06 July 2023

Review: Rental Person Who Does Nothing by Shoji Morimoto

Rental Person Who Does Nothing by Shoji Morimoto book cover

* Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan *

I first came across the Do Nothing Man from Japan in a BBC documentary called The Japanese man who gets paid to 'do nothing'. I was fascinated by the short doco and intrigued to find out more, eagerly awaiting his new book, Rental Person Who Does Nothing: A Memoir by Shoji Morimoto.

For those new to the concept of renting a person, Morimoto gives his time freely to those who need it but he does nothing. He doesn't charge a daily or hourly rate for his time, and clients pay for any food, drinks and travel expenses incurred. Clients submit their requests for his help online, and Morimoto selects those he can - and wants - to do.

Requests from clients vary, from accompanying them to a concert; visiting a restaurant they've always wanted to go to; attending a temple to say a prayer; or listening to a client share cherished memories of a loved one. The listening requests are common, and the author is clear that he can only provide simple responses.

Morimoto doesn't talk to the client unless they speak to him, he doesn't offer advice and generally only meets a client once. Some of the listening requests were fascinating, with loneliness and social anxiety seemingly forming the basis of many client requests.
"People tend to think that personal matters should be spoken about with those who are close friends, lovers or family members. But since starting this do-nothing service, I've learned that there are a lot of important things that can be talked about with people you don't know very well or even at all. Depth of discussion and depth of relationship don't always go hand in hand." Page 13
I've noticed the variations that can sometimes exist between depth of discussion and depth of relationship where there are no strings attached or expectations to fall short of. I enjoyed seeing some of the requests the author receives, and in doing so I was able to gain smaller unexpected insights into culture and society as a whole.
"Things can be different simply because someone is there. They don't have to be there, but if they are, something changes." Page 6
That's so true for a multitude of reasons! Morimoto notices that requests to visit a client in their home often has an unintentional benefit to the client by motivating them to tidy up prior to his arrival. He also notices that some of his clients need his help to hold themselves accountable. One client wanted him to come and watch them study while reading manga, another wanted him to watch them work. One request was to accompany a woman while she filed her divorce papers. Large or small, the sheer variety of requests is fascinating.
"Since I started this do-nothing service, I've been surprised to discover that there are so many things people want to talk about but can't. At least, they can't talk to people they know. They talk to me, though." Page 59
One example from the book was a woman who wanted to talk about her new girlfriend, but her friends weren't accepting of her choice of lover. She wanted Rental Person to listen to her talk about her new girlfriend and say things like 'she sounds nice' from time to time. Wow! Being able to talk without any fear of judgement clearly helped the client, despite the forced nature of the conversation.

Some clients need to give a loved one bad news or discuss a difficult topic but don't have the confidence or know where to start. After trying out their spiel with Rental Person, the client is able to summon the courage required to have the conversation for real with their loved one.

This was one of my favourite client requests from the book, and it's a little long but I think you'll love it:
"Request: To bump into my dog on a walk and make a fuss of him. Reason: My dog loves people. He goes up to people without dogs and wags his tail, but most of them ignore him, so he gets disappointed. People with dogs often make a fuss of him, but they're busy walking their own dogs and don't have much time, so I try to walk him away, but then my dog gives a little whine and sometimes tries to follow the other person. I don't want him to be thought too irritating so I cajole him into leaving them be, but he always looks upset. He is very positive and gets over it quickly, but it hurts me a bit every time his boundless love comes to nothing, so I always think how nice it would be if a complete stranger would give him some attention.
So I was wondering if you could make a fuss of him, pretending (?) to be a complete stranger who happens to be walking in the opposite direction." Page 130
What a beautiful person and such a lovely request! If you want to know what happened, you'll have to read the book.

Morimoto writes briefly about the Japanese culture of reciprocity and social pressures within friendships and workplaces and understands that many of his clients seek out his services because they feel constrained by their own cultural expectations and community pressures.

For a seemingly introverted and reserved person uneasy about money and not wanting to influence a person's future by having an opinion or making a decision, Shoji Morimoto has created the perfect role in society for himself. As Rental Person, Morimoto is able to help countless people in his unique way, while not shying away from the lack of an income. The author has a wife and child at home and they're living off his savings at the moment, so Morimoto accepts money from clients and wants to ensure nobody mistakes him for a volunteer. 

My only criticism of the book - other than it's too short - is that Morimoto didn't write this memoir. Instead he answered questions with simple responses and an editor and writer wrote the book. It's completely fitting with Morimoto's 'do nothing' persona but this early disclosure at the beginning was disappointing and ultimately lost him a star in this review.

Always introducing himself as Rental Person and wearing his cap so as to seem unassuming while also hiding behind his anonymity when feeling anxious, Shoji Morimoto has helped 4,000 clients since starting in 2018. The demand for services like his tells us something about ourselves and I enjoyed thinking about it. 

Rental Person Who Does Nothing
by Shoji Morimoto is a unique memoir perfect for discussion and I highly recommend it.

My Rating:

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