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What’s it like to dupe lonely Japanese guys and get paid to do it? We talk to someone who did just that.

Over the coming weeks, people across Japan will be heading out to the country’s parks and gardens to appreciate the cherry blossoms, which in Japanese are called “sakura.” However, the word sakura also has a second meaning in Japanese, one which refers to something not nearly so welcome: a ringer or imposter.

This second meaning of sakura originally referred to audience members at kabuki performances who would cheer wildly when an actor took the stage…because they were being paid by the performer or venue owners to do so in order to amp up the rest of the crowd. Nowadays, though, the main place you’ll find sakura is online, posing as eligible romantic partners on dating websites.

Since these sakura will never actually go on a date with the clients they’re stringing along, it’s normal for them to assume multiple identities on the sites that employ them. Many male sakura also pretend to be single women, as in the case of one Japanese dating site that had 2.7 million accounts, of which only one belonged to an actual female.

We recently sat down with one ex-sakura, who we’ll call Mr. Asakura. A disarmingly friendly and unassuming man in his 30s, he agreed to give us an inside look at this shadowy side of the dating industry.

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RocketNews24: So how did you get started working as a sakura?

Asakura: They advertise for sakura in the regular employment magazines that have part-time job listings. The ads don’t just come out and say they’re looking for sakura, though. Instead, they say things like “data entry” and “sending company emails. I saw an ad, sent in an application, and they hired me.

RN24: What kind of people work as sakura?

Asakura: Surprisingly, they’re just ordinary people. The average age is young, with most in their mid-20s or younger. When I was working as a sakura, one of my supervisors was actually still in college.

RN24: We imagine the pay must be pretty good.

Asakura: It’s usually about 1,000 to 1,200 an hour (roughly US$9-$11). The job doesn’t require any physical labor, but I don’t think the pay actually accounts for the psychological strain of having to continuously lie to so many people.

RN24: What was especially difficult about the job?

Asakura: Haha a lot of things! For example, during training, of course your supervisor checks the emails you’re sending to clients very closely. I was pretending to be a woman and putting everything I could think of into my emails to try to make guys attracted to me, but the supervisor training me was a young woman, and I didn’t like having her read what I’d written. You also have a minimum number of emails you have to send each hour, and it’s a tough quota to meet.

The most effective method of sending emails was to time it so that you’d agree to meet with a client around the time his membership with the site was about to run out, so that’d he’d renew it. But then, on the day you were supposed to meet, you’d have to think up some excuse as to why you couldn’t make it to the date…It’s tiring having to think up lies simultaneously for several different clients, all the while having your email log checked by your supervisors.

RN24: So why did you keep working as a sakura?

Asakura: For me, the best part was the flexible hours. At the time, there were other things I wanted to do besides work, so I wanted a job where I could set my own schedule.

Also, tough working conditions makes for a lot of comradery between coworkers. When a client I’d agreed to meet up with but later cancelled on sent me an email to start chatting again, my friends and bosses would congratulate me on doing a good job.

RN24: Was it interesting work?

Asakura: Well, when a client stops emailing you, you have to think of how to reestablish a connection with him. It’s a lot harder than making the initial contact, and we even had a manager who just handled helping sakura with that aspect of the job.

Analyzing what kind of email you can send to reel a customer back in, looking at that deep part of human psychology, that was interesting.

RN24: Why did you eventually stop working as a sakura?

Asakura: I didn’t want to stop, but one day when I showed up at work, the office was completely empty. No people, no desks, nothing. I’d just been at work the day before, but everything had disappeared in one night.

I thought I must be imagining things. Did my boss forget to tell me they were moving and give me the new address? Did I get fired? Did the company go belly-up?

Even now, I’ve got no idea.

RN24: In closing, would you recommend this sort of work to others?

Asakura: No, I would not.

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In other words, no matter which side of sakura dating site scam you’re on, you’ll probably be happiest if you can limit your cherry blossom contact to the floral kind.

Follow Casey on Twitter, where you can be pretty sure he won’t try to trick you into thinking he’s a girl who wants to date you.

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