Japan is the first industrialized nation facing the demographic crisis of an aging population unable to respond to the basic needs of the country.

According to an article in Nikkei Asia Review, the data for Japan’s most basic industry, agriculture, is staggering; the average worker is 67, and 60 percent are 65 or older. In terms of construction, a full third of the country’s workers are 55 or older with those 29 or younger amounting to a scary 11 percent. To make matters worse, the demand for construction workers is intensifying before the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Faced with losing the ability to feed or house its people, Japan has only two choices—allow immigrants to work in their country or create a non-human replacement workforce—or both.

For right now, recognizing the robot revolution, while promising, isn’t ready for prime time, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has loosened Japan’s tightly controlled visa policy, increasing the number of immigrant workers in Japan to 1.28 million over the last five years.

But wait, there’s more

The government is creating a new set class of work permits for foreigners to bring in another 500,000 new overseas workers by 2025. According to the Nikkei article the new guidelines “will ease language requirements for foreign workers in construction, agriculture, elderly care and other sectors that are suffering the most serious labor shortages. It will also be possible for trainees to extend their stay for up to 10 years.”

By that time the graying of Asia will start to overwhelm China, where the misguided one-child policy created a 30-year population gap that may be insurmountable. China is currently the leading contributor country to Japan’s immigrant workforce.

The issues faced by Japan today is one that will creep across the globe in the coming years of the 21st Century. In addition to Japan and China, over 36% of Europe’s population will be 65- plus years old by 2050; Russia is depopulating, dropping from 2014’s 142 million to only 128 million by 2050.

When that happens, the price of a human workforce will rise to meet that of robots, or the cost of robots will drop below that of their human competitors. Japanese academics and industries are ramping up both their technology and their production capacity to fulfill that future.

Robots to the Rescue

Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), is showing off it’s latest prototype robot (Model HRP-5P) designed to hang drywall, independent of human control.