When we think of Japan, it is very likely that the first thing that comes to mind, apart from sushi or anime, is technology. After all, it is a country with a long history in the fields of science and innovation, and a world leader in areas such as robotics, natural sciences, aerospace exploration or biomedical research.

Without going that far, last year Japan ranked 13th in the Global Innovation Index published by the World Intellectual Property Organization, even despite the enormous impact of the pandemic. The country was recognized for “showing admirable resilience and adhering to digitization, technology and innovation,” the report says.

So why is the world’s third-largest economy still dealing with obsolete technologies, like the floppy disk or the fax machine?

A CBS News report on banking in the Japanese city of Hamada, with a population of 50,000 people, describes the transactions that take place there as “a throwback to the 20th century”, despite not being so digitally distanced from the main urban centers. , Tokyo and Osaka.

Like cities in other advanced nations, Hamada collects taxes, health insurance premiums and social security contributions from residents’ bank accounts by sending online bills to local financial institutions.

Banks clinging to their ‘technology’

But one of the eight local banks with which the city administration does business insists that payment instructions be delivered physically, on floppy disks, a device invented by IBM in 1967 that can store a mere megabyte of data, enough for a few few seconds of video.

“Floppy production ended 10 years ago, and we’ve urged that bank to come online,” a spokeswoman for the city’s accounting department told CBS News. “But they stick to their old system.”

Even some of the banks that have gone digital, the spokeswoman noted, still expect all transactions to be confirmed by a fax machine, another quasi-museable object that allows for the telephone transmission of printed, scanned material, usually to a telephone number connected to a printer or other output device.

Hamada is not alone in struggling with these issues. A survey earlier this year by the San-in Chuo Shimpo newspaper found that the town was among nine cities in Shimane prefecture that still used floppy disks. More than half the towns in Shimane and neighboring Tottori, both west of Tokyo, still use floppy disks.

The Nikkei financial newspaper, quoted by CBS, reported that some of Tokyo’s 23 wards are only halfway through digital conversions, accelerated by major banks charging higher fees for hardware-based transactions.

Some pay almost $200 for a fax machine

A sales clerk at Seiwa Electric, a home appliance store in western Tokyo stocked with the latest refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners, said one of its top sellers is a $189 Panasonic fax machine.

“The older people love it,” he said. “They can order mikan oranges directly from the farms and they use the device to then make copies of the order.” The store still gets a lot of mileage out of its own fax machine, because some of its vendors just don’t like doing business online.

The American writer Roland Kelts, of Japanese roots, considers that for decades, the technological triumphs of the Asian country have disguised its obsolete digital systems, that is, beyond the unnecessary use of hardware.

“Online banking, airline bookings, major newspapers, you name it – services that have been streamlined by the digital revolution in much of the world are, in Japan, still plagued by intricate drop-down menus that lead to dead ends and detailed forms that need to be printed, filled out in pen and even faxed back,” he wrote in May for Rest of World.

For Kelts, Japan’s high-quality public infrastructure “has long disguised its sclerotic digital systems” and there is a “jarring juxtaposition” between the country’s digital interfaces and its unmatched engineering prowess.

Japan Digital Agency

The continued use of these devices is also a tough challenge for the Japan Digital Agency, which was established exactly a year ago and strives to “bin” unneeded hardware, from floppy disks to CD-ROMs, DVDs and flash drives. USB drives.

Its director, aspiring prime minister Taro Kono, said he found in audits some 2,000 government procedures that still require business-related requests to be sent on diskettes or other physical media.

As a kind of compulsive hoarder who does not want to part with his old possessions, Japan is putting at stake, among other things, the adoption of a national digital identification system and the weakening of efficiency in the workplace.

Floppy disks, disks and USB drives have turned up in some infamous cases, such as when the Tokyo Metropolitan Police last year lost two diskettes containing personal data of 38 men who were applying for public housing.

In June, a contractor in the city of Amagasaki, in western Japan, woke up on the street after a night out and his bag, containing flash drives and data on nearly half a million residents, including details of their bank accounts, was not.

Shortly before, the city of Abu had gained notoriety for accidentally sending its entire Covid relief fund to a 24-year-old resident who later disappeared. The transaction information was on a floppy disk.

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