework and take care of children.

“Cat cafes,” where people can enjoy short-term companionship with cats, and other pet rental companies, are still going strong as well. “People in Japan work very hard and renting a pet can make them feel less lonely,” said Mayumi Kitamura, the rental manager at a pet rental store in Tokyo, to The Daily Telegraph.

Background: Rent-a-pet in Japan

The Japanese rent-a-pet business has been flourishing for almost a decade, the Daily Telegraph reported in April 2008, in a nation where space limitations and apartment regulations make more permanent pets a difficult option. There are now about 150 companies in Tokyo that allow people to pay for a variety of “short but intimate encounters with professional pets,” according to the BBC.

In 2007, the Japan Times reported that at the pet rental establishment Zoo Japan, the most popular rental animals are dogs (5,000 yen for a six-hour rental), cats (5,000 yen), hamsters (1,000 yen), rabbits (2,000 yen), ferrets (3,000 yen), turtles (1,000 yen), guinea pigs (2,000 yen), squirrels (3,000 yen), birds (1,000 yen) and squirrel monkeys (100,000 yen).

“When I look into his eyes, I think he’s my dog,” Kaori, a waitress, told the BBC about the Labrador she rents every Sunday. “But when I take him back to the shop, he runs away from me and starts wagging his tail when he sees the next customer. That’s when I know he’s only a rental dog.”

Related Topics: Dog rentals have less bite in US, UK

In the United States, the idea of renting a pet has not caught on so quickly. An American dog rental company called FlexPetz was forced to shut down last year when lawmakers and activists raised ethics concerns. In Boston, city officials passed a law prohibiting dog rentals when FlexPetz tried to open in the city. Trainer Ray McSoley, who also called FlexPetz a “four-legged escort service,” argues that dogs need more stability and long-term commitment than pet rental services can offer. But FlexPetz CEO Marlena Cervantes responded that their dogs, who need homes, are happy to be receiving good care and to be leading active lives.

FlexPetz was eventually forced to close its doors in the United States and London. But The Wall Street Journal suggests that those in the United States who want to fulfill their short-term pet needs can take advantage of informal pet-sharing arrangements with friends and neighbors, which some say is more humane than a commercial service because there are fewer people involved in the dog’s life.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines