In Japan, you can hire someone to do your gardening, fix your water pipes and sewage tanks, clean your house, and pack and move the entire contents of your house.
There are plenty of companies that specialize in each of these tasks, but the trend in recent years has been for companies to offer a broader range of handyman and other services at hourly rates any time of the day and week (including weekends and holidays), with additional charges for transportation and type of work. The amount this new breed of entrepreneurs charges still adds up to far less than what specialist companies bill for similar jobs.
Companies like Neko-no-te (Cat’s Paw)—the name derives from a saying that one is so busy that even a helping hand from a cat is welcome—in Kyoto and other parts of Japan are thriving in their niche of flexible-time/flexible-services. Most of their branch operations are small: a computer system for accounting, a few landline phones, and a few employees with their own cars and mobile phones and toolboxes. But many of their workers take pride in their certifications in electrical repair and plumbing, and take even more pride in being able to help people out in whatever way they can.
And the emphasis is really on “whatever you need.” A TV program recently featured these companies and the things they can and will do for their clients. Here are just some of the services they provide:
1 install your new ceiling light
2 trap the rat hiding in your ceiling and dispose of it
3 install an electrical plug in your bathroom for the new Toto washlet (and since the installment is finished before the hour is up, hang a painting on the wall for you and tighten the screws on the safety rail in your vestibule)
4 come to your house at 1:30 a.m. to fix the airconditioning unit that has suddenly fallen off the wall
5 do house “reform” by remodeling your room, putting in new wallpaper and flooring
6 move a fallen tree and a 2.5 ton rock out of your garden, even if it takes five workers to do so
7 babysit your two kids for more than three hours
8 find your missing cat or parakeet (even if the pet has been gone for more than a year!)
9 clean the house that you, a mother of two, have not cleaned in years—we’re talking about toilet paper rolls piled up on the toilet floor, bathroom tiles black with mold, mounds of dirty dishes and bamboo chopsticks in the sink, the entire floor space of the apartment choked with plastic bags of clothes, garbage, and whatnots
10 do 9 and make sure to retrieve from the trash, catalogue and store, and give back to you your genuine-pearl earring, your album of photographs, your kids’ crayon drawings, your Louis Vuitton purse, and 1500+ yen in bills and coins
11 do 9 without batting an eyelash or passing judgment, rating the state of disarray, on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the filthiest, a mere 2
12 bill you 162,000 yen for 9 and 10, giving you and your children back an apartment that looks brand new and, more important, a fresh start at life
13 bring you, a single mother, out on a Saturday date, take you to your favorite bar and yakiniku barbecue restaurant, and even grill and serve the beef and vegetables for you (the bill is about 20,000 yen, excluding food and drinks)
14 take you, an old woman, out for a hanami picnic to see the sakura cherry blossoms and drive you home safely (will also do your shopping for you on request)
15 deliver the love letter that you, an old man, have written to a woman you have fallen in love with but don’t have the courage to approach (the company man will even bring his wife with him to lend some decorum to the meeting, even though, alas, the object of affection declines to meet with the author of the love letter)
16 pretend to be your mother while you take “sick” leave and go abroad on vacation
17 “be” your father for an hour and talk and listen to you when you, newly moved to the big city, are lonely
Item 16 is borderline illegal, but as long as the service does not include contract killing or paid sex, these companies will do whatever you ask them to do.
Note: This essay was originally published in “Letters to Narcissus”