Since Japanese-born Ishii Yuichi was “reunited” with his daughter eight years ago, he’s taken her on a shopping trip once a month. The pair often go out to dinner together, and they’ve taken holidays to Disneyland.
Yuichi is a good father – never angry, never violent. He rarely raises his voice. He’s told his daughter he wishes he could see her more often, but his commitments to his new family prevent it. She’s told him she loves him anyway.
But Yuichi is not the father of his “daughter”, nor even a relative. He keeps his temper because he was instructed to on an order form, and he earns 5,000 yen, or $50, for every hour he spends with her.
Yuichi runs Family Romance, a company that hires actors out to clients to perform roles in their personal lives: friends, spouses, children, and even parents. He’s been hired by the mother of his “daughter” to fill the hole left by an estranged and violent ex, and he plans to continue the role indefinitely.
In a recent interview with The Atlantic, Yuichi revealed how he fell into the almost decade-long deception.
“The girl was bullied because she didn’t have a dad, so the mother rented me,” he told The Atlantic. “I’ve acted as the girl’s father ever since. I am the only real father that she knows.”
In order to make the role more realistic, Yuichi takes the name of the girl’s absent father in her presence. He’s never actually been a father, so he watched a lot of Hollywood movies about fathers, and “cultivated his personality” accordingly.
Asked what would happen if his “daughter” ever found out the truth, he admits:
“I think she would be shocked. It’s easy to feel her love. She talks about her relationship with her mother, she shares sensitive feelings, she opens up to me.”
However, Yuichi hopes she never finds out, and is prepared to continue the role as long as it’s needed.
“If the client never reveals the truth, I must continue the role indefinitely. If the daughter gets married, I have to act as a father in that wedding, and then I have to be the grandfather.”
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As for how he prevents himself from forming an emotional connection with the people he pretends to love, Yuichi admits he still sometimes struggles.
“It’s a business,” he told The Atlantic. “I’m not going to be her father for 24 hours. It’s a set time. When I am acting with her, I don’t really feel that I love her, but when the session is over and I have to go, I do feel a little sad.”
Family Romance is not the first company to hire out actors to pose as an individual’s friends, family or partners, but the extent and length of Yuichi’s role as a “father” is something new. Dismissing the moral implications of such a long-term deception, he claims that his business is necessary to address circumstantial imbalances.
“I believe that the world is always unfair, and my business exists because of that unfairness. A [girl] with a father doesn’t need to hire a father. It’s about bringing balance to society.”