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Robot Acts as Goodwill Ambassador to Czech Republic (September 30, 2003)

ASIMO shakes hands with Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. (Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)
In mid-August, Koizumi Junichiro became the first Japanese prime minister to visit the Czech Republic. Traveling with him was the humanoid robot ASIMO, which was developed by Honda Motor Co. At a dinner at the state guesthouse in Prague on the evening of August 21 hosted by Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, ASIMO walked in on two legs and offered a toast in the Czech language, saying, "To friendship between Japan and the Czech Republic and humans and robots." It then performed a dance and was showered with the applause of all in attendance. Even after Prime Minister Koizumi returned to Japan, ASIMO stayed behind to act as a goodwill ambassador and engage in public-relations activities.

Japanese View Robots as Friends
The word "robot" was first used by Czech author Karel Capek (1890-1938) in his 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked Honda to allow the robot to go to the Czech Republic with Koizumi in order to promote the technological prowess of Japan, which produces half of the world's industrial robots.

Interestingly, the Czech word robota means "forced labor" or "drudgery." R.U.R. is set in a future society in which the progress of robots has resulted in many workers losing their jobs. The Japanese image of robots, however, is of humans and robots working toward friendship and communication. The fact that ASIMO was chosen as a goodwill ambassador demonstrates the love that Japanese have for robots.

Japanese robots, which had previously been used mainly in the industrial sector, are increasingly making their way into homes and being used for entertainment purposes, bringing them closer to people's lives. Sony Corp.'s robot dog AIBO and Tomy Co.'s palm-sized toy robots Micropets are examples of this trend. Japanese people have a deep and abiding attachment to robots, and many people view pet robots almost as a member of the family.

The reason for these warm feelings is that Japanese have come to know robots through such famous manga (comics) and anime (animated films) as Tezuka Osamu's Tetsuwan Atomu (known in the West as Astro Boy), Doraemon, and Doctor Slump Arare-chan. These stories, which show robots and humans as friends, have had a major impact on people's attitudes. There is also Tetsujin 28-go (known in English as Gigantor), an anime that tells the story of a robot that battles monsters.

Growing Japan-Czech Relations
Japan has enjoyed friendly relations with the Czech Republic going back to the time when it was still a part of Czechoslovakia. When it became independent after splitting amicably with Slovakia on January 1, 1993, Japan recognized the Czech Republic that same day and established formal diplomatic relations that January 29. Japan's main exports to the Czech Republic are automobiles and electric appliances, such as air conditioners. Japan's main imports from this country include glass products and the hops used in brewing beer. About 80 Japanese companies have operations in the Czech Republic, and as of December 2001 investment there totaled more than $1.3 billion. In addition to Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. and Toray Industries Inc., Toyota Motor Co. and Peugeot decided in December 2001 to jointly invest some 1.5 billion euros in a project to produce automobiles together in the Czech Republic beginning in 2005.

There have also been numerous cultural exchanges between the two countries since the democratic revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989. In 1999 an event called the Czech Republic Arts Festival was held in Japan, introducing Japanese to Czech culture through opera, puppet performances, movies, and fine arts. At the same time, demonstrations of the Tsugaru shamisen, ikebana (flower arranging), and tea ceremony are often held in Prague. Japanese-Czech sister-city relationships include those between Prague and Kyoto, Plzen and Takasaki City in Gunma Prefecture, and Karlovy Vary and Kusatsu in Gunma Prefecture.

ASIMO served as a goodwill ambassador this time, and it is hoped that robots will continue to play a role in the building of bridges between Japan and the Czech Republic.

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Related Web Sites
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Sony Corp.
Tomy Co.
Tetsuwan Atomu
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.
Toray Industries Inc.
Toyota Motor Co.

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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