Japan: Country Pulse (June 2010)

by the Countries and Consumers team.

Hot topics in June 2010:

  • Robot weddings
  • Cat cafes in Osaka
  • Flowers continue to bloom.

Fancy a robot to marry you off?

While almost everyone stood up when the bride walked down the aisle in her white gown, the wedding conductor remained bolted to her chair. The nuptials at this ceremony were led by I-Fairy, a 1.5-meter-tall seated robot with flashing eyes and plastic pigtails. “Please lift the bride’s veil,” the robot said in a tinny voice, waving its arms in the air as the newlyweds kissed in front of about 50 guests.

The wedding took place at a restaurant in Hibiya Park in central Tokyo, where I-Fairy wore a wreath of flowers and directed the rooftop ceremony. “This was a lot of fun. I think that Japanese people have a strong sense that robots are our friends. Those in the robot industry mostly understand this, but people mainly want robots near them that serve some purpose,” said bride Satoko Inoue. “It would be nice if the robot was a bit cleverer, but she is very good at expressing herself,” said new husband Tomohiro Shibata, a professor of robotics at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology.

Feline team aims to charm

Nestled among the bars and trendy clothing outlets in Osaka’s bustling Minami district is a cafe whose primary attraction is not the quality of its coffee but the charms of its somewhat unconventional “staff.” Neko no Jikan (Cats’ Time) serves as home to 21 felines.

Believed to have originated in Taiwan, cat cafes are establishments where cats can roam and freely interact with customers. Customers are charged ¥840 (US$9.15) per hour or ¥1,050 with a drink. Cafe manager Junichi, describes the 21 felines as his “staff,” adding they take breaks in a separate room on the second floor “when they are tired.”

Flowers continue to bloom

Japan’s cherry blossom season may be over, but there are still many other flowers to admire in the capital. At a historic shrine in the centre of Tokyo, flower watchers gather to admire the 50 varieties of Azalea that blossom at slightly different times.

One young lady visitor said, “I’ve never been here, and I thought it would be noisy, but coming here I found it to be quiet and the ambience nice.” While first time visitors are always impressed, those who have been there before tend to compare it to with past displays: “I’ve been visiting here for over ten years. It is of slightly lower quality this year. If only the weather stabilises,” said a disappointed male visitor.