Buses and blossoms
Greater Tokyo is home to 38 million people connected by one of the most impressive transportation systems in the world. High-speed rail, subways, taxis, buses and bicycles combine to get Tokyoites where they need to go.
As its population ages — Japan has the highest elderly population in the world — many Japanese are looking to technology, like artificial intelligence, robotics and driverless technology to help solve problems.
With these changes in mind, 2025AD travelled via the city’s intricate bus system to join revelers for hanami [flower viewing], under the cherry blossoms, to ask them what they think the future holds in Japan.
Daisuke, 27, graphic designer
2025AD: Can I ask how old you are and what you do?
Daisuke: I’m 27 and I’m a designer.
2025AD: How do you usually get around Tokyo?
Daisuke: Hmm, trains and subway mostly. I live close to work though. A couple of stops. I walk when it’s nice out.
2025AD: Does your family live in Tokyo?
Daisuke: No. I’m from Saitama [a suburb north of Tokyo]. My parents are there.
2025AD: Do you think you’ll have to help them as they age?
Daisuke: It’s scary to think about, but yeah, I’ll probably have to take care of them.
2025AD: How about artificial intelligence [AI], robots and driverless technology? Do you think these will play a role caring for the elderly in the future?
Daisuke: That’s what they say. But I’m not so sure. I mean, all those things will have to improve a lot. I wouldn’t want something like Pepper [from Softbank Robotics] taking care of my parents [laughing]. We already have driverless trains though, that’s fine. Maybe even better than people.
2025AD: How about driverless cars and buses?
Daisuke: Taxis and cars will happen, I think. My mom uses the buses in Saitama, but that seems more complicated.
2025AD: How so?
Daisuke: How does the bus know when everyone is on and seated? Old people fall down easily and drivers are trained to help. Maybe more robots on the bus [laughs]? I don’t know. Hard to say.
2025AD: Yeah, there’s a lot more than driving involved. Do you think Tokyo will embrace driverless technology anytime soon?
Daisuke: I think we prefer trains here, so those will definitely become automated eventually. Buses and cars… I doubt it. Not unless it gets a lot better.
2025AD: Thanks for your time and enjoy hanami!
Daisuke: You too!
Satoru, 41, restaurateur
2025AD: Thanks for chatting with us. Can I ask how old you are and your job?
Satoru: I’m 41. And I own a wine bar.
2025AD: How do you commute to work?
Satoru: I walk. I live in the neighborhood.
2025AD: Is your family from Tokyo?
Satoru: Yes. But I lived in Naples, Italy for 11 years.
2025AD: Wow! What was that like?
Satoru: Every day was very exciting! Totally different from Japan. It’s wild and fun there. But Japan is probably easier when you’re older, I think.
2025AD: Does the transportation system make it easier to live here?
Satoru: Yeah, I think so. The Japanese system is organised and we like things to stay quiet and clean. Maybe too much sometimes. We should relax like Italians sometimes, too [laughing].
2025AD: Hanami seems very relaxed by Japanese standards though, doesn’t it?
Satoru: That’s true! We like to party, too, I suppose.
2025AD: Do you worry about the future of Japan? The population is getting older and declining.
Satoru: Yes, of course. Everyone worries about this. But I think Japan will find a way. We can be happy with very little.
2025AD: How about your family? Would driverless cars help take care of them, do you think?
Satoru: I’m not sure. I think we need fewer cars, right? Bus and taxi drivers are mostly old now, too. Maybe foreigners can do those jobs for us in the future. You see foreign workers at convenience stores now in Tokyo. That’s fine.
2025AD: Any predictions for the future of Tokyo transportation?
Satoru: Who knows? Maybe automatic everything! But not for a long time, probably. I’ll be too old to really enjoy it though [laughing].
2025AD: Thank you for your time!
Satoru: Grazie a te! Ciao, arrivederci!
Kaori, 49, office worker
2025AD: Can you introduce yourself?
Kaori: I’m Kaori Shinagawa. I’m 49 and work in an office.
2025AD: How do you commute to work?
Kaori: I take a bus and then a train. I really hate it!
2025AD: Why is that?
Kaori: The bus makes me car sick and then rush hour on the train is intense. It’s so crowded and stressful.
2025AD: Do you think driverless technology will help manage the rush hour better in the future?
Kaori: Maybe. If they can add more trains during that time. If AI can fix it so they can run many more trains per hour. As long as it’s safe, then people in Japan will use it. We don’t like risk.
2025AD: What are the risks of driverless technology, as you see them?
Kaori: Hmm, maybe it breaks down during a natural disaster or someone will put a virus in the computers? Would be better to have a human in charge in that case.
2025AD: Do you think driverless technology can help take care of elderly people in the future?
Kaori: As long as it’s safe, then yes. But I think it’s really complicated. Maybe younger people trust technology more naturally and won’t mind it.
2025AD: Thank you for your time and enjoy hanami!
Kaori: Thank you!
Mr and Mrs Hara, 74, retired
2025AD: Can you introduce yourself?
Mr Hara: I’m 74 years old, a retired ceramic shop owner.
Mrs Hara: I’m 70 years old. I’m his wife [laughter].
2025AD: Are you from Tokyo?
Mr Hara: No, we drove here from Kyushu for hanami.
2025AD: You drove from Kyushu? It’s really far. Why not take the train or fly?
Mr Hara: We wanted to take our time and enjoy the scenery along the way.
Mrs Hara: It was such a beautiful trip. We make stops along the way, so we can see more as we go. You can’t see much from the Shinkansen [bullet train].
2025AD: Do you think driverless cars would be convenient for a trip like this?
Mr Hara: No, no. I like to drive myself. We even have paper maps. It’s old fashioned, but I like it.
Mrs Hara: I don’t know why everything needs to be automatic. We’ll forget how to do things for ourselves.
2025AD: Would you take a driverless bus?
Mrs Hara: Do they have those already? I don’t think it’s ready yet.
Mr Hara: Maybe. But we don’t really need this sort of complicated thing. Maybe in the future it will be necessary, but not at the moment. Drivers are helpful.
2025AD: If driverless automobiles were 100 per cent safe and available in your area, would you take it?
Mr Hara: Yes. If it were safe most people would use it, I think.
Mrs Hara: Tokyo will get it first. But the countryside will need it more.
2025AD: How has transportation changed Japan in the past? How do you think it will it change it in the future?
Mr Hara: Hmm, the trains are very convenient. We can move far away from our families and only go back during Obon or New Year. The young people all moved to the cities. In the future, I don’t know. The countryside will be totally empty, maybe.
Mrs Hara: And they are building the Linear [Maglev] train now that is even faster than Shinkansen. People might work in Osaka and live in Tokyo. It’s so strange, but it will happen soon.
Mr Hara: Everything is always changing. It’s what humans do.
2025AD: Thank you so much for your time and enjoy your drive back to Kyushu.
Mr Hara: And to you. Good luck with your work!
As Japan enters a new era, its citizens seem ready to accept the technological and societal changes with a mix of open-mindedness and respect of tradition. The population will continue to decline, but the populations of mega-cities like Tokyo and Osaka are expected to keep growing. Those interviewed felt that once driverless technology meets Japan’s world-class transportation system’s high safety standards, it will have a real chance of becoming an invaluable part of daily life. In the very near future, the same people we spoke to may be riding driverless buses, taxis and trains to go cherry blossom viewing across Tokyo - it’s only a matter of time.