FILE PHOTO - People walk on a street in a busy shopping district in Tokyo, Japan.
Foreign workers can help fill some of the gaps, although they make up only about 2 percent of the current labour force, and companies hiring for "unskilled" positions like farm work must rely on trainees under an internship programme that lasts up to five years.
The government has said it will create new categories for foreign workers with more limited skills, but will issue only a small number of such visas.
Mazda Motor Corp's suppliers, which typically operate independently, are cooperating to figure out the best way to use artificial intelligence and robots to remove human workers from the equation altogether.
"Our goal is to create unmanned production lines that can operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," said Masato Uno, chairman of the Hiroshima Manufacturing Engineering Association, a consortium of Mazda suppliers and IT companies. "We expect this to address problems with productivity and labour shortages."