KESENNUMA: High-tech fluffy seals that respond to human touch are the latest weapon in the battle against depression for survivors of Japan's tsunami disaster.
"Paro" is being offered to people made homeless by the disaster and is offering a much-needed bit of affection with his burbling noises and the appreciative flapping of fins when he comes into contact with people.
"It's so cute. It coos when I rub it," said 10-year-old Kosei Oyama, "Because of the tsunami, we have fewer things to play with than before."
Tsuyako Kumagai, a 47-year-old housewife, said her friends in temporary houses are happy with Paro as a substitute for the pets that were swept away by the gigantic waves.
The seal robots have been made available to people living in temporary houses erected in a baseball stadium in the port town of Kesennuma, an area badly hit by the tsunami last March which killed 19,000 people on the coast.
For many, things now are a little better than they were, but a long way from perfect.
The seal, which is equipped with tactile and audio sensors, has already been used in hospitals and nursing homes as a therapeutic aid for older people suffering from depression or dementia.
Organisers of the scheme are also offering other fixes to disaster victims, including workout robots and a prototype of a high-tech head massager, and even have a reception desk staffed by an android. (AFP)