When you think of Japan, you think of big, modern cities, advanced technology, robots that serve you Ramen, some of the fastest broadband services in the world
…and Fax machines??? Wait, what?? 

As hard as it is to believe, these ancient bastions of pre-digital communication are still holding strong in Japanese businesses and especially government offices.

Illustration by Adam Pasion
Illustration by Adam Pasion

Want to send off your resume, real estate forms, or job applications? You need to fax them… Think you can just send a PDF invoice to your customers? Nope, not gonna happen, Pal.  Oh, you can send it, but they’ll just reply that you’ll have to send a Fax as well.

Per Capita, Japan still has the greatest Fax use of any modern country. Nearly 1.2 million basic fax machines were sold in Japan in 2014.

Already Technology Museum pieces in many countries, the FAX Machine simply refuses to leave Japanese offices. According to the Government’s Cabinet Office, about 85% of Businesses, and 65% of Homes in Japan still have/use Fax Machines.  Having lived in Japan for the past, oh 10 years or so, I’ve seen the amount of paper a typical Japanese office goes through, and I can only assume that the entire country has declared a shadow war on both the information age and trees.

fax in japan

Part of the reason for the machine’s survival is an attachment among older generations (which would include most company CEOs in Japan) who spent most of their careers using it.  Some habits, as they say, are hard to break. 

Many older people in Japan actively resist changes, and the mainstay of the Fax machine is a direct manifestation of Japan’s resistance to stray, even a hair, from an established way of doing things – At least that’s true for the older generation.

Some Supermarket chains, such as the ubiquitous Aeon, still actually accept to take orders by fax, and they are constantly coming in.

Perhaps some might argue that faxes provide better security compared to digital communication, since it is nearly impossible to intercept or alter a Fax once it’s sent. 

Still holding on to the misconception that their information is not safe through the internet, many Banks, Insurance Companies, and Real Estate Offices find it nigh impossible to switch to digital records. Someone has to keep using those ancient Hanko’s to stamp the papers right?

Others will point to the hand-written nature of Fax communication, which, to some, feels warmer and more heart-felt.

Whatever the reason, looks like the Fax will not go the way of the dinosaurs just yet… at least as long as the dinosaurs in office keep resisting to open their doors to the modern life waiting just outside their doorsteps.

What do you think?  Is it time for Japan to catch up to the 21st Century and sever its love-affair with the FAX, or do they have a good point in holding on to this rather ancient, but more personal technology?  Let us know in the comments section below.

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