We’ve all heard of Japan’s booming “rent-a-friend” service sector. Is it evidence (or media fodder) of the country’s slide into a dystopian anti social landscape? Of Japan’s unique capacity to commoditize everything? Or simply an echo of the rise of the sharing economy?
Whatever the background, Japan’s rental culture is spreading. And it’s doing so across products, services and demographics, ranging from useful to ‘I kinda’ get it’ to downright um, yeah, only in Japan.
Here’s a list of five unexpected things for rent in Japan. The best part? You can always give it back.
Yes, yes, there’s the slightly disconcerting concept of animal cafes where you can pet rabbits, owls, cats and reptiles etc., while sipping on a caffeinated brew. But what if you want to prolong the experience? A friend recently hired a dog just so he could take it for a walk around Yoyogi Park. I’m thinking I’d like to try out a pet goat – available as an eco-friendly weed killer, apparently.
2. An island
Uninhabited, of course – you can’t just go in and declare yourself Queen of Miyakojima. Airbnb have several listings of private islands, while Sarushima in Kanagawa is famously rented out during the winter to beat the seasonal tourist slump. There are even four islands up for actual sale with Vladi Private Islands (dubbed the world’s number one island broker) – just for those weekends away.
3. Your wardrobe
Not a cupboard but everything that should be in it. The fast-growing fashion rental service AirCloset, based in Tokyo, has been keeping women stylish with minimal effort thanks to its innovative ‘wear and return’ subscriber model. Basically you sign up to receive a number of fashion boxes (containing three items of clothing) curated by stylists who pick the pieces based on the preferences that you entered on registration. If you like something you can buy it; the rest can be returned after you’ve worn it. Genius.
O.K. not the event itself but rather the important elements like a tree, gifts, and a santa costume which we know are the real meaning of Christmas. In all seriousness, being able to rent a tree with decorations is a beautiful thing. You can bring the magic of the holidays to your office, garden or home and, since you won’t have to store it, there’ll be no need to use it as a coat rack for the rest of the year. Online rental service DMM will be there with bells on.
5. A middle-aged man
This wouldn’t be a listicle about services rendered in Japan without a weird and wacky example. It comes in the form of ossan rental – the latest rent-a-person concept where you can hire a man, between the age of 45 and 55, for ¥1,000 an hour. So far, customers appear to have varying motivations for hiring an ossan but the most popular seems to be the need to speak freely without judgement, and there’s nobody listens better than a middle-aged dude.