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Japanese will use robot labor, not immigrant labor

January 7th, 2006 . by Matt

japanese robot

An interesting article in the economist describes how Japanese are rejecting migrant laborers and instead are developing high technology for the unskilled jobs that migrants living in western countries do.

HER name is MARIE, and her impressive set of skills comes in handy in a nursing home. MARIE can walk around under her own power. She can distinguish among similar-looking objects, such as different bottles of medicine, and has a delicate enough touch to work with frail patients. MARIE can interpret a range of facial expressions and gestures, and respond in ways that suggest compassion. Although her language skills are not ideal, she can recognise speech and respond clearly. Above all, she is inexpensive . Unfortunately for MARIE, however, she has one glaring trait that makes it hard for Japanese patients to accept her: she is a flesh-and-blood human being from the Philippines. If only she were a robot instead.

Robots, you see, are wonderful creatures, as many a Japanese will tell you. They are getting more adept all the time, and before too long will be able to do cheaply and easily many tasks that human workers do now. They will care for the sick, collect the rubbish, guard homes and offices, and give directions on the street.

This is great news in Japan, where the population has peaked, and may have begun shrinking in 2005. With too few young workers supporting an ageing population, somebody—or something—needs to fill the gap, especially since many of Japan’s young people will be needed in science, business and other creative or knowledge-intensive jobs.

Many workers from low-wage countries are eager to work in Japan. The Philippines, for example, has over 350,000 trained nurses, and has been pleading with Japan—which accepts only a token few—to let more in. Foreign pundits keep telling Japan to do itself a favour and make better use of cheap imported labour. But the consensus among Japanese is that visions of a future in which immigrant workers live harmoniously and unobtrusively in Japan are pure fancy. Making humanoid robots is clearly the simple and practical way to go.

Japan certainly has the technology. It is already the world leader in making industrial robots, which look nothing like pets or people but increasingly do much of the work in its factories. Japan is also racing far ahead of other countries in developing robots with more human features, or that can interact more easily with people. A government report released this May estimated that the market for “service robots” will reach ¥1.1 trillion ($10 billion) within a decade.

It seems like a good idea to rely on robot labor rather than immigrant labor. The experience of the west shows that immigrants will probably feel discriminated against regardless of what policies the government has, and once the need for the unskilled labor is gone, the immigrants will remain, unskilled, jobless and reliant on social welfare to survive. Indeed, it was thought that immigrants were needed to run the textile mills in Britain but soon after a great many immigrants arrived, the mills closed down, leaving tens of thousands of immigrants unemployed. Years later, this lead to the Oldham riots. Since immigrants cannot be dismantled when they are no longer useful like robots, it seems wiser to use robots instead.

Have a read of the article.


25 Responses to “Japanese will use robot labor, not immigrant labor”

  1. comment number 1 by: darintenb

    It seems like a good idea to rely on robot labor rather than immigrant labor.

    Saying something like that is just asking for trouble… hehe.. During the bubble Japan’s policy was to ignore illegal imigrants because they did the dirty manual labor jobs that no decent Japanese person would want, but as soon as the bubble burst, the government went around rounding up as many of those job stealers as soon as the superior Japanese needed any job they could get. It wasn’t a pretty time.

    I believe that Japan will attempt to fill the gaps in the population with programs to bring back all the citizens it lost to South America after WW2. They’ve been working on it for a while, and the Nikkei-jin population is growing, and even though they are putting laws in place to keep the bad ones out (like they always should have in the first place), the bottom line remains that there are millions of good people that have pure or at least some Japanese blood in them. The nikkei-jin only need to be reprogrammed while us gaijin will always be different.

    In Okinawa, the push to bring back people is huge. Every shi/cho has at least 1 kennsyuusei either in school or working (free to the company of course) at any given time. The idea is that they will go back to their country, gather up their families to apply for teijyuu visa’s and they can all work in the factories as one big happy oppressed family. But their children and children’s children will go through to education system and be reprogramed to be perfect little ants.

  2. comment number 2 by: darintenb

    Oh, my major reasoning for why I think robots wont be chosen over nikkei-jin is robots don’t pay taxes.

