TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - It's the wedding season in Japan but instead of opting for a small event in tough times, couples can rent fake family, friends and colleagues to plump up the guest list.
Many in Japan see weddings as a formal event that must be attended by as many family members, friends and co-workers as possible. At the party, bosses often give speeches, colleagues or friends stage performances, and families greet other guests.
But what if you've got no one to do that for you?
"We'll attend the wedding as your friend instead of your friend," Hiroshi Mizutani, who heads Office Agents in Tokyo, a company that rents out guests, told Reuters.
"Suddenly, a guest might not be able to make it. Or maybe you are concerned about the gap in the number of guests you have compared to your partner. Or, there are many temp workers these days and they may be uncomfortable inviting the boss."
For 20,000 yen ($200), Office Agents provides a staff member to attend the ceremony. For an additional 5,000 yen, that person can perform a song or a dance. Pitch in another 10,000 yen and that person can make a speech that would make you proud.
As recession hits Japan, Mizutani said work-related requests are rising, with clients asking for a fake boss, who in real life may have become too busy for the wedding after losing his job, or coworkers for temporary workers that switch offices often without getting to know those they work with.
At one wedding, all 30 of the family, friends and coworkers of the groom were fakes, Mizutani said. This was the second marriage for the groom, who wanted to avoid inviting the same guests from the first wedding.
The firm gets about 100 wedding requests per year and has some 1,000 fakes available for various occasions, including funerals and training seminars.
It even offers fake lovers to introduce to your family and stand-in secretaries for those that want to look important.
The key qualification for Office Agents' staff is that they do not stand out.
"What's important is that these are normal people... normal as in they are cheery and clean and look like they have regular jobs," Mizutani said.
Sometimes not even the marriage partner is aware.
"People are proud and they don't want to tell their partner that they do not have many friends," Mizutani said.
"The environment is so that people don't have anyone to invite. It may be that they are lonely and it may also be that the way people work are changing."
Editing by Miral Fahmy