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In Japan, They're Renting Men

There is an odd story at CNN that caught my eye about middle-aged men being "rented" out:

(CNN)"Unless you have interesting input coming into you all the time, you will psychologically die."

"You learn by seeing through other people's eyes."

"People live too seriously, and that kind of narrows down their vision."

These thoughts have not been generated by an algorithm or crowdsourced on Twitter. They are the accumulated wisdom of a middle-aged man in Japan. A middle-aged man who's available for rent. Wearing a shirt with a miniature panda bear print and smiling inscrutably, Ken Sasaki, 48, has a vibe that is anything but that of a disgruntled middle-aged Tokyo man.

With gray hair, visible lines on his face and loss of youthful slimness, he is more like a free-spirited bohemian in a strange disguise.

Throughout an hourlong Skype interview, in which comments are tediously ferried back and forth through an interpreter, his energy and enthusiasm never flag, and his answers grow more expressive and thoughtful with each question.

It's all part of his job as a rented "ossan," the Japanese word for a middle-aged man.

He allows himself to be hired by anyone, for nearly any purpose -- not involving physical contact -- as long as they pay his hourly wage: a mere 1,000 yen (about US $9). And he loves it....

Nishimoto's inspiration came when he overheard "high school girls making fun of middle-aged men on the commuter train," particularly their hairy ears, and calling the men "smelly" and "dirty."

Previously admired in a male-dominated Japanese society, ossan are now struggling to maintain a positive reputation in the fast-changing culture where values are in flux.

"I never realized that ossan were disrespected that much," Nishimoto said. "I thought, 'I need to regain the honor of ossan.' "...

When he started, expected that the bulk of his clients would be "gentle, obedient Japanese boys" needing advice from "older, more experienced men."

"The young men did not come," he said. Instead, eight times out of 10, clients are women, Nishimoto said.

There's a branch of the ossan rental service to fulfill immediate requests, he said, since many customers want to talk "now": "Her husband cheated on her; she had a quarrel; she's being harassed at work."

It's kind of ironic, isn't it? Middle-aged men are so disrespected in Japanese society that high school girls chat freely on the commuter train about how smelly and dirty they are, yet women and girls there are so desperate for male attention that they are willing to pay for it.

But I doubt anyone makes the connection between their own misandry and the "people in the shadows" that middle-aged men have become. They only re-surface when paid to do so. Sad, but kind of a "gotcha" at the same time as payback for that disrespect. I would up the price.