Robots and pensioners to the rescue

A greying population finds a silver lining to the economic storm clouds. Joji Sakurai looks at how Japanese society is adapting to changing times

The World Today
6 minute READ

Joji Sakurai

Former correspondent and editor, Associated Press

Six years after Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, a manga cartoonist invented a robot hero who would embody the hopes, ambitions and fears of a nation struggling to rebuild itself. Today he still captures Japan’s experience as it faces daunting new challenges.

Astro Boy is set in the early 21st century and envisions a world in which humans and robots co-exist. Instead of being scary, the robots are mostly friendly, and can ‘talk, get mad and laugh just like humans’, even as they toil to plug labour shortages. The hero is a humanoid robot, Atom, who looks exactly like a sweet little boy.

The robot attends school, lives with doting parents, obediently serves tea to the elderly – and in his free time sets off on adventures to save Japan. Rather ambiguously for a society devastated by atomic bombs, Atom is powered by nuclear energy – underscoring Japan’s eternal dialectic of faith and fear regarding advanced technology.

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