Japan’s low-tech life (BBC quotes Taro!)

crappy japanese wiring
The BBC is having a slow news day and decided to “expose” the painfully obvious to anyone who have lived more than 10 minutes here in stone-age tech Japan….

Revealing Japan’s low-tech belly
BBC News | by Michael Fitzpatrick | July 14, 2010—Police stations without computers, 30-year-old “on hold” tapes grinding out tinny renditions of Greensleeves, ATMs that close when the bank does, suspect car engineering, and kerosene heaters but no central heating.

A dystopian vision of a nation with technology stuck in an Orwellian time warp? Not at all. These are aspects of contemporary, low-tech Japan that most visitors miss…
“Japanese banks, post offices, government offices, all are staffed with three to five times the employees because they must do every process once on paper and then again on computer,” says Taro Hitachi* a technical editor and patent reader at Hitachi….....more

Damn, this quote is old—I was interviewed last April and I thought the BBC had forgotten the story. Here’s the full text of my BBC interview:

Until the 1960s, Japanese had problems with surplus population needing make-work having three to five guards waving their arms aimlessly directing traffic while four workers repair a 2-inch pothole in the road. To this day, the majority of gas stations are full-service with half dozen guys in jump suits and a couple girls in uniform shorts (winter or summer) to wash your windows and empty our ash trays. Why? Because self-service gas is “dangerous”—actually it was dangerous since sloooowly self-service stations are making a dent in the market (maybe 15%). Likewise, most bank ATMs close by 5pm to 7pm because no bank employees would be on hand if a machine—oh the horror—ate a bank card. During bank hours 9 to 3, larger bank ATMs are staffed with a half dozen part-time employees because the Japanese public is so old and dotty they are afraid of the machines. Japanese banks, post offices, government offices, all are staffed with three to five times the employees because they “must” do every process once on paper and then again on computer. The worst case is the suffering of Japanese nurses who AVERGE 12+ hour days because they have to do update their patient charts on computers after the end of the work day–UNPAID.
Do you see the pattern here? Japanese aren’t all that happy of about spiteful machines and distrust automation.

*According to the strict requirements of Hitachi copyright, I had to use the pen name Taro Hitachi—sort a corporate ‘John Doe’– on all the documents I wrote (but now I’m simply Pu-Taro putaro.txt ).

The author of the BBC report, Michael Fitzpatrick, just wrote me to say that he used my, “robot quotes for the [same story in] The Independent newspaper…[that] should be out this week.” Mr. Fitzpatrick quoted me on the fraudulent claims Japan makes about being No. 1 in robot usage. See the rough draft in the Comments section below–sort of an expose’ on how Japan’s hyped robot workforce is not largest in the world.

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I'm a pale, alien, quadruped who has worked for 25+ years at "Maybe-the-Largest Inc." in Tokyo.

17 thoughts on “Japan’s low-tech life (BBC quotes Taro!)”

  1. The BBC wanted to feature me explaining the totally fraudulent claims Japan makes about being No. 1 in robot usage.
    However, the BBC cut my musings because I didn’t have the official stats. Here’s the beginning to my expose’ on Japan’s hyped robot workforce is not No. 1 in the world…

    Michael Fitzpatrick wrote to me:
    I liked very much your views here from your blog:

    “Without “consciousness” robots are just spot welders, bolt tightening arms, burger flippers, spray painters, and factory drones that can swivel dexterously back and forth in a pre-programmed for assembly line work. They’re expensive toasters—one-trick-ponies. It will be many decades before anthropomorphic robots are going to be sentient.”

    “Decades of creating fantasy robots like ASIMO, Aibo, Roborior, et al has bankrupted the research and development departments of Japan while not resulting in any viable products.”

    Japan counts almost any kind of semi-autonomous factory machinery as a “robot,” whereas in the rest of the world, milling machines and potato pealing machines are just factory automation.”

    Do you have any evidence for the latter?

    —My answer to Michael Fitzpatrick was:

    Evidence“? Not really—I don’t count robots for a living, and I don’t know how to find the official government. But Japanese believe all things–trees, rocks, tools— have a spirit. So, a 1940s-era lathe with an automatic feeder is “robot” when Japanese count up robots in a factory. In a way it sort makes “sense” in Japanese, just not in the West.

