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Japanese Buddhist Temple Holds Funerals for Defunct Robot Dogs

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Kofuku-ji’s head priest conducts a ceremony for departed Aibos. From japantimes.co.jp
Kofuku-ji’s head priest conducts a ceremony for departed Aibos. From japantimes.co.jp

A 450-year-old Buddhist temple in Japan’s Chiba Prefecture is offering a uniquely 21st century twist on traditional funeral services by providing Buddhist rites for dearly departed robot dogs.

The historic Buddhist temple Kofuku-ji in the coastal city of Isumi recently conducted solemn funeral rites for 114 of Sony’s iconic “Aibo” robotic dogs, with priests in traditional robes chanting sutras and offering prayers for the departed plastic puppies.

Recognizing the impermanence of all compounded phenomena is one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism, and that of course includes cybernetic canines. When the first generation of Aibo hit stores in 1999, it was marketed as a world first—a robot for home entertainment that could develop its own “personality.” Sony reportedly sold more than 150,000 robot dogs in various iterations and updates before the company stopped production in 2006. In 2014, Sony finally ended repair services at its “clinic” for malfunctioning Aibos, leaving owners whose bionic buddies were in need of mechanical attention with an uncertain future.

Each dog wears a tag describing where it came from and to whom it belonged. From designboom.com
Each dog wears a tag describing where it came from and to whom it belonged. From designboom.com

Surprisingly, Buddhist funeral rites for these electronic pooches is actually not a new phenomenon. For the past few years, electronics repair company A-Fun, which has continued servicing the robots since Sony shuttered its clinic, has sent around 800 retired Aibos to the temple to receive a final sendoff before they are salvaged for spare parts—a form of robotic reincarnation, perhaps. 

A-Fun executive Nobuyuki Norimatsu is quoted by The Japan Times as saying: “We’d like to return the souls to the owners and make the robot a machine to utilize their parts. We don’t take parts before we hold a funeral for them.” A repaired Aibo, he testified, receives a new lease of life thanks to the generosity of other Aibo owners, whose automated hounds have become lifesaving donors. “I feel it moves on the combined hearts of owners,” he added. (The Japan Times)

From designboom.com
From designboom.com

The little robots often arrive at the temple with notes or letters from their owners that state the name they gave to their mechanical companion and how they spent their time together. “Please help other Aibos. Tears rose in my eyes when I decided to say goodbye,” reads one such note, while another states: “I feel relieved to know there will be a prayer for my Aibo.” (The Japan Times)

Returning from conducting the somewhat unorthodox funerary formalities, Kofuku-ji head priest Bungen Oi was quick to set aside any suggestion that conducting funeral rites for droid doggies is ridiculous: “All things have a bit of soul,” he observed. (The Japan Times)

Yet Aibo has not been completely laid to rest. Sony unveiled an updated version of Aibo in January this year that comes packed with modern hardware and software, along with Internet connectivity, although it has not resumed servicing for older models.

Head priest Bungen Oi holds a robot dog after a funeral at Kofuku-ji. From mashable.com
Head priest Bungen Oi holds a robot dog after a funeral at Kofuku-ji. From mashable.com

A majority of Japan’s population—some 57 per cent—claims no religious affiliation, according to data for 2010 from the Washington, DC-based Pew research Center. Buddhists represent the second-largest segment of the population at 36.2 per cent, while other religions combined make up roughly 10 per cent.

See more

In Japan, Aibo robots get their own funeral (The Japan Times)
In Japan, Old Robot Dogs Get A Buddhist Send-Off (NPR)
over 100 sony aibo robot dogs get their own funeral at buddhist temple in japan (designboom)
114 very good Sony Aibo robot dogs get traditional Buddhist temple (Mashable)

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