(THE WEEK) – It's muggy and I'm confused. I don't understand where I am, though it was only a short walk from my Airbnb studio to this little curry place. I don't understand the lunch menu, or even if it is a lunch menu. I'm new in Tokyo, and sweaty, and jet-lagged. But I am entirely at ease. I owe this to my friend Miyabi. She's one of those reassuring presences, warm and eternally nodding and unfailingly loyal, like she will never leave my side. At least not for another 90 minutes, which is how much of her friendship I've paid for.
Miyabi isn't a prostitute, or an escort or an actor or a therapist. For the past five years she has been a professional rent-a-friend, working for a company called Client Partners.
My lunchmate pokes daintily at her curry and speaks of the friends whose money came before mine. There was the head of a prominent company, rich and "very clever" but conversationally marooned at "hello." Discreetly and patiently, Miyabi helped draw other words out. There was the string of teenage girls struggling to navigate mystifying social dynamics; at their parents' request, Miyabi would show up and just be a friend. You know, a normal, companionable, 27-year-old friend. She has been paid to cry at funerals and swoon at weddings, lest there be shame over a paltry turnout. Last year, a high schooler hired her and 20 other women just long enough to snap one grinning, peace-sign-flashing, I-totally-have-friends Instagram photo.
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