The head of a Japanese rent-a-friend company reveals what it's like to lead a double life

  • Started in 2009, Japanese company Family Romance hires actors to pose as people’s fake spouses, family members, coworkers, and more.
  • The company was founded by Ishii Yuichi, who has since hired 800 employees.
  • After eight years of leading thousands of pretend lives, Yuichi said he doesn’t date and has no interest in starting a family.

His name is Ishii Yuichi — on his off-hours, at least.

Yuichi is the founder of Family Romance, a Japanese company that hires actors to pose as people’s fake wedding dates, fake boyfriends to bring home, fake colleagues for conferences, and even fake newborn grandchildren for a dying grandparent.

Yuichi has been running the service (and participating as an actor) since 2009, Yuichi recently told The Atlantic’s Roc Morin in a wide-ranging interview.

Though it began with small-scale intentions, Family Romance has become popular in Japan’s insular society, which has struggled to stay socially connected. Over the past decade, a high-pressure work culture and tightening economy have forced some people into more reclusive lifestyles. In certain cases, Family Romance has become the solution for a shrinking social circle.

Being a fake dad is more than a full-time job

So far, Yuichi has amassed about 800 employees to fulfil just about every role imaginable. Yuichi himself has been keeping up elaborate lies for years. Since the early days of the business, he has been pretending to be the father to a young girl, whose biological father left when she was just a baby. The girl believes Yuichi is her real dad.

“Sometimes we dine together,” Yuichi told Morin of his fake daughter. “We’ve been to theme parks, like Disneyland. We go shopping in Harajuku once a month. The mother pays about 20,000 yen per four hours, plus expenses. That’s about $US200.”

Prices can vary based on the role the actor will fill, and for how long. Weddings are among the priciest occasions, as Family Romance charges approximately $US88 per actor, per hour, to attend the wedding. They can pose as a fake guest, fake coworker, or fake relative. A fake parent costs slightly more, at $US132 an hour.

Yuichi, 36, will also pretend to be people’s boyfriend. He said the typical clients are women in their 30s to 50s who are strictly looking to have a younger presence around, generally without any sexual involvement. Putting on the act has made it exhausting to go on actual dates or think about his romantic future, he said.

“Honestly, I’m full,” he told Morin. “I’m full of family, and I feel like it’s a lot to manage. Sometimes, a client asks me to be there in the room when she gives birth. One time, the client was a pregnant woman, and rather than ask her parents, she wanted me to be there. So, I went. Some women propose to me, and I say no, but it’s very hard for me to say no.”

A double life can be even richer than a single one

Since he has so many clients, Yuichi said he’ll find himself questioning who, exactly, is the real Ishii Yuichi — the character or the actor? He called solitude an “agonizing” experience.

“The inner monologues are tough,” he said, though he acknowledged that living so many fake lives has created genuine feelings of fulfillment. He seldom feels emotionally attached, even to the young girl who believes he is her father. But he said the job has offered its own kind of richness.

“I feel fulfilled,” he said, “just being needed.”

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