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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Zoom [Registration link available below]
Event date: 
Monday, 21 February, 2022 - 17:30


To Touch a Headless Cat: The Rise of Haptic Creatures in Japanese Robot Culture

When Hikari touched the headless robotic creature Qoobo, by Yukai Engineering, she claimed it instantly reminded her of her pet cat far away at her parents’ home, and it brought her comfort. Delivering such moments of comfort through touch has become an increasing target for Japan’s social robot producers. These robot makers and marketers reason that robot companions can provide healing in light of attenuating social bonds and increased socioeconomic stress characteristic of Japanese society since the collapse of the country’s bubble economy in the early 1990s. While many of these robots in the past have been designed to engage with people through conversation and entertainment, new companion robots invite human–robot interaction through affectively pleasing forms of haptic feedback. We call these new robots haptic creatures. Integrating historical analysis with ethnographic interviews of new users of these robots, we discuss how haptic creatures serve as experimental devices that offer insights into the changing meanings and desires surrounding intimacy in contemporary Japan.

Hirofumi Katsuno is Associate Professor of anthropology and media studies in the Faculty of Social Studies at Doshisha University, Kyoto. His primary research interest is the socio-cultural impact of new media technologies, particularly focusing on the formation of imagination, agency, and presence in technologically mediated environments in the age of AI and robotics. 

Daniel White is Senior Research Associate in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. He researchers the social and political dimensions of affect, artificial intelligence, and affective computing in Japan and the UK.

The authors’ ongoing research project and collaborative works can be found at