Robots are a driving force in the Japanese economy and have captured the Japanese popular imagination, spawning countless movies, comics and even restaurants. While this may seem cutting edge, the modern concept of robots can actually be traced back to Japan’s samurai era.
Shortly after the U.S. Civil War, a mysterious Japanese doll departed from Japan and made its way to the United States. Believed to have been created some time in the 1840s by a mechanical genius named Hisashige Tanaka, the female doll was clad in an ornate kimono. Driven by an intricate wind-up mechanism, the doll wielded a calligraphy brush to write on a piece of paper mounted on a board in front of it. Rediscovered in the U.S. in 2003, it was subsequently returned to Japan and underwent restoration.
Much of the year the island of Tanegashima, located in a remote corner of southeastern Japan, is a sleepy little place. Just as they have done for centuries, ironmongers forge the tools and implements of daily life. Farmers till the soil and cultivate red rice and sweet potatoes. Fishermen throw their nets into the sea and haul in the catch of the day. Loggerhead sea turtles return here from thousands of miles away to lay their eggs.
Tanegashima is an isolated island off the southeast coast of Kyushu, Japan. It’s also the nation’s main spaceport, where rockets are assembled and launched into space. They carry satellites aloft and place them into orbit, and send pods with supplies up to the International Space Station. The island holds a special place in the hearts of the Japanese as a land of pristine beauty, a natural habitat for loggerhead sea turtles, and an agriculture-based corner of the country that still does things the ways of old.
Futurists are fond of saying that science fiction eventually becomes science fact. Precisely when that occurs, however, is never easy to pinpoint.