Are robots the solution to Japan’s care crisis? by Dr James Wright

Like many other post-industrial economies, Japan is in the grip of a deepening crisis as growing elder care needs outstrip the availability of caregivers. Prime Minister Kishida recently described the country as standing “on the brink of being unable to maintain its social function”. Robots have been repeatedly presented by elements of the Japanese government and industry as a high-tech solution to this problem, and large sums of money have been invested in their development and implementation over the past decade.
This talk draws on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken in Japan since 2016 at a national research institute working on the world’s largest care robot project, and at an elder care home introducing three different care robots. It examines how such robots have been developed and used, how they serve to reconfigure aspects of care work, and how they might transform the industry in the future.
When we cut through the stereotypes, myths, and techno-utopian hype about Japan’s relationship with robots and consider what ideological concerns they embody as well as their actual functionalities, the proposed robotic solution to the care crisis raises fundamental questions about the relationship between productive and reproductive labour under neoliberal capitalism, while revealing alternative possibilities for caring futures.