isn’t the “ohh those kooky Japanese!” story I feared. All the many reasons you might hire a friend:
more (and how much of Western therapy is basically rent-a-friend? cultural construction of illness -> cultural construction of treatment. I don’t just mean “you can tell all your problems to a therapist and they have to be interested.” If you have had a hard time making and keeping friends–for any reason, life is hard and complicated–you likely missed out on a lot of examples and life lessons other people learned from their friends. You got yelled at less by people who actually do love you and will forgive you; you watched fewer attempts at personal change by people you really care about, so you saw fewer long-term examples of what works and what doesn’t. Even very technical or focused therapeutic approaches like CBT can serve as prosthetics for these formative experiences. …And as w/therapy probably the biggest step w/rent-a-friend is admitting you might get a lot out of this.)
There’s a word in Japanese, gaman, that translates roughly as “stoic forbearance in the face of the unbearable.” It’s a deep-seated Japanese value, this idea that you suck it up no matter what. A lot has been happening lately. Anxiety and depression spiked after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The country itself is shrinking, its population plummeting and aging rapidly. And there’s the apparently growing problem of people who literally work themselves to death; a third of suicides have been attributed to overwork. All of that, Yumi and Taka say, but you act like everything’s fine.
Enter the rent-a-friend. Not a miracle cure, no. But maybe a pressure valve. “With us,” Yumi says, “people can talk about their feelings without worrying what their real friends think.”