The kawaii singularity is near: robots too cute to resist.
In February we were exploring an upper floor of 3331 Arts Chiyoda (map), a creative space in the old Rensei Junior High. The halls were silent, well-insulated from the first-floor crowd. We almost returned downstairs when we noticed activity in one of the classrooms. It looked like an adult-education class: men and women of various ages filling the seats, the sensei at front. But one thing stood out: robots!
Several Pepper customer service robots stood attentively at the front of the class.
At back were the troublemakers, just like a human classroom.
Pepper may be the most famous robot with a steady job. Or could it be Paro パロ, the therapy seal? Paro seems a fine companion for the woman interviewed below; she’s been a widow for over 70 years, having lost her husband in WW2.
Then there’s PALRO パルロ, a pint-sized bot whose song-and-dance routine is closely mimicked by residents in a nursing home.
One women says PALRO reminds her of her children, and also that it encourages her to talk more.
Will the use of elder-care robots expand to other countries? Or is it just that Japan is perfectly primed to accept these cute creatures, the result of kawaii culture and a history of lovable robots like Astro Boy and Doraemon?
Either way, it’s fortunate that Japan’s elderly are starting to embrace these unusual caregivers, given the country’s rapidly aging population.
Exterior of 3331 Arts Chiyoda