Selling Fantasy: Businesses of Emotion in Japan
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Can someone buy love? Can they buy affection? When one thinks of intimacy and bonds, they often seem sacred. However, can you buy something that’s a shade different from true affection, and what does that really entail? There are industries in Japan that provide something akin to this selling of emotion in the form of host clubs, maid cafes, and even a business that provides replacements for people in one’s own life.
There are certain establishments that sell emotional bonds in regard to friendship or romance in a restaurant settings. In regard to night life, host and hostess clubs sell atmosphere and alcohol, but they also sell emotion. Host clubs have a much lower cash entry (hostess clubs can charge up to $100,000 to get into the door), but both of them contain people that will listen to you and dote on you on an hourly rate while you also sample the bar’s high-priced drinks (Tofugu). Part of the draw of these clubs is the fact that you start to become emotionally attached to your host or hostess. According to Issei, one of the hosts featured in the host club documentary, The Great Happiness Space, puts it perfectly: they are selling dreams (The Great Happiness Space). The hosts are actors and can fit any archetype that is asked of them. Some of the girls, however, do begin to fall in love with them, blurring reality and fantasy. One interviewed girl claimed that she broke up with her current boyfriend after falling in love with one of the hosts. It’s important to note as well that these institutions do not normally involve prostitution. They are purely selling this emotional experience.
Host and hostess clubs might sell dreams of emotional bonds, but what about selling the image of having these bonds in the real world? There is a company in Japan called Family Romance that has been running for 8 years now (The Atlantic). This company serves to sell human replacements, such as spouses, parents, friends, or for a wedding. In an interview with the founder, he details that his first successful replacement was for a single mother’s husband. The daughter was being bullied for being without a father, so the mother hired Yuichi, the founder, to be the replacement father. Yuichi took the original father’s name. The daughter is currently unaware that this man is not her “real” father, and this lie has been kept up for 8 years now. According to Yuichi, the daughter has developed love for him as a father, including confiding in him as if he were her real father. According to the founder, he does not feel love towards the daughter. However, he also seems to hold some kind of guilt for his actions. According to him, he occasionally dreams about telling the daughter the truth, but he wakes up before she is able to react in his dream. This is not the only kind of service the company provides. Family Romance can be friend stand-ins or even partners for a couple hours or so. According to their website, they have garnered quite a bit of success with 100 requests per month (Family Romance). While host clubs seem to keep their bonds within an insulated space, Family Romance takes the dream or fantasy into reality.
When the lines between fantasy and reality become blurred, where can we find the real? I found it abundantly fascinating that in Japan, there are industries that capitalize on the creation of emotional bonds. For instance, host and hostess clubs create environments in which a host compliments and bonds with a client. At times, the client does not always separate herself from the reality that this whole situation is but an act. The Family Romance company sells an even deeper experience. One can hire someone from this agency to be a replacement family member, partner, or friend. Part of the deal is that the client would have to perpetuate this lie, as in the case of the daughter and her hired father of 8 years. While I am not sure if I am fully in the position to be able to judge these businesses and the implications for them and their clients, I am given to wonder what this sort of blending of dream and reality can do to a populace. If one can buy the fantasy version of a lover, would one ever really want to leave the content world of the facsimile and try to enter the wild waves of “true” romance? Perhaps this is just me, but I would personally prefer the real with all its turbulence and fire. It makes the love and passion all the sweeter.