  3. comment number 3 by: Schopenhauer

    darintenb Said:
    “During the bubble Japan’s policy was to ignore illegal imigrants because they did the dirty manual labor jobs that no decent Japanese person would want, but as soon as the bubble burst, the government went around rounding up as many of those job stealers as soon as the superior Japanese needed any job they could get. It wasn’t a pretty time.”

    I am just wondering what your data is on this? As far as I can tell, the number of Illegal foreign workers, (although it decreased from 2001 to 2003) has not changed signifigantly. In 1995 there were 49,434 suspected illegal workers, and in 2004 there were 43,059 suspected illegal workers. In fact the numer of workers that have come into Japan legally to find work has been on a constant increase. In 1995 there were only 81,508, and by 2004 that number had risen to 158,877 people, a record level. So it looks like they are doing a lousy job of throwing everybody out, as you seem to suggest.

    “Oh, my major reasoning for why I think robots wont be chosen over nikkei-jin is robots don’t pay taxes. ”

    I dont think illegal workers pay taxes either, but you seem to suggest that the govermnment purposely turned a blind eye to them.

  4. comment number 4 by: darintenb

    1) Yes, illegal workers pay taxes. They pay rent don’t they? They buy food don’t they?
    2) I’ll find some news paper articles from that time frame for you. The general public opinion (I wasn’t here then, but from what I can gather from reading news paper articles and editorials from the time) was just as I said it was, and accordingly, the government did turn a blind eye.

  5. comment number 5 by: darintenb

    3) Nikkei-jin aren’t illegal workers

  6. comment number 6 by: darintenb

    What I was saying is that during the bubble, it was illegal immigrant labor that was used. In 1990 (I think that’s when it was), the current laws for nikkei-jin were passed. Since then there has been a steady increase of numbers of nikkei-jin. I believe that this time around nikkei-jin will be used like illegal workers were in the bubble, and they will also be used to fill the whole in the population because they at least have some Japanese blood.
    Also, nikkei-jin aren’t counted in statistics as gaijin, but nikkeijin or teijyuu because they hold resident visa’s, not gaijin visa and accordingly have zero restrictions on what they can and can’t do.

  7. comment number 7 by: ponta

    With or wihout illegal workers, Japanese have loved robots since Tezuka created astro boy.
    http://images.search.yahoo.co.jp/bin/query?p=astroboy&n=5&b=1&c=image&rh=20&d=1&to=3
    Japanese loves a robot to such an extent that they even created this kind of robot.
    http://images.search.yahoo.co.jp/bin/query?p=astroboy&n=5&b=1&c=image&rh=20&d=1&to=3
    Joking aside,
    ” They pay rent don’t they? They buy food don’t they?” Minor correction,
    when people buy food and pay rent, they don’t pay cosumption taxes, it is the shoppers and landlord who pay taxes to the government.

  8. comment number 8 by: ponta

    →Japanese loves a robot to such an extent that they even created this kind of robot.
    http://www.wordpress.tokyotimes.org/?p=702
    Joking asid・・・・

  9. comment number 9 by: darintenb

    “it is the shoppers and landlord who pay taxes to the government” .. who pass the taxes on to the renter and the buyer of products. On a side note for anyone who’s not in Japan, as of 2003/01/01 (I think it was ’03, maybe ’04) all consumption is included in the sticker price. It’s really super convenient and I wish more places (like America.. with silly tax numbers like 5.055% where I’m from) did it.

    Found something on wikipedia “here”:http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%A4%96%E5%9B%BD%E4%BA%BA%E5%8A%B4%E5%83%8D%E8%80%85#.E6.97.A5.E6.9C.AC.E3.81.AB.E3.81.8A.E3.81.91.E3.82.8B.E7.8A.B6.E6.B3.81

