Japan Brings on the Bots!
Population: 126.3 million
Christian: 2.2 percent
Dominant religion: Shintoism
Japan is a nation in a self-inflicted crisis. They experienced a baby boom after losing a high percentage of their population during WWII. Their population and economy recovered well during the 1950s and 60s. Those baby boomers are now in retirement age. The Japanese are famous for their longevity, and people often live well into their 80s and beyond. So far, so good.
The problem lies in not having enough people to replace retirees. No longer are the Japanese content with the old gender roles where the husband is the breadwinner, and the wife is a glorified house servant who also produces and raises children. Women are a strong part of the workforce, but the rules of work remain the same. Everyone is expected to work extremely long hours. When the wife returns home, she must tend to household needs and make sure the children become “successful.” Being a “tiger mom” takes time. Employers are not sympathetic to men who want to spend more time with their children. With the Japanese economy remaining stagnant since the 1990s, men are often either unemployed or underemployed. Fewer get married. Couples that do get married often live far from extended families that once helped with childcare.
As a result, there is a low percentage of children and young adults in the population. Those over 65 now make up 29 percent of Japan’s population, far higher than even the second-place nation, Italy. Five years ago, Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe described the situation as Japan’s greatest challenge since the late 1800s. Experts expect the situation to rapidly accelerate. Who is going to take care of the elderly when they make up a higher and higher percentage of the population?
One answer is to allow “guest workers” from other countries to fill the void. Japan has a long history of not accepting foreigners to live in their country. However, they are taking small steps to allow guest workers, but it isn’t expected that this idea will go very far in Japanese society.
Another answer comes from Japan’s android industry. Unlike Westerners, who view androids as dangerous and creepy, the Japanese view them as “cute”. Androids are welcome in this Shintoism culture, where people believe inanimate objects have souls. Some believe androids and bots will provide meaningful solutions while others cite problems. Androids that care for needs such as bathing, eating, and entertainment are extremely expensive. Only high-end retirement homes can afford them. The time needed for setup is also prohibitive. In fairness to the emerging android industry, essential improvements take decades, just like they did in the automobile industry.
There are no clear answers to Japan’s aging issues. It will take important worldview changes for them to allow children and the elderly space in their productivity-oriented culture.
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