TOKYO CUTTING EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai #5 : ASUNA, The Android That Is Aging and Growing Up

『TOKYO CUTTING-EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai』#5:歳を重ねて成長するアンドロイド、ASUNA
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TOKYO CUTTING EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai #5 : ASUNA, The Android That Is Aging and Growing Up

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TOKYO CUTTING-EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai is column series, which covers Tokyo’s latest cutting-edge culture! In this series she’ll be interviewing creators that have caught her interest, in order to discover the latest cutting-edge culture in Tokyo. For our first installment, we interviewed artist Ai☆Madonna, for the second time welcoming Junya Suzuki who has been working for fashion label “chloma”, and for the third time we had discussion with Etsuko Ichihara, an artist/ director of wild ideas. For the last time we welcomed chiptune artist TORIENA, and this time, we had an interview with Tadashi Shimya, the developer of female android ASUNA.


撮影:Julie Watai モデル:ASUNA (写真集トーキョー・フューチャー・クラシック「LOVE VALLY」より) Photograph: By Julie Watai Model: AUSNA (form “LOVE VALLY” in “Tokyo Future Classics”)

Julie: Hello, Shimaya-san. It’s been a while. I guess it is the first time since we had ASUNA as a guest for “Tokyo Future Classic” release event at HMV&BOOKS TOKYO in Shibuya MODI, March this year.

Shimaya: Yes, it’s been a while.


Julie: So, how has ASUNA been doing lately?

Shimaya: She had been in pieces to become 18 years old.

Julie: In pieces! Wow, it is kind of frightening to imagine that!

Shimaya: Sorry. She was fixed yesterday, but her hair is still messy. It is always a hard work to fix her again (laugh) to look OK.

Julie: Oh I see. Thank you for your hard work. (This time will be the precious last shot…) So she will be 18 next.

Shimaya: Yeah. I am excited.

Julie: I heard “Android that is aging and growing up” is the concept for ASUNA. But have you planned it since the early planning stages?

Shimaya: Yes, I have. You know, I got an inspiration from Arare-chan (Dr. Slump by Akira Toriyama)

Julie: Really? You got an idea originated from Arare-chan! She sure is an android, isn’t she?

Shimaya: Yeah. It all started from her father “Senbei-san”’s daydream. But Arare-chan has stopped growing up in the original (laugh).

Julie:Shimaya-san is too far different form Senbei-san (laugh)! And I was kind of surprised that Arare-chan was a growing-up android. I was watching the anime when I was little so I didn’t remember it well.

Shimaya: Ahhhh. You are right. My impression is different from Senbei-san. Anyway, I was shocked the idea of a growing-up android.

Julie: In your current plan, until what age will ASUNA be aged?

Shimaya: I would say 25 years old. But lately, I kind of think it would be a good idea that ASUNA, looks like mother, would pop up again.

Julie: ASUNA remains young and beautiful forever, which embodies women’s dream, doesn’t it? I think parent-child androids will be a good idea.

Shimaya: Yeah, I often get comments from women that ASUNA shouldn’t grow up.

Julie: I can relate to their feelings. They want ASUNA to be a mirror which reflects their own desires. Like, we do think toward celebrities or fashion models.


I first met Shimaya-san at an event held at K’s DESIGN LAB which is a molding design service company in Shibuya. I believe it was ASUNA’s debut. (Am I correct?) After the Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro’s speech, he is well known for androids; Shimaya-san appeared on the stage with ASUNA and made a presentation about the business and stuff. And there was a photo shot of ASUNA by media; I was one of them (laugh). I remember speaking to you there.

Shimaya: Yes, officially it was the first event for ASUNA, and I met you there for the first time, too.

Julie: There was a large media, and not long after that, ASUNA’s movies and pictures have become widely known.

Shimaya : I’ve had a connection with K’s DESIGN LAB and I was asked to join the event (laugh). Surely there were many famous people joining the event.

Julie: I was always wondering why you had unveiled ASUNA at that event but now it makes sense!

Shimaya: At that time, I didn’t recognize people there so it was such a shame. But anyway, it was a great opportunity for ASUNA being there.

Julie: It was my first time to see an android. I was kind of mixed up because I thought ASUNA was really cute like I feel toward human, but at the same time I felt a little strange to see ASUNA moves. Anyway, it was really shocking. Since I saw ASUNA, I had been thinking… Like I do want to take a shoot of ASUNA but I should have something strong messages or concepts in order to create a work, for the android itself has a huge impact. I wanted ASUNA to be playful in my work.And then I found out that ASUNA was as charming as Katan Amano or Koitsukihime as bisque-dolls.I myself have ball-jointed dolls and came to think of taking photos of ASUNA in something aesthetic ways.

Shimaya: I know how you felt. People may get a different impact from videos when watching ASUNA moves. As far as bisque-dolls are concerned, I went to see them at exhibitions before I made ASUNA.

Julie: Is that so, I really happy to hear that. And, I contacted you soon after I got the idea, which might have surprised you, I guess.

