BF4$? How sad is this?
In August, I blogged about folks in Japan who have 2-D relationships, i.e., guys with girlfriends who are stuffed pillows. (Hey, Moe! 2-D love in Japan.) Earlier in the year, it was robot teachers in Japanese classrooms. (Saya: No more pencils, no more books...)
Now there's even more evidence that, at least when it comes to relationships, Japan is at the forefront of post-modern society.
As the Daily Beast reported a few weeks back, picking up on an article in The Guardian, a growth sector in the Japanese economy is escort services. But we're not talking escort-escort here - no casting stones on the Japanese on that front, when there are so many of them in the USA. No, here we're talking about renting stand-ins for significant others absent in your life.
Over the past eight years, the number of agencies providing parents for engagement parties, mourners at funerals, and, in this economy, phantom bosses has doubled to 10 with Office Agent, the best-known company, employing 1,000 people. (Source: Beast summary.)
The Guardian article led off with an account of a best man's toast of the bride and groom. But this was no ordinary brother of the bride, best buddy since kindergarten, kind of best man. Along with tuxes and the limo, he was rented for the occasion.
This guy's pretty versatile. He also had a gig as uncle of a couple of kids who were being picked on because their parents were divorced and their father was never around. He was hired to attend a school-sports day, where he cheered his "niece" and "nephew" on, and even - true tourist style - took a video. Or pretended to.
Talk about un-funny uncle.
This professional stand-in, Ryuichi Ichinokawa, had been planning on a career as a counselor. Instead, he launched the "I Want to Cheer You Up" Agency.
Well, one man's "cheer up" is one woman's downer. (Mine. Sure it's amusing, but it's also pretty darned sad.)
Ichinokawa now has 30 agents in his employ who impersonate all sorts of friends and relations. He doesn't charge much - it's only about $160 to attend a wedding - not clear whether you have to bring a gift or buy a new dress. Extra for giving a toast or singing karaoke.
But 30 agents is nothing. Office Agent has 1,000 stand-ins on its roles.
The rise of the phony friend is a symptom of social and economic changes, combined with a deep-seated cultural aversion to giving personal and professional problems a public airing.
In recent months demand has surged for bogus bosses among men who have lost their jobs; for colleagues among contract employees who never stay in the same job long enough to make friends, and from divorcees and lovelorn singletons.
I get the "lovelorn singletons" (sorta). But someone in need of a bogus boss? I've had my share of bogus bosses, that's for sure. But I don't recall any situations in which I'd have wanted one of them around - let alone paid for the privilege of hiring someone to impersonate one of them.
Apparently, the fake bosses are for social occasions (your wedding) where you'd be expected to invite your boss. Which is a problem if you don't have one, I guess.
UK papers have apparently been all over this trend. A few months before The Guardian got in on the act, The Telegraph - in general an excellent source of amusement and/or trash and/or oddities - had an article on Office Agents. (They charge more than "Cheer", but the basic lines are the same. A wedding guest who speaks, sings, or dances gets paid a premium.)
Sometimes the wedding non-crashers are the bogus bosses; sometimes they stand in for someone who can't make it - I guess in Japan, brides don't breathe a small sigh of relief and scratch off the plate cost when they get a regrets note; sometimes they're hired to redress the imbalance of "groom's side/bride's side" guests. And:
At one recent wedding, the groom secretly arranged for all 30 guests to be hired as friends and family members as it was his second marriage and he did not want the same guests present as the first time round.
(Sorry, Mom, you were at the first wedding and see where that got me.)
Office Agents also hires out for corporate functions, private parties, and funerals.
Well, professional mourners are nothing new, I guess.
But I want to know whether you get paid extra to weep. To comment on what a good job the mortician did with the stiff. To relate some touching little story about the deceased.
Anyway, here's what Office Agents looks for in an employee:
"They are cheery and clean and look like they have regular jobs."
Okay, I'm not the cheeriest person on the face of the earth, but I'm cheery enough. I am absolutely clean. And, if needs be, I can definitely pass for someone who has a regular job.
Furthermore, although I'm terrible at the Electric Slide, I can do the Chicken Dance and the Alley Cat. I'm not shy about giving speeches. And I'd do karaoke for free. (Do they have "He's a Rebel" by the Crystals in Japan?) Not to mention that, given my Irish-Catholic background, I've known how to comport myself at wakes and funerals since I reached the age of reason.
Nice to know that if all else fails, I can always move to Japan and hire out doing this type of work. As long as no one wonders what the hell a tall, aging, American woman is doing there.
But all good cheer and kidding aside, isn't there something terribly sad about someone who doesn't have a soul he can ask to be best man? Or who doesn't have a male friend or relative she can tap to spend a bit of time with her dad-missing kids?
I guess that it's more than a few steps better than dating a stuffed pillow - at least there's an implicit acknowledgement about the benefits of human companionship (or the perception thereof). Still, it's kind of pathetic that this is a growth industry, no?
Can't remember who tipped me on this one - Rick T, Kath, or Trixie. Thanks to whoever it was.