Last week in Chiba, Kofukuji Temple was the scene of a rather unique ceremony: 114 Sony Aibo robotic dogs made the pilgrimage to the temple for a traditional Buddhist send-off.
Japan is a nation that loves their pets. It is, after all, the home of the kitty kimono and cat cafés. It’s not a strange sight to see dogs in strollers and cats on leashes spending a sunny afternoon wandering through Tokyo’s central Yoyogi Park in Harajuku.
So, perhaps, in the greater context of the Japanese pet-loving society and the somewhat restricted lifestyles of living in such a densely populated country, robotic dogs make a weird kind of sense.
Sony released their first consumer model of the Sony Aibo robotic dog in 1999 and stopped manufacturing them in 2006. Around 150,000 dogs were created over the seven years Aibos were in production; however, since Sony ceased creating them around 12 years ago, the electronics repair company A-Fun Co. has been keeping the remaining breeds alive.
What’s typically been happening is that once one dog ‘dies’, it is sent on to the company and its parts are repurposed for other pups, effectively making them organ donors. Before being laid to rest, however A-Fun has been giving the dogs that have passed on a traditional-style farewell. A-Fun claims that around 800 dogs have been sent off this way over the past few years.
One of the main figures behind the event, Bungen Oi, a priest at the 450-year-old Kofukuji Temple, which sits not too far outside of Tokyo, challenges the idea that having a ceremony for a robot is strange or absurd. He told the Japan Times after the service that, ‘All things have a bit of soul.’
During the ceremony, each of the Aibo robot dogs were assigned a tag, which covered the dog’s back story, where it came from and to which family it belonged.
It’s clear that although they may not have been living, breathing creatures, they really meant a lot to the owners, many of whom shelled out a fair amount of money for the dogs. During their release in 1999 they cost owners 250,000 yen (US$2,280), which equates to around US$3,500 today.
In January of this year, Sony released a new version of Aibo, one this time with artificial intelligence and internet connectivity, but they’re yet to officially hit the shelves. In the meantime, however, if you’re in the market for a robot pet, why not consider adopting a Qoobo, the cushion pet hybrid that’s equal parts cuddly and creepy.