Japan's $3,550 answer to the Amazon Echo could make the country's sex crisis even worse

Japan has a sex problem. The country’s birthrate is in the negative, where deaths are outpacing births.

Simply put, Japan’s population is decreasing.

Japanese birth rateWorld Bank / Google

But let’s be clear: Population change is a complicated subject affected by many factors.

Western media often correlates the decline in Japan’s population size with recent studies of Japanese sexual habits and marriage.A 2016 study by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in Japan, for instance, found that “almost 70 per cent of unmarried men and 60 per cent of unmarried women are not in a relationship.”

But just because people aren’t in relationships doesn’t mean they don’t want companionship, of course. And that’s where something like Gatebox comes in.

Gatebox AIVinclu Inc.

Yes, that’s an artificially intelligent character who lives in a glass tube in your home.

Her name is Azuma Hikari, and she’s the star of Gatebox – a $US2,700 ($AU3,550) Amazon Echo-esque device that acts as a home assistant and companion.

Here’s what we know:

A Japanese company named Vinclu created the Gatebox.


It’s about the size of an 8-inch by 11-inch piece of paper, according to Vinclu. And there’s a good reason for that: The device is intended to be “big enough for you to be able to put right beside you.” You’ll understand why you’d want a Gatebox so close soon enough.

The Gatebox is similar to Amazon’s Echo — it’s a voice-powered home assistant.

Vinclu Inc.

The Gatebox has a microphone and a camera because you operate it using your voice.

For now, it will respond only to Japanese; the company making Gatebox says it’s exploring other language options. Considering that units are available for both Japan and the US, we’d guess that an English-language option is in the works.

Gatebox does a lot of the same stuff that Echo does — it can automate your home in various ways, including turning on lights and waking you up in the morning.

Vinclu IncIt looks a bit like a futuristic French press.

But we’d be lying if we told you any of this stuff is the point of Gatebox. The actual point is the virtual character that “lives” inside of it.

Vinclu Inc

Her name is Azuma Hikari, and she’s the star of the Gatebox.

Vinclu Inc

Beyond being your personal assistant, she’s intended to be a companion of sorts.

Vinclu Inc

The company behind Gatebox is pretty direct about its intentions here.

Vinclu Inc

On the Gatebox official site, translated from Japanese, the product’s vision is described as such:

“The reason why we [developed] Gatebox is not because we are just pursuing entertainment or convenience. We want the characters [to] be naturally in our daily lives and spend relaxing [times] with us. ‘I want to live with my favourite character.’ We dreamed of such [a] world and we started this project.”

Rather than simply automating stuff in your home, Gatebox aims to fill your home with virtual characters.

Vinclu IncThat’s a lot of virtual characters! But then again, who doesn’t want a fish eating potato chips flying through their living room?

The tone of the character is intentionally conversational. Azuma is your friend, not just your assistant.

Vinclu IncIn this example, the Gatebox device sits on a desk, and Azuma can be seen inside, projected onto a transparent screen.

There’s even a sweet visualisation for her warning about the weather.

Vinclu Inc

As demonstrated in Gatebox’s latest video, Azuma’s essentially an endlessly friendly, nonsexual life partner.

Vinclu Inc

She texts you throughout the day, like a human partner would.

Vinclu Inc

And sometimes those text messages are … suggestive.

Vinclu Inc

And sometimes they’re direct.

Vinclu Inc

In the latest video, Azuma is pitched as the doting partner who’s waiting patiently for your return home. Look, she even turned the lights on ahead of your arrival!

Vinclu Inc

And she’s just as interested as you are in sitting on the couch and watching TV.

Vinclu Inc

She even has her own chair and mug.

Vinclu Inc

Sold on Gatebox? You can get one right for around $US2,500. Vinclu is shipping orders to Japan and the US thus far, but says it’s sold out at the moment.

Vinclu Inc

The US store is here, and the Japan store is here. You’d better be prepared to wait, though – pre-orders are already sold out, and it’s not clear when more are coming. Gatebox says it will tell people when more are ready as soon as possible.

Check out the latest video for Gatebox below. More characters are planned, but none have been announced yet. Stay tuned!

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