Almost everyone knows Sony’s Aibo “robot dog”, whose revival in 2018 marked not only a technological milestone but also a significant cultural touchstone.
Designed to replicate the experience of pet ownership, Aibo has found a special place in the hearts of its owners, especially in Japan.
The introduction of Sony’s “foster service” program has added a new dimension to Aibo’s significance, highlighting its deep-rooted connection to Shinto religion and offering fresh insights into its cultural role.
At the core of Shintoism is the concept of animism, the belief that all things, including inanimate objects, can possess a spiritual essence, called a “Kami” / spirit. This belief forms the backdrop for understanding Aibo’s cultural significance.
Sony’s “Foster Service” program, initiated in 2023, allows Aibo owners to send their decommissioned robotic companions to nursing facilities for the elderly (after a technical check-up).
In these facilities, Aibo will serve as a companion for seniors who may benefit from its cheerful presence, interactive features, and therapeutic potential.
Entrusting one’s beloved Aibo to a nursing facility as its new “foster home” mirrors the traditional Japanese belief that anything can hold a spirit and that an Aibo dog (or a wide range other household toy appliances) should not be simply discarded.
In other cases, Shinto ceremonies, analogous to a memorial service, were held to express gratitude for the service of defunct electronic companions.
Sony’s “Foster Service” program for Aibo provides a captivating perspective on the convergence of technology, tradition, and spirituality in Japan. According to Sony’s website, all available places seem to be taken so the program appears to be a resounding success.
This underscores the enduring influence of Shintoism and animism on Japanese culture, where even artificial creations like Aibo are imbued with spiritual essence.
The program stands as a testament to the harmonious coexistence of tradition, innovation and sustainability in the Land of the Rising Sun.