Emma Beddington

The man who hired himself out to do next to nothing

Shoji Morimoto offers himself to strangers in Tokyo to queue on their behalf, make a fuss of their dogs or simply provide a human presence

Shoji Morimoto. [Chika Takumi]

Have you ever dreamed of just giving up? Doing nothing? Shoji Morimoto went ahead and did it: so much so that he didn’t even write the memoir that bears his name. Rental Person Who Does Nothing is the story of how he stopped working as a freelance writer and offered himself – just his basic presence, no extras – to strangers in Tokyo, being paid only travel expenses to do nothing, or more accurately next-to-nothing, from waiting in queues to watching people work. The book, he explains in the foreword, is the fruit of conversations with a writer, S (‘not a particular fan of Rental Person’), and an editor, T. Morimoto just ‘watched with interest and surprise as this book developed’.

There’s plenty of interest and surprise for readers, as well as the not-writer, though not in the prose. This is a flat-as-a-pancake read, the kind of thing you could safely recommend to someone whose first language is not English. But that means there’s nothing between you and the plainly told stories, each a gripping vignette of human weirdness and vulnerability.

Rental Person’s clients hire him for company, moral support or accountability; because they need an impassive confidant or an impartial witness. Mostly it’s low-stakes stuff, funny and odd. Morimoto accompanies a woman to collect her laundry from an intimidating neighbour, watches a man cross a marathon finish line, and is asked to engineer a meeting with, and make a fuss of, an attention-seeking dog. But even the ostensibly cheery has a ripple of pathos running through it. He eats an ice cream soda with one man because it’s an awkward thing for a man to do alone; a woman who chooses to wear a homemade boar costume and dance to greet commuters in the park most days asks him to join her, because ‘I do feel a bit lonely performing like that’.

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