    (not a complete translation, but a translation/recap mix)
    Basically, as the general population got better educated in the 80’s and the society matured, it became taboo to work in the 3 K’s (きつい kitsui tough/strenuous・汚い kitanai dirty・危険 kiken dangersou) jobs, and manual laborers become in short supply. While in the 70’s everyone was going to work in oil countries, in the 80’s the oil money was drying up and people set their sights on Japan. It started with Filipino and Thai women working in brothels, but also Nikkei-jin from South America, as well as Pakistanis, Bangladesh, and Iranians came too in the 80’s. Because Japan had no law in place to accept unskilled workers, many came on tourist or entertainment visa’s, overstayed, and worked in the construction business. When the boom of gaijin was in full swing, there was much debate over closing the country off to them or opening the doors. (Kick ’em out because they’re illegal, or let them stay to do those 3 K jobs we don’t want) In the end, it was decided to allow specialized gaijin into the country, but restrict (but not completely ban) non-skilled workers. This was 1990 when the bubble was already bursting, and the during the last 5-10 years everyone was debating about what to do rather then actually doing something about it, effectively just letting the illegal gaijin work. At the same time the decision about gaijin was made, the law that allows 2nd and 3rd generation nikkei-jin to come and work as they please was also put into place. (As well as the kensyuu system which I mentioned before is being used a lot here in Okinawa.) Before this time, there was no distinction made between nikkei-jin and regular old gaijin. In 1993, a system to allow training in specialized fields was put in place, but the time period was limited to 1 year. (Later changed to 2 years.)

    So, that’s a recap of what was going on during the bubble in terms of foreign workers. Came in on tourist visa’s, overstayed, worked in construction. Bubble bursts, more restrictions are place on unskilled workers, but at the same time people with Japanese blood are welcomed. Based on newspaper articles I’ve seen from the time, there were plenty of people pushing to just let the gaijin stay and do the 3 K jobs, at least enough to prevent any legislation being passed until it really was time to get rid of them for the sake of the Japanese people themselves.

    I’d like to show you newspaper and journal articles from the time, but I can’t find any online. The ones I saw were photocopies of my teachers own collection. I’ll see if I can find more about the debate on what to do with them during the 80’s.

  10. comment number 10 by: darintenb

    Sorry about that url, I thought you’d have texlism or whatever it’s called installed 🙁

    http://tinyurl.com/dzz4u

  11. comment number 11 by: ponta

    “who pass the taxes on to the renter and the buyer of products”
    .My boss pay me my salary, but he does not pay my income tax.But I understand your point.
    Even illegal workers contribute to the Japanese taxes indirect way to some extent though they do not pay income taxes and other taxes which any legal workers are supposed to pay.Am I right?

    On the whole issue, my opinions are
    1)Japan should be more open to skilled workers and intellectuals.
    2)Japan should use robots for a simple labour rather than employing workers abroad.
    3)Japanese government might have been late responding to the issue of illegal workers in Japan but she was not intentional:she is always late in facing any kind of political and social issues.

  12. comment number 12 by: darintenb

    well.. if you’re a legal worker, your boss should be deducting money from every paycheck to pay taxes with.. if that’s not the case, your boss is in trouble. (every job i’ve ever had has deducted taxes) employers of illegal workers probably wont take out taxes (and shouldn’t if they don’t want to get caught), but with the change in the immigration law in 1990, nikkei-jin are no longer foreigners (legally), and could never be illegal workers, so the employer would only be putting their neck on the line by not taking out taxes when they have an otherwise completely legal worker. which is why i think this time around instead of illegal workers, nikkei-jin will be [ab]used. they’re legal, but will still do the bad jobs (and you can still abuse them because they stereotypically can’t speak japanese and can’t use the legal system)

    i think japan is doing good in terms of being open to skilled workers, but the same can not be said for intellectuals in the academic field. they don’t want teachers of any kind to stick around long. with that kind of attitude, anyone who’s actually got smarts will have many better opportunities in other countries, so japan gets stuck with the bottom of the barrel.

    i don’t think any country wants to employe workers abroad, i think the issue is will robots be used to combat the lack of people, or will non-japanese be used.

  13. comment number 13 by: Schopenhauer

    darintenb Said:

    January 7, 2006 at 11:06 pm

    3) Nikkei-jin aren’t illegal workers

    Yes, this is without a doubt true. I was simply suggesting here that you think they will use people because then they can get the cash from taxes, but then previously stated that they used illegal workers even though though the amount of “taxes” that one can claim comes from them is negligable. In fact robot workers, if they can get them are far more effective and cheap than regular workers, or nikkei-jin from South America if only for one reason they dont have to worry about some kind of benifits or taking care of them much. Also they can be worked all day and will never complain. Robots are ideal if they can get them to work that well.

