The service’s founder shares reasons for its decade of success and typical examples of why people, mainly women, might rent an ossan.

A unique kind of rental service you can find in Japan consists of renting not just objects but people from different walks of life. One such service, Ossan Rental, has found success over the past ten years by employing men who can be rented for whatever your needs are–helping you do something, accompanying you somewhere, or just lending a listening ear. But what exactly drives the popularity of this particular model and its long-term success?

First, here’s a word about the word “ossan.” Ossan is a casual, at times derogatory, way of referring to a middle-aged man. It’s often said with a slight disdain in one’s voice while mocking the inevitable lameness that follows youth. And yet it’s that exact “uncool” demographic that serves as the basis for Ossan Rental, which we even tried out for ourselves back in 2015 by renting its founder.

▼ This picture captures the essence of an ossan in cat form. Just add a beer, a bag of snacks, and a TV remote to get the full stereotypical image.

Speaking of its founder, the now 54-year-old fashion producer and stylist by trade Takanobu Nishimoto started Ossan Rental in 2012. The spark for the idea was lit when he overheard some female high school students making fun of ossan, especially their nose hair, on the train. He wanted to restore the reputation of ossan everywhere by somehow showing that they can indeed be hip and fun. While at rental shop Tsutaya one day, he realized that it would be interesting if an ossan was something (someone) that people could rent as well. His wife came up with the business name and rental price: 1,000 yen (US$7.64) per hour, or about the cost of lunch. The rest is…well, his-story.

At the time, there was already a rental business for boyfriends, but media quickly caught on to his unique concept and word spread. For the first two years it was just Takenobu renting himself out, but now the roster of rentable ossan has expanded to 69 men of various backgrounds, skills, and personalities, ages 38 to 69 at the present. Each ossan has his own nickname as well, such as “Consulting ossan” or “Listening ossan.” Of course, there are also firm rules in place about what you can and can’t do with your ossan and how late you can rent them depending on your age. Takanobu says that the ossan who have joined feel a great sense of satisfaction because they’re doing it not for the money, but for the connections with people that they would otherwise never have the chance to interact with.

Furthermore, while he had predicted that the target audience would be young men looking for a mentor, it turns out that 80 percent of the clientele are women. In terms of the reasons that people might rent an ossan, 70 percent want to consult about something (e.g., love, work, general gripes) and 30 percent want help doing something (e.g., computer troubles, repairing lights and wiring). The younger men who do rent ossan tend to be seeking advice about their future or work. As they get to know each other more through repeat meetings, clients often begin to request that the ossan accompany them to different places. These days, the number of remote requests has also increased due to the pandemic.

“Ossan just wanna have fun”

Many of the ossan also have professional backgrounds with unique talents to offer. Take “University professor ossan,” for instance, who provides essay proofreading and mock interviews as part of his specialized skill set. Takanobu is thinking about potentially changing the model of his business to group ossan into particular professional categories so that they’re more highly rewarded for their time.

51-year-old Ken Sasaki, aka “Violin-playing IT ossan,” has spent six years with Rental Ossan and still isn’t tired of it. His dual skills in music and IT make him a popular choice for clients. On the musical end of the spectrum, some of his past requests from clients include playing his violin at birthday parties, serenading girls’ get-togethers, and performing Christmas songs at a share house. On the IT end, he’s been asked for help with setting up computers, purchasing electronic devices, and giving advice about career changes in that field. Some of his more unique undertakings include appearing in YouTube videos, serving as a subject for a novice filmmaker, giving a speech as a fake friend at someone’s wedding ceremony for laughs (but then playing the wedding march on his violin), going up Tokyo Tower with someone who didn’t want to go alone, and even moving chess pieces for a disabled person at a shogi (Japanese chess) tournament.

▼ Violin-playing IT ossan can save you from all of your computer woes and serenade you afterwards!

Finally, a fun tidbit–word of the business has spread into pop culture as well. Manga artist Katsuhisa Minami based the main character’s job in his The Fable manga on Ossan Rental, even seeking out Takanobu for background research.

It seems that the “rent a person” market in Japan has been expanding at lightning speed over the past several years to encompass rental butlers, rental little sisters, and even rental families. We’re curious to see which new rental niches will pop up in the coming months. Call us crazy, but we kind of think a “Mr. Sato Rental” would be a big hit…

Source: Withnews, Ossan Rental via Otakomu
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2, 3)
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