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Which do you prefer, a robot or a man?

In the last article, I wrote about one attitude of customers that annoyed very much the people who work at convenience stores. Today, I would like to pick up another, which maybe very typically Japanese.

 

Many interviewees said that they were frustrated when they found customers standing in front of a cashier and waiting to be served without saying anything. In convenience stores there are many other tasks that the workers should do than operating a cash register, such as preparing deep fried food and steamed snacks, inspecting inventories, putting products in order, etc… So they are not always waiting at the cashier to serve customers. While working outside the cashier table, they sometimes find people waiting. Waiting very irritated. But never call them. Like ghosts with a grudge against living people…

 

While I heard them say about this problem, I was reminded of a fact that could characterize Japan. In Japan, maybe only in big cities like Tokyo though, there are so many shops and restaurants whose doors are automatic. According to Japan Automatic Door Association, which I’ve never imagined that kind of association existed, about 140,000 automatic doors were produced and almost 90% of the production was for the use in Japan in 2012.

Can you figure out whether this annual production of 140,000 automatic doors is large or small? The number of production in the US in the same year was about 150,000. If the land area is concerned, USA is more than 25 times larger than Japan (USA 9,629,091 sq km, Japan 377,930 sq km)!! Well, I have to say that the number of automatic doors produced in one year in Japan is incredibly huge…

 

a map comparing the Japanese main islands to the USA
a map comparing the Japanese main islands to the USA

 

In Japan, full-scaled production of automatic doors started after the World War II. In its early stage they were used mainly for trains. On the other hand, In the United States, they were already used commonly, like in supermarkets, in 1950’s. The first automatic door for the building in Japan was set up in 1956. That was for a main office of Nabco (now Nabtesco) Japan in Kobe, one of the leading companies of producing automatic doors. They started to produce automatic doors with the technical support of National Pneumatic USA.

 

The second place where an automatic door was placed was the main entrance of a bank. The users of automatic door were very limited, such as banks and hotels, because of its extremely high cost.

 

The numbers of sales of automatic doors:
1956 — 17 doors
1957 — 113 doors
1958 — 153 doors
1959 — 457 doors
(according to Nabtesco)

 

The main reason why automatic doors were not spread rapidly was its high cost as I mentioned but the second reason was its style. As the concept of automatic door was born in Western country, the ones in the first period were doors of Western style, I mean the doors to be opened by pushing or pulling. On the other hand, traditional Japanese doors are sliding doors.

 

An old style shop in Kyoto whose exterior doors are sliding ones. Photo by m-louis .®
An old style shop in Kyoto whose exterior doors are sliding ones.
Photo by m-louis .®

 

Doors inside house are also sliding ones. Photo by mrhayata
Doors inside house are also sliding ones.
Photo by mrhayata

 

Maybe this door has been damaged many times by misbehavior of foreign tourists... Photo by Russell Trow
Maybe this door has been damaged many times by misbehavior of foreign tourists…
Photo by Russell Trow

 

In 1960’s sliding automatic doors started to be sold, and at the time of Tokyo Olympic games (1964) millions of buildings were constructed and the numbers of automatic doors were increased explosively. Now in Japan, even a very small shop has automatic doors especially in big cities.

An automatic door in a small restaurant  Photo by Fabian Reus
An automatic door in a small restaurant
Photo by Fabian Reus

 

You may be able to spend a day without touching a door in Tokyo. I sometimes just stand for a while in front of the door waiting to be opened automatically… I hear some people bump against normal doors just expecting that they will open automatically. The first surprise for tourists from foreign countries must be that a door of a taxi opens and closes automatically. I mean in Japan drivers open the door without getting off the car. After you catch a taxi by raising a hand, do not touch the door to open but you should wait for the door to be opened.

 

In Japan Photo by David Hall
When you get off a taxi also, a driver will open the door for you after the payment,
even though you don’t give him a tip.
Photo by David Hall

 

In Japan, I think there are too many things that move automatically.

 

You
You can call waitress just pressing a call button.

 

Dishes of sushi arrive to you on the moving conveyor.

(video by marow1209)
 

 

This automated system has been spread all over in Japan maybe because ‘service’ is considered as something that minimizes the effort of customers in Japan. And it sometimes turns out to be something that indulges customers. The concept of automatic is authentic. But the excessive indulgence can also spoil customers…

I guess in few years there will be many serving robots working in Japan, robots which never makes mistakes, never complains, and will obey any orders no matter how bad people treat them and will never be tired.

 

a robot which (who) works as a receptionist Photo by Josh McKible
a robot which (who) works as a receptionist
Photo by Josh McKible

 

At the end of the article, I would like to introduce the opinion of a friend of mine who usually waits to be served without calling staffs in front of a cashier counter at a convenience store, in order to make you relieved. She says she doesn’t call staffs because she doesn’t want to disturb them. When she has time to spare, she waits to be served calmly. She thinks that staffs must have many tasks to finish and she can wait until one of them will notice. I believe that this is the consideration for the others that the Japanese have highly esteemed for a long time. I hope many of the people who stand in front of a cashier and waiting to be served without saying anything, as many as possible, think as my friend does …

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