The joy of fax: Why Japan refuses to enter the 21st century
Japan's affection for the fax is partly about its love of a solid paper trail
They call it Galapagos syndrome: Japanese technologies that have stalled or developed in isolation from the rest of the world. And one of the key exhibits is the ubiquitous fax.
While much of the developed world has decamped online, millions of Japanese still prefer to send documents by fax, according to new government figures. The study reveals fax machines are almost universal in Japanese companies, while nearly half of homes also have one. Last year, 1.7 million of the machines were sold to Japanese customers, partly to replace those lost in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
In thousands of Japanese offices, secretaries still observe time-honoured protocol, printing out documents from the fax in the corner and taking them in both hands to the male boss’s desk for perusal. Nonplussed foreign customers have grown used to requests to shun email and send faxed orders. Nearly 90 per cent of Japanese businessmen still consider the fax a vital business tool.
Japan was quick to embrace fax technology in the 1980s because it meant offices could write characters from the complex writing system on paper – Japan uses three separate alphabets and about 2,000 Chinese-derived characters. Culture plays a part too: many Japanese still prefer hand-written over typed documents. “It’s considered a warmer, more personal touch,” says Atsushi Nakagawa, who runs a small import business. CVs, for example, are often written by hand, he explains.
But Japan’s affection for the fax is also partly about its love of a solid paper trail, explains Akiko Suzaki, spokeswoman for NTT Communications, one of the world’s largest telecom firms. “We mainly use email and temp files for business too, but we still use fax in some situations – like sending or accepting estimates, or sending copies of drivers’ licences.” Banks, insurance companies, real estate offices and even supermarkets still widely accept faxes, stamped with the customers’ all-important hanko, or personal seal. Smaller businesses in Japan are simply not used to emailing temp files or scanned documents and tend to fall back on the dusty facsimile, adds Ms Suzaki.
Japan has clung to the fax as its population has aged. More than a third of the population is over 65 and many pensioners have never used the internet. In an effort to bridge the gap between the fax and smartphones, NTT has begun offering new services. One allows a PC or mobile phone to send faxes over the internet using an internet protocol telephone number. The service can be reversed to allow pensioners to send messages from faxes to mobile phones.
Will efaxes finally wean millions of Japanese off their clunky machines? Perhaps, says Mr Nakagawa – but don’t hold your breath. “People value written communication very highly in his country. I don’t think the fax is going away any time soon.”
Life & Style blogs
Alexander McQueen at auction: What makes a really great piece of fashion?
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
No female ejaculation, please, we’re British: a history of porn and censorship
Stressed nurses are 'forced to choose between health of patients and their own'
Pornhub: Kim Kardashian's sex tape is the most-watched porn video of all-time
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Germany sees 'visible rise' in support for far-right extremism in response to perceived 'Islamisation' of the West
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
iJobs Gadgets & Tech
£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A PHP Developer with knowledge ...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...
£33000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£25k - 40k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...