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The concept of family is fundamental to every society. Yet for many people, geographical or emotional distance may make family unavailable when needed. Estrangement and abuse unravel many family bonds. Death leaves voids in families that can never be filled. In Japan, however, a remarkable business makes it easier for families to feel complete: you can hire a replacement family member to fill in for the absent person.

Companies have sprung up to provide friends and family — for a fee. Rental fathers can be hired to walk a bride down the aisle, impersonate a father for children being raised by single-mothers, appear at public events, or provide fatherly advice. Men or women can be hired to play the role of romantic partner for family events for gay people who aren’t ready to come out. Other rental people simply provide a few hours of conversation or companionship. The relationships can be lengthy and ongoing.  

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