captsgenem02230205162949photo00photodefa Dolls Replacing Children in Ever Aging, Childless JapanThis story is, um, haunting. It seems fewer and fewer Japanese have grandchildren (or children) to comfort them in old age. Enter technology:

As Japan produces fewer children and more retirees, toymakers are designing new dolls designed not for the young but for the lonely and elderly—companions which can sleep next to them and offer caring words they may never hear otherwise.

Talking toys have become such a hit that some elderly people have embraced them as substitutes for the children who have grown old and deserted entire neighborhoods in the rapidly greying country.

The Yumel doll, which looks like a baby boy and has a vocabulary of 1,200 phrases, is billed as a “healing partner” for the elderly and goes on the market Thursday at a price of 8,500 yen (80 dollars).

About 8,000 Yumel dolls, designed by toymaker Tomy with pillows and bedding maker Lofty, have already been sold in less than three months in limited marketing in sleeping sections of department stores.

“Toymakers are targeting senior citizens as the number of children is falling. We are also striving to attract them,” said Osamu Kiriseko, who headed the Yumel project.

For more of the story, go here.

In 1992, the mystery writer P.D. James published a very different sort of novel for her, but a striking and moving one nonetheless, called The Children of Men. It’s about a future in which the entire human race becomes infertile and where that might lead.