Shimaya: NO, of course not. I may have told you this before; actually I was going to call you. But it had already been four months since we met at the event, so I was kind of hesitant about getting touch with you (laugh).

Julie: Really? I’m sure there would be a bunch of photographers eager for doing the shooting of ASUNA!

Shimaya: Of course there were, but…

Shimaya: But you were the only one who said “I love ASUNA”

Julie: Oh I see. Well, I just wonder how other photographers wanted take her pictures. I can’t work with people unless I fall in love with them, which might have worked this time.

Shimaya: After all, no one has ever had an interest and a concept like you do. Most people wanted to take ASUNA as a robot, not a human being.


LOVE VALLY撮影中のJulieとASUNA。この時の衣装は縷縷夢兎。 Julie and ASUNA, wearing a “rurum:”’s costume, during LOVE VALLY shooting

Julie: Since I grew up affected by SF movies and stuff, I got a lot of imaginative ideas, which I thought might scare you, but it didn’t, I guess (laugh). I costumed ASUNA a knitted dress of “rurum:” which is a popular brand among idles and artists. Also she was wearing a dress of “chloma”. Both brands are very popular for young people and on the Internet. What did you think of her wearing them?

Shimaya: Well, it was ASUNA’s first photo shooting and I was kind of surprised there was “rurum:”. ASUNA started at the age of 15, and when I saw her in that knitted dress, I thought she was a girl! We never would have made her wear like you did. She was really shining.

Julie: ASUNA looked really cute getting a make-up by a professional make-up artist, didn’t she? Which costume was your favorite?

Shimaya: Really, she was gorgeous. Well, my favorite one was a close-up shot wearing red shoes like a princess. I display that photo in a reception room in the head office!

Julie: Oh, I may have prepared them for her! That was a profile image in a sweet loli-con costume. Her natural smile was really good, wasn’t it?

Shimaya: I also like the shot in “chloma”’s blue dress with bare machine, and the back cover of “Tokyo Future Classic” where Julie is holding ASUNA’s head (laugh). You looked like an android in that photo, don’t you?


撮影:Julie Watai 写真集「トーキョー・フューチャー・クラッシック」の裏表紙になったショット Photograph: By Julie Watai A back cover photo of “Tokyo Future Classics”

Julie: As you may know, that shot was almost a composite photograph.

Shimaya: Uh-ha. Especially the princess make-up and hair design was startling to me.

Julie: Yeah, She looked really good in it. As far as the costumes are concerned, you know, an android itself is special so I considered it carefully and I looked for some string costumes which could enhance ASUNA’s utmost charm.

Shimaya: It felt like ASUNA was reborn. And it sure had as a huge impact as ASUNA.

Julie: Now that you mention it, I was kind of nervous about the back cover photo of “Tokyo Future Classic”, because it might offend you… You must have a special feeling toward ASUNA as a producer or a father, right? Frankly speaking, didn’t you feel uncomfortable? (laugh a lot)

Shimaya: No, not at all. I was really moved. I’ve always tried to make ASUNA look real but I had never imagined beyond that. So I definitely got an influence from your idea. I know I am called “ASUNA’s father” but I am rather her brother…

Julie:Shimaya-san, you are really big-hearted! A brother of android ASUNA!


ファッションブランドchlomaの衣装に身を包んだASUNA。剥き出しとなったメカ部分はJulieによる合成の演出。ASUNA in “chloma” costume with bare machine: it is a composite photograph by Julie.

Julie: There was a photo in which I also put myself the mechanics on. I thought overlapping strange feelings could be a visual accent. Consequently, I think it worked well; there was a story in each shot.

Shimaya: I see.

Julie: Developing AI (artificial intelligence) robots is on the news worldwide these days. Do you also have a plan to add AI to ASUNA? If so, what kind of AI will be added?

Shimaya: Well, If AI becomes advanced enough to add to ASUNA whose appearance is real, I’ll think about it. But apparently, the current AI is not ready for ASUNA, I mean it may ruin her reality. People feel uncomfortable with unnatural dialogues or awkward movements.

Julie: Yes, I agree with you. It is something like complementing by inspiring viewers, isn’t’ it?

Shimaya: But still, I am interested in how it will be like when ASUNA has her own AI. I may be trying it sometime next year (laugh). She can be a naughty girl.

Julie: Oh, that sounds really exciting! But I don’t want her to be naughty…(laugh).

Julie: And I have one more question. Why did you make ASUNA look so cute? I mean, she is very natural and lovely. To the contrary, it is widely accepted artificial beauty such as wearing make-up, enlarging eyes using colored contact lenses, or modifying photos using app. I’m very curious why you made ASUNA look melancholy and sly which fires our imagination.

Shimaya: Well, since I decided to grow her up, I’ve always thought that she should have memories and stuff appropriate for the age. I didn’t mean to make her that cute but I’m really happy that you said she is natural and lovely. I just wanted to give her natural look so that women feel friendly toward ASUNA.
You know, her original face was very “idol-ish” (laugh).

Julie: The original face? Oh where is it now!?

