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Japan still in love with the fax

Hi-tech nation of contradictions

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Despite being hailed for its techno-innovation, Japan is a little more traditional than many people think – over half of homes apparently still contain fax machines.

The country’s businesses and government organisations continue to rely on the legacy technology to transmit important documents, while 59 per cent of households feature a clunky paper-muncher, according to a Washington Post article which cited Cabinet Office stats.

In Britain, some 40 per cent of workers in small and medium enterprises also still use faxes, according to an Intel report from last year, but the level of usage is more surprising given that by the end of 2011, the land of the rising sun had the second fastest average broadband speed of any country in the world, according to Akamai’s State of the Internet report.

The Washington Post offers up two explanations for why faxing may still be a popular pastime in Japan; because the country is unable “to change and to accommodate global standards”; and that it still places emphasis on paper and handwriting.

Both of these are true to an extent.

Calligraphy is certainly revered to an extent which would perplex a westerner, and given that the language contains three different scripts – one based on Chinese characters and two purely Japanese syllabets – writing out a document can sometimes be more effective and less time consuming than typing.

On the other hand, the whole perception of Japan as a technology superpower sometimes overshadows the fact that it has a rapidly ageing population – many of whom may well prefer to fax than email.

In the end, the reason why Japan is so fascinating to foreigners is the very fact it has these massive contradictions co-existing quite happily.

While banks innovate with biometric authentication technology in ATMs and cutting edge anti-phone fraud prototypes, therefore, inside the branch they’ll still be sending documentation back and forth via fax, while customers in smaller towns could find their ATMs locked outside of business hours. ®

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