Vintage Robots

Jinzō ningen「人造人間

This story appeared in the April 1928 issue of Shin seinen–New Youth–a monthly magazine filled with genre fiction that aimed at urban youth. Now available on Amazon, it is the first in our series of Japanese Vintage SF stories.


What is science to love? “The Man-made Baby” (1928) is Hirabayashi Hatsunosuke’s answer to this quandary. In the early twentieth century, science offered a host of new words to describe the experience of being caught up in love. Is love best described in the words of seismology—as an earthquake? As an electrical jolt? A mysterious perfume? Is science even adequate to the task at hand? Inquiring minds want to know!

Hirabayashi investigates this question in the sympathetic story of a moga, a modern girl living in 1920s Tokyo. Fusako is steeped in urban culture and yearns for the new new thing. She falls for and clashes with a cool, collected and very married scientist as they jointly investigate the “black box” of love.

“The Man-made Baby” is the first popular work in Japanese to place the theme of a robot at its center. The robot, translated more precisely as “artificial human,” is a scientific enigma that poses the questions, “what is love to science” as well as “what is science to love?” As a robot more human than the metal-clad beings we have come to know and love in later sci-fi, the artificial baby is a mysterious project hatched between a scientist and his young assistant, this modern girl. The plan to conceive, publicize and début the artificially created baby lures in enthusiasts as well as skeptics—namely, the scientist’s wife. Hirabayashi’s story is a rare treatment of the modern girl as a creature of conflict— not quite vamp or siren, not quite feminist icon, she crosses a number of lines that lead her into an unchartered future…