In Japan, a workforce of robots or migrants?



“Sorry to bother you, but could you wear a mask?” “ In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, asking customers to put on a mask is proving delicate in the realm of Japanese politeness. That’s why this central Osaka sports shop last week commissioned a small humanoid named Robovie that can identify offenders.

Far from being a gadget, this robot replaces a hostess which would cost more… and which is more and more difficult to find on the job market. But will the robots succeed in avoiding the recourse to foreign labor that the ruling Conservative government is so reluctant to develop?

“Japan has reached a historic level of depopulation and aging, recalls Toshihiro Menju, expert on population and migrant workers at the Japan Center for International Exchange in Tokyo. The fertility rate, 1.4 children per woman, is one of the lowest in the world and 30% of the population is over 65, out of 126 million inhabitants. We will not be able to avoid opening our borders to immigrants. “

Robots will not be enough

“The job market is more than tight, explains Muriel Jolivet, professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. There are no more workers, masons, electricians, and in the service sector the bosses find it difficult to hire. “ In the empire of high technology, robots of all kinds abound in airports, train stations, hospitals, grocery stores or department stores. “The Japanese are at the cutting edge and imagine they have found the solution to the lack of manpower, she adds, but the robots will not avoid the opening of borders to foreigners. “

Faced with a very reluctant public opinion, the government allows them to enter in a trickle. They are already 1.3 million (a figure that has doubled since 2000), with limited and often precarious contracts, but it is far from sufficient. Insular and exclusive, Japanese society does not want to be “invaded” by foreigners. “We do not want poor migrants begging in the streets as in Europe”, says a 37-year-old Japanese saleswoman in Tokyo who nevertheless admits that “Will have to accept them”. Next to robots.

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