    “and accordingly, the government did turn a blind eye. ”

    I am sure they did. Just about every government around the world does, and a prime example of that is the American government.

    However, by describing the plight are you suggesting that we should have only sympathy for workers that are in Japan illegally? To say that they were only used is a one sided approach. They came for the money, and they most likely sent it back to their families when they got it. A country must react to economic changes and give its own citizens jobs. Illegal immigration is mostly good for big corporations, because they can pay small wages and reap great benifits, while at the same time pushing down wages across the board. Do you think that the government reacted inapproprately? I would still like the numbers too, if you have them, on the amount of illegal workers from the time you are speaking of.

    What seems to be getting to you however, is the sudden change of seperating nikkei-jin from “regular” foreigners. Other nations do have this policy. Do you object to the Israels policy of “the right of return”? Its not only Israel, Armenia, Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Greece, India, and Ireland all have similar policies.

    I dont know which route Japan will take, but I very much hope that they choose robots. Not because I dont want foreign workers, but because a mechanical world of willing mindless slaves is so appealing. Its high time people just stopped doing work anyway, and this is the first step. Japan must lead the world into the future, where people are not just cogs in a machine but can live their life of bordom or study or self improvement or whatever they choose. If that brings the end of humans, well then perhaps we were never made for this world anyway. Humans have been endangered for quite a while anyway, and there are very few of them left. People are already effectively cyborgs, using machine enhancements at all times and in all ways. Calculators for math, computers for planning, cars for traveling, phones for communication, television for news and entertainment. Machines are part of our lives, part of us and there is no longer any way to escape it.

  14. comment number 14 by: Schopenhauer

    Sorry, I just looked at the web page on Wikipedia that you gave, and noticed the graph on it. And just as I had guessed, the number of Illegal workers has not changed that much at all, in fact there is a dramatic increase from 1990 to 1992. So the statement “the government went around rounding up as many of those job stealers as soon as the superior Japanese needed any job they could get. It wasn’t a pretty time.” still seems somewhat unsupported.

  15. comment number 15 by: Schopenhauer

    Oh, and one more thing that I wanted to ask you, darintenb. You stated “What I was saying is that during the bubble, it was illegal immigrant labor that was used.” But the beginning of the graph (1990) you liked to shows a very small number of illegal workers, and suggests that there were really not that many illegal workers during the bubble. I was wondering if you have the data on how many illegal workers were “used”? It almost looks as if more illegal workers are being used *now*, after the bubble.

  16. comment number 16 by: ponta

    “well.. if you’re a legal worker, your boss should be deducting money from every paycheck to pay taxes with.. if that’s not the case, your boss is in trouble.”
    Your case holds true if you are an emplyee of the company, but if you are a a part time worker, or you do a job on your own, you still have to pay income tax.For instance, if you are a barbar, by cutting the hair, you earn the money, out of which you pay income taxes.But it is not adequate to say the customer pay your income tax. You pay your income tax. Besides, the consumption tax does not have to be included in the price of the commodity if the shops want to sell it at lower price.(as is the case with many discount shops).In that case, the customer does not pay a consumption tax in any sense while the shop still have to pay a consumption tax – – – But this is really a minor point.

    “nikkei-jin will be [ab]used. they’re legal, but will still do the bad jobs (and you can still abuse them because they stereotypically can’t speak japanese and can’t use the legal system)”
    In that case , the employers are illegal – – – They should be punished.

    ” think japan is doing good in terms of being open to skilled workers, but the same can not be said for intellectuals in the academic field”
    I agree. Someone called the situation “academic incest”. which is definitely in need of improvement.

    “i think the issue is will robots be used to combat the lack of people, or will non-japanese be used.”
    Right, and I think robots should be used.
    1)There is no reason against robots being used.
    2)Producing robots itself makes good bussiness.
    3)Employing unskilled workers from abroad cost a lot after all- – -social insurances and pention etc.
    4)There might be unexpected cultural frictions- – – I think specific kind of religious fundamentlism is not consistent with liberal democracy in any country.
    5)But we need to pay special considerations to those foreigners who have already established life bases in Japan.
    The other day I watched the TV program dealing with illegar workers in Japan. There was a Pakistani who brought himself to an Immigration Bureau – – -he said he did not want to hide himself anymore but he also said, in perfect Japanese, he wanted to work in Japan. The present law as it is ,it might be difficult for him to stay in Japan.I do not know what will happen to him.But he has proved himself to be a good worker, and he has children. I think we need a law protecting this kind of people.

