Interactive Art +

Anerkennung - Honorary Mentions

Digital Shaman Project

Etsuko Ichihara (JP)


The Digital Shaman Project proposes a new mode of mourning in keeping with the technical advances of today. A 3D-printed mask of the deceased’s face is placed on a domestic robot installed with a motion program that mimics the physical characteristics―personality, speech, gestures―of that individual as if possessed by their spirit. The program functions for 49 days after the person’s death—according to Buddhist belief, it takes 49 days for a deceased person to enter the next life— during which time family members can experience simulated conversation with the deceased as if he or she were still alive. On the 49th day, the robot bids farewell to the bereaved and the program shuts down. The program is thus designed to allow the bereaved to spend 49 days with a robot seemingly possessed, like a medium, by the deceased. The creator says that she developed the concept after her grandmother’s death, when she personally experienced the function that a funeral serves as a mourning ritual for those left behind.

The program runs on domestic robots like Pepper and Nao so that it easily runs anywhere as long as a robot is available. The process of installing the application to the robot mimics the process where a medium is possessed. The creator also thinks that in order for certain technology to expand the market, it is important to snuggle up to human desires, emotions, and sensations. So she designed an application to realize an emotional relationship between machines and human beings.

While the realm of alchemy and belief appears to be conflicting with that of science and technology, considering the common disposition of assuming and suggesting “something that is not here,” Etsuko Ichihara proposes that both might in fact be very closely related, mutually compatible fields. Based on this idea, this project was conceived with the aim to propose new forms of prayer and entombment in this age of advanced science and technology.

The experiment is part of a research project on funeral rites as a window into the uniquely Japanese approach to life and death. This is one of a series of works on “digital shamanism” that attempt to blend Japanese folk beliefs with technology.


Etsuko Ichihara (JP)

Etsuko Ichihara (JP), born in 1988, is a media artist / fantasy inventor. She graduated from Waseda University. Etsuko has been creating artworks that interpret Japanese culture, customs, and beliefs from a unique point of view, and present new, technology-based approaches. Thanks to their strong impact, these works have been introduced across a wide range of media. Main works include Sekuhara Interface, the SRxSI system, and the Digital Shaman Project. Ichihara’s works were included in the Excellence Award at the 20th Japan Media Arts Festival, Entertainment Division in 2017. She has recently presented her works in exhibitions such as ‘Digital Shamanism: Japanese Funeral and Festivity’ at NTT InterCommunication Center [ICC], Japan Media Arts Festival.

Planning, direction: Etsuko Ichihara
Application and motion development: Uco
Planning support / Actress: Shiho Sato
Logo design: Yurie Hata
Tablet UI design: Manami Inose
Photographer: Masashi Kuroha
Video direction: Hiroshi Takai (Garage)
Videographer: Jinam/Akifumi Watanabe
Model: Naotaka Fujii, Shintaro Nakajima, Etsuko Ichihara, Yamazaki Shishi, Gomess, Manami Inose, Anne Ferrero
Support: Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japan (Project to Support and Nurture of Media Arts Creators) / INNOvation program from The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications