Japan is a country that has long been synonymous with technology thanks to its high-speed bullet trains, futuristic cities and love of robots. While many western nations still view automation with fear and suspicion, Japan is using it to power its economy and support an ageing, shrinking workforce.
It’s understood that most Japanese people view robots not as soulless, sinister threats to human jobs – but as fascinating, efficient and even cute. This sentiment has perhaps been crucial in allowing Japan to establish itself as being ahead of the technological curve.
Below we explore the role of Japanese automation both internationally and domestically, and consider what lessons western nations can learn from their eastern counterparts.
A dominant global player
It’s no secret that Japan is a global technological leader. As well as supplying common factory automation systems such as strain gauges, over half of the world’s industrial robots are produced here. Those that aren’t are highly likely to include Japanese components too.
These trends are nothing new, however. The rise of Japan’s automotive and electronic industries went hand-in-hand with the adoption of industrial robots over five decades ago, leading to increasingly cost-competitive output of an ever more consistent quality.
Today the likes of Germany, the United States and South Korea are all significant exporters of robotics, yet Japan is still a leader in both production and industrial use.
Putting robots to work
Automation has traditionally been consigned to manufacturing applications. But with less human workers to choose from year after year, Japan is now putting robots to use in different settings including healthcare, hospitality, retail and education.
Far more than touristic gimmicks, notable examples include robots supporting care home staff by leading group exercises and helping patients in and out of bed.
Robots are also offering additional eyes to security teams and teaching Japanese students English, while automated butlers are taking care of household chores. Where else will we see robots be rolled out?
What the western world can learn from Japan
Japan is not the only country facing an ageing population, of course. Low birth rates and higher life expectancy are reshaping much of Europe’s population, combined with nation-wide ‘brain drains’ as young professionals seek better opportunities elsewhere.
Such nations would do well to observe Japan’s successful adoption of automation in combatting such problems. Many Japanese firms are using robotic colleagues as selling points for new recruits, while the government’s commitment to investment in robotics shows no sign of faltering.
Will it be long before the west shifts its mindset and wakes up to the power of robotics?