Monday, March 20th, 2023

Is Japan’s future is riding on the shoulders of robots?

Image of a Neko robot waiting to service customers in a restaurant. The caption reads, 'Does Japan's future rest on the shoulders of robots?

Japan’s population woes are well documented. Too many old people. Not enough babies being born. Threat to economy. Not so much a national debt as a national mortgage.


Frankly, I don’t think we’re going to immigrate our way out of this mess. Falling population is affecting much of Asia, and Europe’s heading that way too. I think there is another way out. Or at least a way to soften the blow.

Japan’s GDP per capita is pretty much mid-table compared to the rest of the G20. There’s been investment in productivity, but nothing spectacular. And we still use fax machines.

Robots are a not uncommon sight here. They bring food to our tables and make our cars. But they’re the tip of the automation iceberg. The bits we see. From what I’ve experienced of Japanese businesses there’s a lot of potential to remove waste and inefficiency. Less things to do means fewer people needed.

Of course this is going to scare the upper echelons who have spent their careers counting the number of people they manage as part of their success. I can’t remember who said it, but someone observed many of the top managers would rather be the biggest fish in a puddle than swim in a sea.

My feeling is there is plenty of scope to reduce the demand for warm bodies at work stations, without mass unemployment, and potentially with higher standards of living. We just need to think smarter.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.