In Japan, Even Robots Are Affected by Continuing Job Losses

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by: Idris Mootee

Here’s the view form the 51F of Roppongi Hills Club. I have lunches with some old friends here in Tokyo and talking about the challenges technologies companies are facing here. Many things have changed since I worked here in the early 80s. One thing that has not changed here in Japan, the country still has a pretty formal attire culture for business much like London. They are slow in adopting the dressing down trend, probably 5 years behind America.

Most businessmen and women still insisted on fully suiting up despite the searing heat and enervating humidity during the summer months. Now some Japan’s office workers are finally embracing the ‘no necktie, no jacket’ concept, promoted by the government’s ‘Cool Biz’ campaign started five years ago. The goal is to save energy and and reduce global warming by cutting down on greenhouse emission.

During the four month period (May to Oct), government offices and private companies that sign up to the campaign are expected to keep their thermostats no lower than 28 degrees Celsius (83 degrees Fahrenheit ). Many older generation Japanese managers are not comfortable without the customary coat and tie. They compromise by go only with removing their ties but holding on to their jackets. Phase one is the tie and phase two is the jacket. For many Japanese managers, particularly with the recession, feel they still need to dress up formally in order to drum up business. For the Japanese non-human workers – Japan’s fleet of robots (the world’s largest fleet of mechanized workers) the future is looking grim.

Unlike human, people that have less to do in a recession generally produce more babies, the robots have stopped producing more robots. At a large Yaskawa Electric factory on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, where robots once churned out more robots, these robotic workers with steely arms are all frozen in midair. A depressing scene indeed and they could be out of work for a long time. In terms of job lost, robots are the first to go as companies protect their human workers. Fortunately humans still make these decisions and that could change.

At some point in the future, they will start competing with humans for jobs. Fuji Heavy Industries currently sells a giant automated cleaning robot that can use elevators to travel between floors on its own. The wheeled robot, which resembles a small street-cleaning car, already works at several skyscrapers in Tokyo and is providing a good return-on-investments. They estimate you can save enough to pay for the cost of robot in just 3 years. Who says jobs are coming back?

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