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January 18, 2005

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» The Long Tail: What is it with the Japanese and robots? from Jake Savage
Instapundit links to a post on the Japanese obsession with robots. I tend to think that the author's third explanation of this phenomenon is closest to the truth, a case of art influencing culture. But the author also includes this [Read More]

» I, For One, Welcome Our New Robotic Servants from Les Jones
Chris Anderson asks What is it with the Japanese and robots? Interesting stuff if you're a Japanophile. This reminds me of something I keep meaning to do. Why call a dishwasher a dishwashing machine? I want to call mine a dishwashing robot. That's more... [Read More]

Comments

BigFire

I guess you have never watch a single episode of Gundam? Robots in popular culture has always been big in Japan. It's a simple accepted fact.

Michelle Y.

They also have old people standing outside parking garages, whose only job is to wave you inside. Sort of hazardous, if you ask me.

David Ross

Well, they've got to have *something* to fight off all those 110-ft mutated iguanas with.

daniel

One reason too might be that the people don't experience much freedom here (Japan), so don't feel threatened by a machine that is directly controlled by someone. Movies from freedom-loving America tend to portray machines breaking loose and exploring their freedom - with disastrous results.

If you saw women bowing in elevators, you should take a picture, because that custom has almost died out. Just after the bubble burst in '91, they still extolled the "wasteful nicities" in society. They don't much anymore.

Sigivald

We need bowing robots and girl bartenders, I say.

Todd Gibson

I love that beer machine! I saw it in the lounge at Narita a couple years ago and talk about it all the time. You don't know how happy it makes me to have a video of it.

Steven H.

BigFire is correct--Gundam, Aura Battler Dunbine, Macross, Evangelion, etc. Japanese boys have been dreaming of piloting their own robots since the RX-78 rose out of its trailer sometime around 1978.

Jeremy

Not just the Japanese. Everyone loves Robots.

They just really really love them.

Libertarian Girl

I'd like one of those cute robot dogs. As long as I don't have to program it.

triticale

And how could programming a robot possibly be worse than training a live canine?

JayeRandom

I can't really pin down the Japanese interest in robots per se, but the origin of the Giant Robot is fairly obvious.

The Giant Robot, like most of Japanese modern pop culture, is rooted in the national experience of being the only country that was attacked with unanswerable nuclear weapons and then promptly demilitarized, after having had a strong warrior culture for centuries.

Young Japanese men these days are the products of decades of impotent power-fantasizing. They created the Japanese market for mecha, Dragon Ball Z, Airsoft, and rape videos, to name a few examples. I fear a horrible explosion of transnational state violence out of them if they ever seize power from the old men.

Shannon Love

Actually, the Japanese love of giant fighting robots (mecha) probably has deep culture roots in their love of pre-industrial suits of armor. The Japanese maintained intact suits of armor and passed them down within families the same way Europeans passed down swords and or heraldic devices. In many traditional stories the suits of armor contained spirits and could sometimes move. It is a short jump from those stories of armor to anamorphic robots.

Chris

If you want to see girls bowing to elevators, check out the Imperial Hotel. No robots there though (that I know of) ...

smantix

Echoing jayerandom.

I, for one, am wary of our potential robot overlords.

You don't have to show respect to a robot and that's a big thing in their culture.

Previously they have focused their efforts on creating the perfectly sexy toilet so I have some inkling of where this whole robot thing may be going. Needless to say, hopefully elevators will be all the women have to bow to in the future instead of say, robots with tentacles.

Some Guy

One shouldn't focus too much on trying to understand a culture that can put up a giant statue on the top of a department store of a crucified Santa Claus. If you ever got too close to understanding it, your head would probably explode.

Me

Are you sure there was a crucified Santa Claus?

http://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/cross.asp

submandave

The crucified Santa story is a cute one, but here in Tennessee I have personally seen front-lawn full size Nativity scenes that include Santa Clause kneeling in prayer before the baby Jesus.

Holy mixing metaphores, Batman!

big dirigible

Libertarian Girl didn't say that programming a robot would be worse than training a live canine. Her statement could be read to imply that she doesn't have a live one, either.

