Digital Transformation

Three Reasons Why Japan Will Lead the Way in Personal Robots

I recently finished reading, “The Industries of the Future” by Alec Ross and I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone who currently works in technology or who has children who are preparing for their future careers.

We are embarking on an entirely new age for work and human experience. As Ross says, “Our most valued commodities have gone from salt and sugar to chemicals and fuels to data and services.” Highly valued trade between countries is no longer based on just physical goods. The future will be owned by those who advance quickest in the data and technology fields.

He mentions five key industries for the future:

  • Robotics
  • Advanced Life Sciences
  • The Code-ification of Money
  • Cybersecurity
  • Big Data

Today, we are going to talk about robotics and why all signs point to Japan as the most fertile ground for robots to grow and thrive due to a unique combination of cultural attributes.

While most new technologies are adopted by younger consumers first, “robots will be the rare technology that reaches the mainstream through elderly users first, spreading down as grandma shows off her next cutting-edge gadget for the kids and grandkids.”

The reason for this lies with a unique combination of factors that can be found exclusively in Japan.

First up: The Female Workforce

The Japanese business culture can often involve long hours and after-hours socializing. Once women have their first child, it can be challenging to juggle long hours alongside child rearing. So, while it is technically possible to work and care for children, many women are choosing one or the other. Often times, they are choosing a career over children. This leads to a declining population of young people to care for an aging generation that is living longer than ever.

Next up: Immigration

A declining population can generally be offset by foreign workers, but Japan has a very low percentage of foreign residents.

As of 2013, foreign residents accounted for just 1.5% of the population. Compare this to the 13.1% foreign residents in the United States and you can clearly see that there is a population gap in Japan that needs to be filled in order to care for an aging population.

What does this have to do with robots?


Finally: Religion

“The ancient Shinto religion, practiced by 80 percent of Japanese, includes a belief in animism, which holds that both objects and human being have spirits. As a result, Japanese culture tends to be more accepting of robot companions as actual companions than is Western culture, which views robots as soulless machines.”

And this is why Japan will lead the way in robotics. Necessity is the mother of invention and while Japan’s population gap is creating a great demand for someone to take care of them as they age, their citizens are rolling out the red carpet for these new “people.”

While the U.S. looks at robots as intruders and threats, Japan looks at robots as a welcome addition. What U.S. workers see as a job stealer, the Japanese see as a problem solver. What the U.S. sees as cold and inhuman, Japan sees as valued companions.

Grandma is going to be the first one to have a robot in her house and the grandkids, no doubt,  will want one too.

More Than Just Caregivers

While caregiving is going to be a massive industry in Japan, we are going to see robotics taking over jobs that we thought were “safe,” such as lawyers, financial investors or bus drivers.

“About 70 percent of total robot sales take place in Japan, China, the United States, South Korea, and Germany – known as the ‘big five’ in robotics.”

What else can we expect from these digital workers? I’ll be taking a glimpse into the vehicles of our future in my next post.





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Sharon Suchoval

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