Shoji Morimoto is a young husband and father living in Tokyo. Disillusioned with life in the Japanese corporate culture, he started his own business as a ‘rental person who does nothing’ in 2018. At the time, it didn’t even really qualify as a business because he didn’t ask his clients to pay for his services; all he asked was for his transport expenses to be reimbursed and the purchase of food and drink when appropriate. Morimoto planned to live off his savings and says his wife supported this radical lifestyle change.

The service was launched on Twitter and it was from this platform that he became something of a celebrity in Japan. He says that after just three months as a ‘rental person’ a simple tweet could get 20,000 re-tweets and 83,000 likes; some of his Twitter threads would get up to 170,000 likes.

This engaging memoir, RENTAL PERSON WHO DOES NOTHING, details his experiences acting as a substitute friend, sounding board, or companion. He has so far been hired by more than 4000 people and written three books; his unusual way of life has also inspired a Japanese television series. And it seems that many people do pay him, even if not in cash. He often receives Amazon gift cards and Starbucks vouchers or individual presents as thanks for his time. “I suppose giving me gifts is quite like giving food to a pet. The pet just accepts the food.”

Morimoto also observes that “ignoring money has allowed me to have different values which stimulate new ways of relating to people.”

Importantly, he does stick quite rigidly to his ‘do nothing’ mantra. He will visit a lonely patient in hospital, accompany a singleton to their favourite restaurant, or sit with you while you work or pursue your hobby. But simply being there is really all he offers; he will engage only in the most basic and banal conversation and never offers an opinion or takes an active role. And he reserves the right to leave if he gets bored. The faceless person in a cap on the cover cleverly represents his completely ‘do nothing’ (say nothing, be nothing…) approach. He also makes a point of telling prospective clients that he has a wife and child because “this gives people confidence that I’m not going to do anything odd”.

I have to say that I found this book absolutely intriguing and enjoyed every moment for its insights into a way of life and, more broadly, the Japanese psyche. It inevitably asks you to question your priorities and attitudes to work and life. At just 150 small-size pages, it’s an easy read. It includes some curiously dull, but nevertheless authentic, black and white photographs of ‘rental person’ in and around Tokyo.

Shoji Morimoto may describe himself as a “zero-spec human being” but he is clearly in touch with the zeitgeist. Highly recommended.

Review by Dr Diana Carroll

Publisher : Pan Macmillan Australia

Recommended Retail Price : $29.99

ISBN 978 10350 12817