  2. Mike Oxlong wrote:
    I can’t believe some journalists still fact check! :o

    Yeah, the lack of my proving Japan’s public policy of GROSSLY inflating Japan’s number of “employed robots” ruined a great story.

    I specifically know that plain-old routers that were pushed along a funky sheet-metal template/stencils by compressed air to cut plastic faceplates at Hitachi Odawara Works were counted as “robots.”

    My grandfather at Western Electric in 1939 made the same kind of “pneumatic router jigs.” He would be greatly amused that in Japan he would be called a “roboticist” and a “production engineer.” Ninety percent of the time when I meet an “engineer” in Japan I discover they don’t have any kind of engineering degree.

  3. And here I thought the majority of robot population were sarariman and reporters!

  4. Slow news day, yes. But it still was good of the BBC to distill all those (obvious to us long-term Japan residents) observations into one convenient report.

  5. I don’t recall ever reading a positive article in the British press about Japan or at least one that does not end on a negative note.
    This goes back to the time of the Osaka Expo ’70.

  6. CorneliusSavitts wrote:
    …tried to email you about this low-tech article but I can’t get in touch…

    What question do you have about my interview with the BBC about “no-tech Japan”?



  7. Thank you for such a great post Japan’s low-tech life, I found your post while surfing the Net. However, I dont see eye to eye with all that you have written about Nippon. Your prose intelligently writ -ten and well presented as you appear to have your finger on the pulse and can describe things in a lucid and motivating approach. Well a sufficient amount of the blatherblather good luck and keep posting.

  8. Why did you remove my post… My post was actually useful unlike most of these comments. I will post it again. Heya guys, I’ve been using a great way to make a lot of money on-line…. CUT

  9. Why did you remove my post… My post was actually useful…

    NOTE: Your comment was CUT because it was off-topic SPAM.
    Any comment spam will be treated as toxic waste—especially drivel from SEO fucktards.

  10. In order for robots to melt into the background in office or home environments, the robot has to adapt to *our* environment, not us changing around our world to fit the robots. I’m extremely picky about getting my computer set up just the way I like it, because computers should serve *me*, not the other way around. Same goes for robots. I don’t want to rebuild my home or office for the convenience of robots.

    I do a lot of homebrew robotics. I, and everyone else, brings robots to club meetings in a motley assortment of tubs, bins, and cartons, and big robots go int the back of pick up trucks. — bah, how primitive. A home service robot needs to be easy to transport. That means it has to fit in my car, exactly where a human would sit, without any accommodation. It needs to get to the second floor by going up the stairs, not by some “robot service elevator” put in just for it. So I think in the end we need to have a robust bi-pedal robot platform that folds in the same places that humans do and is human scale, because the world is built to human scale and built for beings that fold where humans do. Robots will only be useful when they can operate in our world without us having to remodel the world for robots.

    Bi-pedal robots aren’t worth pursuing for anthropomorphism — bi-pedal robots are worth pursuing because they could fit easily into our world and disappear into the background.

  11. w0w . reached here from cracked.c0m and really is astonishing to know such things happen in a c0untry hyped as most techno-savvy.

  12. Japan’s personal service robots are novel, interesting—and useless
    Quartz | 2016-May-08
    Service robots need artificial intelligence (AI) to navigate real-world variables and realize their potential. While Japan excels at making high-tech physical goods, it doesn’t stand out in software or AI—unlike, say, Google parent Alphabet, whose AI program AlphaGo recently beat top players of Go, a complex board game much beloved in Japan.
    The government worries that foreign companies like Alphabet and IBM will lead the charge in AI.
    “Should Japan lag behind in terms of ideas about robot development or business models… [the country] will draw more concerns over the situation in Japan where craftsmanship enjoys a victory but business suffers a defeat,” officials at Japan’s Ministry of Economics, Trade, and Industry (METI) said…
    …Wakamaru, a helper robot Mitsubishi Heavy Industries introduced in 2005. Mitsubishi initially hoped to sell 100 Wakamarus. The robots would act as guides and receptionists at homes and offices, able to tap into the internet to read off weather reports and emails.
    … By 2007 they were only available for rent and largely forgotten.
    “I probably shouldn’t show you this,” said Yoshio Matsumoto, a service-robots researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tokyo. The photo that pops up on his computer shows dejected-looking Wakamarus crowded in a cage on the grounds of Osaka University, which helped develop them. A sign shows these once-hot robots are now on their way to the rubbish heapmore...

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