At the Suisyoen retirement home 30 km (19 miles) south of the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, elderly Japanese earthquake survivors are finding comfort in a plush, white robot.
Two months after an earthquake and tsunami destroyed the region, residents of the pensioners home have made a friend in a seal named Paro. A gift from the Daiwa House corporation, the robotic stuffed animal is made with anti-bacterial fur. The toy usually costs 12,000 yen ($155) a month to lease, but the home is getting the seal free of charge.
Although the retirement home was relatively unharmed by the quake, residents were forced to leave for two months for fear of radiation contamination from the nearby power plant.
The residents currently have two Paro seals, which they've named "Love" and "Peace."
Animals are often used for therapy for the elderly, and aside from its anti-bacterial coat the seals give the elderly residents the same companionship that a pet gives.
"If I hold onto this, it doesn't matter if there's a typhoon outside, I still feel safe," 85-year-old Satsuko Yatsuzaka told ChinaDaily.
The seals can blink and are soft to the touch. Many residents spend hours hugging the seals and some help the robotic animals participate in group exercise, clapping its flippers with the instructors commands.
"It's just as cute a little living creature and so everyone is looking after it every day," resident Ayako Shizo, who lost her house in the tsunami, told the publication. "It does sometimes runs out of batteries and stop. But when it's got its eyes open everyone stands around talking to it, asking it how it's doing and such."
More than half of the victims of the tsunami were over 65 years of age, according to reports.