These Japanese "robots" - the ones you see in the news - aren't robots in any useful sense. They're more like wind-up toys. You don't have to wind them up, but they can only perform a limited repertoire of tricks. And we have the strange subset of Japanese "robots" that don't do anything at all - they just lie there, but they "look" robotic, which seems to be the important part. (I have an old example here, but there's no English whatever on the box, so I can't type the name in ASCII.) The whole "robot" thing reminds me of Artificial Intelligence. When I was in school, Marvin Minsky and those guys really thought they'd have the problem of artificial intelligence solved in about fifteen years. I was just a lowly undergrad, but I suspected they'd underestimated the magnitude of the problem by a factor of at least a thousand. Sure enough, twenty years later thay'd made no useful progress. The solution - genius! - redefine "articifial intelligence" into something like an HTML version of Gray's Anatomy. Ta-da, problem solved. Some sensible person later redefined those as "expert systems," which I suppose is better, primarily by virtue of being more mysterious.

The Japanese have been making mechanical toys since long before they called them "robots." A Japanese company, Tomy, cranks out some terrific stuff, but they're not a world power because their distribution sucks. I wouldn't say the programming comes into it in any significant way - not like programming an indistrial robot to stuff circuit boards or paint trucks.

I suspect that the robot dominance of Japanese cartoons was an easy way out of that trap they're mired in - the one in which it's de rigeur to draw all human characters with balloon-like heads and enormous eyes.

Jon Acheson

For an interesting, if slightly dated read on the cultural background behind Japan's robot mania, I recommend Frederik Schodt's Inside the Robot Kingdom: Japan, Mechatronics and the Coming Robotopia (Kodansha, 1990). Despite the gonzo title, it's a good and insightful read.

silpol

Some time ago I had watched TV show (was it BBC World?), where they presented japanese case on use robots in personal care about elderly people. I don't recall whether it was research project, or low-scale real life use. What I clearly remember that they were using soft toys (dogs and cats) to put inside quit simple functionality: owner should touch it time to time, so there is sign that owner is still alive and kicking; the toy was making semi-random "speeches" (slightly adopted to context like morning or evening or time to have a lunch), to make soft reminders to touch it; and there was small button-like thin inside which activates dedicated mobile line "call the nurse".

Kirk

Long tail of the monkey - If like me you believe that we're hair deficient apes and that gorilla babies have been shown to do well with fuzzy stuffed animals as parents instead of the real thing then it stands to reason that our innate "need" for intimacy could be addressed with fuzzy stuffed robots.

misutaa robaato

Scarily realistic. Even puts too much foam on top - just like an actual Japanese bartender!

Dimitar Vesselinov

Where is the Robot-Valley?
Osaka Emerging as Robot City
"A new Straits Times article says there are 154 firms in Osaka, Japan with robotics-related patents and many more working on robotics technology. The city has become the center of robot technology in Japan and possibly the world. Japan expects to be the world leader in the production of next-generations robots, a market projected to be $46 billion by 2010. Osaka is also hosting a RoboCup competition this month."
http://divedi.blogspot.com/2004/10/where-is-robot-valley.html


Anime and Robotics: A Symbiotic Relationship
"The end of World War II and the subsequent evolution of technology has caused pop culture to become pervasive in every facet of modern-day society; from television to cinema and magazines to the exponentially-growing World Wide Web. Within Japanese pop culture, anime has become progressively more influential and commands true worldwide recognition since the Oscar-winning production, Spirited Away.

Similarly, in recent decades, the field of robotics has also been spurred on by technological advances, and is becoming increasingly prevalent within society, industry and our homes. While robotics and anime have originated in very different ways, as both advance they are forming a unique and multi-faceted symbiosis."
http://www.generation5.org/content/2004/anime-robotics.asp

swingers photo

lol they do like robots a little to much

Garth Wallace

Not too ironic...the one thing Japan loves more than robots is young, pretty, subservient women.

monday

i will like to come over to japan to visit the world expo robot scene in aichi japan pls give me procedures on how to do that thankssssssssss.

Airsoft Guns

I love it ...with that tail it widen my knowledge....thanks.....

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Tidbits

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

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