Shimaya: Hahaha. I sealed it off because I didn’t want her to be special.

Julie: Is that so? But you may be unsealing it someday. I’ll wait for that moment.

Shimaya: Yeah. If ASUNA becomes mother, her daughter can have that face. But so far, I’m satisfied with the current face. She may be looking kind of unhappy, though.


撮影:Julie Watai モデル:ASUNA (写真集トーキョー・フューチャー・クラシック「LOVE VALLY」より) Photograph: By Julie Watai Model: AUSNA (form “LOVE VALLY” in “Tokyo Future Classics”)

Julie: Sorry to change the subject, but what were you doing before you started making androids?

Shimaya: Well, I was working at a company that makes amusement robots.

Julie: Oh, so you were making robots before. What made you decide to make ASUNA?

Shimaya: Well, the company where I’m working now has been launched for the android business and I planned ASUNA as a flagship model. I had created many humanoid robots at a former company. Also meeting with Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro motivated me. I created the reception robot for EXPO Nagoya 2005; it is between you and me (laugh), the robots working at a hotel reception in Huis Ten Bosch in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan, are also my design (Both humanoid and dinosaur robots). Come to think of it, I have created more dinosaur robots, rather big ones, like 10m tall.

Julie: So ASUNA was born in such a history. I am kind of surprised that you were making dinosaur robots… because they were totally different from ASUNA!

Shimaya: I know what you mean. Basically, I am good at creating custom-ordered robots so I sometimes make them (laugh).But I guess I became interested in androids in early ages. I am 80’s anime-generation so I’ve read “GHOST IN THE SHELL” by Shirou Masamune. His manga really inspired me.

Julie: SF was really popular in those days. I am also the same generation as you so I do understand. Then Is ASUNA more like your image? Like something you love to create rather than something you are asked to create?

Shimaya: Yes, it is something like that. You are getting closer to my dream for the growing concept and specifications that can be fit in the human life. Actually, I really want to make some military androids like the ones in Black Magic M-66. But it is just my hobby so I will try it when I get a chance, they are boys, though (laugh).


I see patience and sort of things in ASUNA, which I kind of like it. People perceive it and then there will be various communications between ASUNA and viewers. That is something called “characteristics”, I would say.

Julie: I’m sure military androids are also cool and there should be people interested in that.I just remembered, at the event in MODI, almost everyone said that they were startled to catch ASUNA’s eyes. I think that it was something like people had communication with an android.

Shimaya: I believe that 5% of android’s parts can be complemented by the eyes of viewers. And to tell the truth here, I am not planning to make androids just like human beings. Instead, I hope that androids can gain citizenship as androids.

Julie: It is indispensable in the future where androids and human beings exist together, isn’t’ it.

Shimaya: Yes. So I think it is OK to be looked sort of mechanic. I’m very much interested in something that only androids can achieve.

Julie: I’m imagining the future where androids are differentiated from human beings but are co-existing together. I’m sure the mechanic is cool and it is one of android’s features, right?

Shimaya: Definitely. When AI becomes advanced enough, I hope androids will be one category like men, women, and androids.


撮影:Julie Watai モデル:ASUNA,Julie Watai (写真集トーキョー・フューチャー・クラシック「LOVE VALLY」より)Photograph: By Julie Watai Model: ASUNA and Julie Watai (form “LOVE VALLY” in “Tokyo Future Classics”)

Shimaya-san stated “I believe that 5% of android’s parts can be complemented by the eyes of viewers.” I mentioned that “everyone said that they were startled to catch ASUNA’s eyes.” ASUNA’s eyes, which are very pure and honest, may evoke “fear“, “curiosity“, or “deep emotion” from you.Her expressions change mechanically, which inspires our imaginations and may help us compliment her personality.

“Uncanny valley” is the hypothesis that human replicas that appear almost but not exactly like real human beings elicits feelings of eeriness and revulsion among some observers: ASUNA doesn’t elicit such feelings and is widely accepted by women. It’s all because of her lovely face, I guess.So,just face the complicated feelings which we perceive form androids; you may encounter your unexpected something.

Read more articles TOKYO CUTTING-EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai
#4 : TOKYO CUTTING EDGE CREATORS by Julie Watai #4 : The New Generation’s Chiptune Artist “TORIENA”

#3 : Think About Where Humanity Meets Technology with Etsuko Ichihara

#2 : The Future of Fashion with Junya Suzuki from “chloma”

#1 : #1 : Past and Present of Akihabara with Ai☆Madonna

Related links
ASUNA’s blog :
A-Lab official site :
Julie Watai official site :

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Julie Watai

After working at an idol in Japan, Julie Watai moved by herself to Italy, publishing SAMURAI GIRL in 2006 while working as a photographer for Italian publishing company DRAGO&ARTS. She quickly became an international Japanese pop culture figure, gaining a large following. After returning to Japan, she continued her work as a photographer, along with developing electronics as a hobby and iPhone apps, and has been remarkably successful as part of the Akiba-style geek culture, too.

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