I’d started off assuming that the rental schema somehow undercut the idea of unconditional love. Now I found myself wondering whether it was even possible to get unconditional love without paying. The questions I’d been asking myself about what Ishii really felt for Reiko and her daughter made more sense when I thought about them in these terms. A person can do things professionally—for a set time, in exchange for money and recognition—that she can’t do indefinitely for free. I knew that Ishii had put a lot of preparation into his job, watching family movies to learn how “a kind father” would walk, talk, and eat. Likewise, I had read about a host-club worker who studied romance novels in order to be able to anticipate and fulfill his clients’ every need, and consequently had no time left for a personal life. “Women’s ideal romance entails hard work,” he said, “and that is nearly impossible in the real world.” He said he could never have worked so hard for a real girlfriend.
A fascinating piece by Elif Batuman in The New Yorker on the workings of Japan’s rent a family industry.