Elif Batuman for The New Yorker:
Hagemashi-tai, which can be translated as “I want to cheer you up,” was started in 2006 by Ryūichi Ichinokawa, a middle-aged former salaryman with a wife and two sons. Five years earlier, Ichinokawa had been deeply shaken by news of a stabbing at a private elementary school in a suburb of Osaka, in which eight children around his sons’ age were killed. Such incidents are rare in Japan, and schools weren’t equipped with appropriate counselling services, so Ichinokawa enrolled in a psychology course, hoping to become a school counsellor. Instead, he ended up launching a Web site that offered counselling by e-mail. From there, he branched out into renting relatives. A lot of problems, it seemed, were caused by some missing person, and often the simplest solution was to find a substitute.