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Publish at January 18 2023 Updated January 18 2023

The man who does nothing

The usefulness of someone who does nothing professionally

A photo of a train platform in Japan. In the middle, an illustration of a man standing with a blue cap. Editing: Benoît Pignard. Illustration: irasutoya.com

What is a person for? While questions such as "what is a dentist for" or "what is an insurance broker for" are simple to  answer, we may find ourselves baffled when the question refers to a human with no other designation. Work is one of the focal points of adult life, yet not all work is useful or provides well-being. What is a person for? Faced with this question Shoji Morimoto, a 39-year-old Japanese man, decided to do nothing.

Morimoto appeared in various media in 2022 as the "rent person who does nothing". At first glance, he might be considered a curiosity in Japanese society, where one can rent from fake relatives to fake partners for romantic encounters. But his offer differs from others in that Rental-san, as he is known, proposes to do nothing. This is how he introduces his service on his Twitter account:

I rent someone who does nothing (me). I accept applications continuously. The application fee is 10,000 yen, plus transportation expenses from Kokubunji station and food and drink expenses (if any). For requests and questions, please DM. I can do nothing but eat, drink, and answer questions simply. 

What is the use of someone who does nothing? 

The "do nothing" proposal comes across as an intentional exaggeration. Rental-san decides whether the client's proposal consists of doing either something or not, rejecting those he considers inappropriate. Some requests may be curious or funny: watching an adult swing on a playground, accompanying a lady to a fancy restaurant to eat a children's menu, or sniffing a person he suspects of exuding a particular odor.

Other requests can range from the impersonal to the touching: 

  1. Company an executive who has started to feel anxious on the way to the office after making a mistake at work;

  2. Enjoying the dinner of a young woman who enjoys cooking. Her family had stopped noticing her dishes, and she would like someone to praise them;

  3. Walking next to a woman and her newly operated dog. The dog refused to walk with only the lady and her husband;

  4. Listening to a woman honor the memories of a boyfriend who committed suicide;

  5. Watching a young woman pack her bags before traveling to Korea alone to undergo cosmetic surgery.

The opening of the Rental-san inspired series (three books have been published about him, as well as a manga) sums up the usefulness of his service: "for any situation a person needs."

Lonely souls, transactional relationships

Here are those who might imagine that only lonely people seek such a service. In fact, in the megalopolis of Tokyo, people who have come from other cities abound, who work intensely and have no time for relationships or occasion to make new friends. By renting a stranger, they can count on a companion to reduce the discomfort of doing something alone, and avoid intrusive thoughts if they were alone. Also, even those who have friends or relatives to rely on may need company - schedules don't always coincide, or perhaps imposing a task on friends or relatives doesn't suit.

P one can imagine that cultural difference explains this phenomenon. In Japan there are agencies of actors who impersonate friends, relatives or co-workers in various social situations, ranging from weddings to business meetings. Concepts such as 'honne' (acting naturally, reserved for the intimate sphere) and 'tatemae' (the social face, acting as expected by others) characterize the society; there is much respect for private space and an aversion to disturbing others. However, in any country in the world, people go through difficult times: one would like someone who listens without judgment to help organize one's thoughts, who does not ask questions, who does not have expectations and needs to be considered, someone to whom it is not necessary to explain everything.

Rental-san's office is Twitter. On it he receives proposals and requests for messages of encouragement, as well as reports his adventures (preserving the anonymity of the clients). A curious paradox: in a media geared towards self-exposure, a self-declared do-nothing posts 'real' life experiences with anonymous strangers.

Life is too serious

Before becoming Rental-san, Morimoto was a writer of teaching materials and an elementary school tutor (where he taught by doing the least possible). A physics graduate from Osaka University, Morimoto had a hard time adjusting to a traditional job-his boss commented on how much of a difference he barely made at work. The idea to rent himself out was inspired by another man offering to be taken care of, receiving meals and gifts. Morimoto thought it would be fun to offer himself to others without doing anything specific. Charging nothing at first and for a period in 2020, he supplements the income of his wife with whom he has a child.

One of his assignments was to say goodbye to someone on a train platform, like in the movies. The client would feel sad if a friend was there, but a complete stranger made the situation light and funny. From the variety of cases reported, we can imagine how varied the routine of a professional do-nothing maker is.

In the book 'The War on Normal People', Andrew Yang advocates universal basic income as relief for millions of workers who may be replaced by artificial intelligence. As a solution to unemployment-forced inactivity, he proposes a system not unlike the one we've seen here: providing favors to strangers. In an interview with the BBC, Morimoto ends by saying:

"In seeing many people and cases, I have found that not everyone necessarily does something useful for society. If our society requires us to do something useful to live, this is still the law of the jungle. I think civilization only exists when even useless people can live."

To learn more:

Interview: The Japanese man who gets paid to 'do nothing'
https://www.bbc.com/reel/video/p0cqnfbv/the-japanese-man-who-gets-paid-to-do-nothing-

Article: Rent-a-stranger: This Japanese man makes a living showing up and doing nothing - Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Julia Mio Inuma
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/19/japan-loneliness-rent/

Interview (in Japanese) - https://book.asahi.com/article/12371233

Wikipedia Rental-san (in Japanese) - https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%AC%E3%83%B3%E3%82%BF%E3%83%AB%E3%81%AA%E3%82%93%E3%82%82%E3%81%97%E3%81%AA%E3%81%84%E4%BA%BA

Twitter - Shoji Morimoto (in Japanese) - https://twitter.com/morimotoshoji

Book: 'The War on Normal People: The Truth About America's Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future' - Andrew Yang
https://www.decitre.fr/ebooks/the-war-on-normal-people-the-truth-about-america-s-disappearing-jobs-and-why-universal-basic-income-is-our-future-9780316414258_9780316414258_522.html


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