The real reason people rent middle-aged men in Japan
Updated 6:33 AM ET, Fri August 3, 2018
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(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.
As in many cities around the globe, most people in Tokyo prefer anonymity when it comes to their wants, needs and vulnerabilities.
Urban citizens may be desperate to get advice from an older, wiser person, but they don't want to turn to the guy they've worked with for years or the uncle who remembers the tears shed over a broken toy truck. Someone familiar might judge them.
It's much better to pour your woes into a stranger's ear, grab the good advice and run ... or so goes the logic of Takanobu Nishimoto, 50, who founded an online Ossan Rental service in 2012.
Renting a stranger for advice and meeting in, say, a cafe means you will never have to meet again, he said: "Stories will spread if clients talk to someone they know."
This is where men like Sasaki come in, lending an ear to strangers while renewing their own value in society.
Nishimoto's inspiration came when he overheard "high school girls making fun of