    .

    ,

  17. comment number 17 by: darintenb

    if you’re in japan now, ask any japanese person about foreign workers during the bubble. since you clearly don’t believe me….

  18. comment number 18 by: Schopenhauer

    Sorry darintenb, I’m not trying to bully you, but I just wanted to see some numbers to support your claims. I find that many times when people talk about Japan (including Japanese people, New York Times and BBC reporters) they dont take the time to check the facts (which are available). I have found that the Japanese press is on average pretty pessimistic and defeatist about a great deal of issues (economy, yen, politics, low birth rate, the future) and sometimes its good to balance that with a little context and real statistics.

    I dont see what good it would do to ask any Japanese person, as just “any” person would most likely be uninformed. (Do you know off hand the amound of illegal immagrants in the US during the 1980’s?) I dont think I need to ask either, as my doubts seem to be supported by the facts as well, at least as far as I can tell, and I may well be wrong.

  19. comment number 19 by: Matt

    I cant say much about illegal immigration in Japan, but the main thrust of the economist article was legal immigration. Unless we are so jaded that we just expect people to immigrate illegally.

  20. comment number 20 by: nig

    Maybe they can teach them to drink sake until they fall over and frequent Russian prostitutes and there would be no need for Japanese salarymen either.

  21. comment number 21 by: ponta

    NIg
    What’s up with Russian prosititutes?
    I have never met Russian prostitues in Japan.
    I have never heard Japanese salarymen frequent Russian prostitutes either.
    Is it your preference?

    .

  22. comment number 22 by: nig

    Ponta, FYI

    http://lolainkorea.blogspot.com/2005/09/but-im-not-koreanthe-japan-trip.html

    “In 1995, 4,763 Russian women entered Japan on entertainer’s visas.”

    According to.

    http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/russia.htm

    “To our dismay we find that in Russian hotels prostitution is common and plentiful. We first encountered it in the Pacific Far East where there were swarms of Russian prostitutes and Japanese johns on sex holidays. Once these Japanese traveled to Thailand and the Philippines; today it’s to eastern Russia. In one old Intourist hotel, with but a couple of hundred rooms, six madams were needed to manage the trade.”

    from

    http://www.jimrogers.com/content/stories/articles/russia.html

  23. comment number 23 by: Schopenhauer

    Wow, way to take the dialogue down a huge notch, thanks a lot nig. I’m finished with this one, you can make childish insults all you want now.

  24. comment number 24 by: ponta

    Nig
    “I had heard that there are a lot of Russian prostitutes in Asia, and wondered about the truth of that because I do not really see them here in S. Korea. But, as soon as I arrived in Japan I realized that they are everywhere there.”
    http://lolainkorea.blogspot.com/2005/09/but-im-not-koreanthe-japan-trip.html

    You can spot a white woman in Tokyo, but you can not find them everywhere, still less Russian women Nig, you’ve been to Japan, you know it.

    “Once these Japanese traveled to Thailand and the Philippines; today it’s to eastern Russia. In one old Intourist hotel, with but a couple of hundred rooms, six madams were needed to manage the trade”

    How many Japanese do you think visit Russia? Russia is not a popular place for a travel at all.

    There might be some Russian prostitutes somewhere in Japan.There might be some Japanese bussinessman who visit Russia and goes to the brothels.But there is no evidence whatsoever to correlate Japanese businessman in general with Russian prostitutes,but you did imply it.
    I can not help but wonder what your intention is,

  25. comment number 25 by: Redskins84

    “It seems like a good idea to rely on robot labor rather than immigrant labor.”

    Did you see the one that amazing racist with the hispanic guys. Watch that if you didn’t. You might be interested in kicking out koreans and chinese immigrants by playing that kind of prank. Right? IF the immigrants stands in the street looking for jobs like the hispanics do in america. It might be different in Asian countries. Maybe you’ll just blow the whistle to the immigrant office.