Every few months, Japan is introduced to the latest robot destined for a career of cheerful toil in the country’s growing network of nursing homes. The machines that make it on to the evening news are the eye-catchers: exoskeletons, internet-of-things gizmos, humanoid or animal-shaped robots.
Their dual purpose, at this point, is not just to serve the elderly but to convince the Japanese public as a whole that the nation has what it takes to fight its growing demographic crisis with technology.
A quarter of Japan’s population is already over 65 and the working-age population is shrinking at a rate of 1 per cent a year. The government’s estimate is that the country will need 2.5m skilled care workers by 2025 but will experience a shortfall of 380,000.
That calculation has always looked grim as long as mass immigration remains off the table.