When I was your age, Japan was the future.
The coolest tech, the coolest art, the oddest manifestation of human life in the developed world. We were all turning Japanese, or hoping so.
Nokia punctured their reality, iPhone crushed their vision, China thwarted their ambition, and then age, Japan got old, really old, death old. But now, Japan goes back to the future — as it cloaks old and death with keen engineering acumen and its typical cultural kinks.
Japanese are dying. Alone. And from this I expect great things. Marvels. As China and the West tinker with flesh and consciousness in a mad rush to hack mortality, Japan, the breadth of its peculiarity notwithstanding, rightly intuits that death and loneliness are the next bold frontiers to conquer.
Miyu, who was 24 when we met, works for ToDo company, whose employees clean the homes of people who have died. Theirs has often been a “lonely death”, known in Japanese as kodokushi.
It’s an increasingly common phenomenon in a country with an ageing population, more elderly people living on their own and fractured connections. Miyu is the only woman and the youngest employee in the 10-person company.
Imagine, a city of twenty million or more, so many that for most only the toilet is a private space, yet thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, maybe millions are dying or soon will die — alone. No one knowing, no one caring. What an odd reality we’ve constructed for ourselves.
Lonely death is such a prevalent theme in Japanese life that some of the most calculating, conniving and outright evil elderly are making a killing.
A 70-year-old Japanese woman has been sentenced to death for the murder of three men, one of whom was her husband, and the attempted murder of another.
Chisako Kakehi is accused of using cyanide to kill her lovers and make millions from insurance payouts. Her lawyers plan to appeal the sentence. Prosecutors said she targeted wealthy men who were mostly elderly or sick.
The frail Chisako Kakehi was no stranger to the metaverse.
The trial heard that she had joined matchmaking services in which she had specifically requested to meet men who were rich and childless.
How rich can you be if you are childless?
But what of all the alone-dying not killed off for insurance money, still with many more years of lonely death before them?
Government, private industry and research centers in Japan are all dutifully working on making learning, emotive robots, mostly in the familiar form of dogs or humans. The hope is these machines can alleviate the spreading open wound of chronic loneliness mixed with chronic aging. Care, comfort, contentedness, and then you die.
It beats dying without any of those things.
If you think a human, of any age, can’t love a robot, you are simply wrong. This is verifiable. But what we don’t know yet, but soon will, is can humans love a robot that responds to us just like the dead human they are now standing in for?
Can a robot adequately replace your departed mother, father, son, daughter, best friend, that person you interacted with everyday on Twitter but never actually met in the flesh?
With all the images, check-ins, texts, shares, tweets, likes, conversations, comments, the entirety of life writ digital, all that information can — soon — be inserted into a robot form of your choosing. This man already built a chatbot, still just digital form, that responds to his texts much like his deceased father would.
While his father was dying of cancer James Vlahos made a controversial call; he turned his dad in to a chatbot, keeping his voice and memories alive long after he passed away, raising questions on whether we are moving towards a world of artificial immortality.
We are all dying. Many are seeking a workaround.
There may be no better people to uncover this, and build it, than the Japanese.