Last updated: 31 january, 2011 - 14:56 GMT

Asia

Japan: A Friend In Need

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Lost your job and need a bogus boss to fool your family that you're still in work? Can't think who to have as your best man at your wedding?

The BBC's Tokyo correspondent Roland Buerk investigates Japan's growing 'rent a friend' service sector. Several agencies now rent out fake spouses, best men, relatives, friends, colleagues, boyfriends and girlfriends to help clients get through social functions such as weddings, parents' evenings - and even funerals.

I was due to get married and have a wedding party, my parents were dead but I couldn't tell my partner because I was too scared to destroy my marriage.

Former client of Hagemashi Tai agency

Ryuichi Ichinokawa launched his Hagemashi Tai - which translates as "I Want to Cheer You Up" - agency four years ago and the requests have been flooding in. He now employs 30 agents of various ages and both sexes, working all over Japan. They research their assignments assiduously so that they appear totally convincing.

We hear from one client who not only rented a fake mother to introduce to his prospective in-laws, but also hired 30 guests to attend his wedding. In fact, only two of the 'guests' on the groom's side were genuine. Even his 'boss' who made a speech was fake, as he had just been made redundant. When, however, he finally confessed to his wife and her family, their response was not to be furious about the lies, but grateful that he had done it for them and to protect their social standing.

Is the rise of the phoney friend a symptom of social and economic changes and increasing isolation or a logical extension of a consumer society where money will buy you almost anything?

As Japan enters a third decade of recession, how much is this phenomenon a result of Japan's changing labour market ? With more temporary jobs, people have less opportunity to make friends at work, but social expectations seem to be lagging behind economic reality.

This documentary was first aired on click BBC Radio 4 and broadcast on BBC World Service on 31 January 2011.

A Ruth Evans Production for BBC World Service

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