Japan's Romance with the Fax Machine *Insert Screetching Fax Machine Noises Here.*

    Japanese technology can be weird sometimes. And I don't mean "weird" like a sex robot or something, I just mean different in unexpected ways.

    Japanese cell phones, for example, have long suffered from "Galápagos syndrome" — meaning that they have evolved in very specialized and unique ways that make them suited for Japan and Japan alone.

    Toilets too, have evolved in uniquely Japanese ways that haven't ever really caught on elsewhere in the world. If only we could have the sort of heated seat, butthole-sprayin' luxury of Japanese toilets here in the USA.

    Then there are fax machines. While it seems like a lot of the world has moved on from the fax machine and embraced the personal computer, Japanese has lagged behind. According to the Washington Post, almost 60% of Japanese households have a fax machine, and most businesses use one regularly.

    How did Japan become so infatuated with this archaic piece of technology? What's next — are the Japanese going to dust off their Laserdiscs and eight-tracks too? (Quadrophonic sound is pretty cool tho.)

    The way I figure, there are three main reasons the Japanese cling to fax machines:

    Aversion to Personal Computers

    I'd say that Japan still loves the fax machine for a lot of the same reasons behind Japan's Tokugawa-style isolationism on the internet — Japan didn't adopt the personal computer as swiftly or as whole-heartedly as the rest of the world.

    An iMac screen with a painting of Matthew Perry's ships

    This not only means that Japanese website are kind of wonky, but it also means that Japanese people aren't as accustomed to using a personal computer. Thus, scanning and emailing a document seems a lot harder than just faxing it.

    Go Hard (Copy)

    Let me share something embarassing with you: I still get my bills in the mail and even gasp buy CDs, just because I like the physicality of it all.

    Fortunately for my pride, I'm not alone in this preference toward the tangible. On at least some level, the Japanese still hang on to a lot of old traditions just for this reason.

    Résumés are often still hand-written, so it's probably no surprise that the Japanese much prefer a copy via fax than via email.

    Older Folk

    Everybody knows that Japan gettin' pretty old (we've talked about Japan's elderly many times before) — it's one of the most rapidly aging populations in the world, meaning that there are more old people than young people. And not to be ageist but, generally speaking, older people aren't great at adapting to new technologies.

    Elderly couple sit on a bench and use their cellphone
    Source: Tom Spender

    If faxing works, and people know how to use it, why change it? Just like the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    Will Japan Ever Give Up the Fax?

    It's pretty clear why the Japanese still use the fax, but less clear whether or not they'll ever ditch it in favor of more modern tech.

    More than anything, the problem isn't technical — it's cultural. Faxes will only be phased out in Japan once the culture around them changes. For better or worse though, cultural changes are near-impossible to predict, so it's kind of a crap shoot to say if or when Japan will give up faxing.

    Who knows? Maybe they'll switch over to telegram.