Japan’s population is falling faster than ever before.
Burdened by a low fertility rate and widespread ageing, Japan is losing its young people who can perform everyday jobs.
Economists call situations like these “demographic time bombs,” since they create vicious cycles of economic downturn and population loss.
Japan’s demographic time bomb has forced the country to get creative in how it stays afloat in the global economy — here are some of its strategies.
The federal government is hosting speed dating events.
For the past two years, Japan’s government has sponsored speed dating events around the country. People are encouraged to go on multiple dates in the hopes they’ll eventually get hitched and have kids.
If the conversation gets too awkward, a “marriage promotion committee” will step in to smooth things along.
In Japanese, the practice is known as konkatsu, or “marriage hunting.”
Couples can project their faces onto a virtual-reality baby to feel like parents.
At this year’s SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference, Motherboard’s Marissa Clifford tested out a virtual-reality game in which her own face was projected onto a digital baby.
The idea was that by caring for a baby that bore her resemblance, she might be more inclined to have kids of her own.
Clifford could feed the baby (using the VR controller) and put the baby in her crib. It had all the trappings of motherhood, except it existed only in the digital realm.
Bachelors are taking fatherhood classes in which they play with dolls.
In a similar vein, the Osaka-based company Ikumen University has launched workshops that involve men putting on weight suits, changing diapers on dolls, and learning what it takes to be a dad.
The term ikumen comes from a term coined by advertisers to describe men who take an active role in raising their children.
The goal is to increase feelings of bonding and maturity among the bachelors, so they feel more like capable men.
Airports are outfitting older employees with robotic exoskeletons.
Tokyo’s Haneda Airport has partnered with robotics company Cyberdyne to equip its staff with robotic exoskeletons that can assist with the grueling practice of lifting luggage.
The device, known as HAL for Labor Support, sits on the user’s waist and picks up bioelectric signals from his or her muscles to aid movement. A person weighing roughly 110 lbs. could pick up a 45-lb. suitcase with ease.
The exoskeletons work in tandem with floor robots that can cart loads upward of 400 lbs. and clean the airport terminals.
Prisons are turning into nursing homes to accommodate older inmates.
About one-fifth of all crime committed in Japan is done by the elderly. Most of it is petty theft and shoplifting.
As crime rates among the elderly rise, prisons have effectively turned into nursing homes. Guards are made to bathe the inmates and help them get dressed, and experts say living conditions are too good to keep recidivism rates down.
Seniors are living with robots that keep them company.
So-called “carebots” are slowly entering the homes of Japanese senior citizens.
As they get more developed, these robots will come to serve a number of purposes, including keeping the resident company, picking them up if they can do it themselves, monitoring their health, and responding to commands.
Sales of these robots are expected to have reached 12,400 units between 2015 and 2018, according to a 2015 Merrill Lynch report. That number is expected to “increase substantially” over the next 20 years.
‘Corpse hotels’ are keeping dead bodies amid a crematory shortage.
So-called “corpse hotels,” where families can store their dead relatives for several days before space frees up at crowded crematoriums, are popping up around the country.
The demand comes from Japan’s accelerating rate of old-age deaths. Each year, approximately 20,000 more people die than in the year before, and space in crematoriums is running out.
Corpse hotels might just be a necessary evil when a country starts dying quickly.
Psychedelic death temples are storing people’s ashes.
Japan’s aging population and expensive end-of-life care market are making traditional burials crowded, expensive, and impersonal. Instead, families are finding a new way to honor the dead.
They are storing their relative’s ashes in tiny statues, which get housed in protected glasses cases inside designated temples. The ashes stay in their statues for a few decades, until the staff deposits them beneath the building to make room for the next person’s remains.
The temples are often dimly lit save for the multi-colored lights emanating from behind the statues.
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