Perplexed at why many of their rental car bookings were not racking up any mileage, Japanese rental firms were taken aback to discover that many of their customers are simply using the vehicles as a quiet, private place to escape from the pressures of daily life.

Instead of using the car they have booked to get from point A to point B, many customers just want a private space for an hour or so, the Asahi newspaper reported.

Orix Auto Corp and Times24 Co, two of Japan's largest rental car firms, realised last summer that as many as one in eight of their hire cars were not actually travelling anywhere after being reserved and paid for.

A survey of users showed that some were booking a car so they could have a nap during their lunch break, away from the disapproving scrutiny of their bosses.

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One businessman admitted that he preferred to work from the car and would set up an "office" in the front seat.

Another user left bags in a rental car when he could not find a coin locker in a railway station and needed somewhere to leave his luggage.

One harassed man said he hired a car so he could sit and eat his packed lunch in peace as he could not find anywhere else to sit.

Most of the non-driving car users said they chose to hire a vehicle because they were comfortable and cheap — a mere ¥400 ($5.50) for 30 minutes — and available 24 hours a day, while even small railway stations now have unmanned rental car parking areas where anyone can reserve and pay for a vehicle through their mobile phone.

A similar study by NTT Docomo, which also operates a car hire service, found that while most people who did not drive the vehicle anywhere were using the space for a nap, others also wanted to use them as a place to meet friends for a chat or as a quiet place to watch television.

More one-off reasons included to get changed to attend a Halloween party, to practise karaoke, for an English-language class and even to do facial stretches in private, NTT said.