Japan and the fax: A love affair

Fax machine

Fax machines gather dust in parts of the world, consigned to history since the rise of email. Yet in Japan, a country with a hi-tech reputation, the fax is thriving.

At Japan's talent agency HoriPro Inc, Yutaro Suzuki is busy writing up his next project proposal. Not typing, but writing by hand.

HoriPro is one of the largest and oldest agencies in the country and Suzuki publicises almost 300 singers and actors. But behind this glamorous profile, he cordially writes detailed schedules by hand.

"It takes longer but my feelings and passion come across better," says the 48-year-old public relations expert. "I find emails very cold so I prefer to fax handwritten documents."

In a country which boasts one of the fastest broadband speeds in the world, Suzuki thinks his affection for the fax may be a rare case in such a tech-savvy country. But 87.5% of Japanese businessmen surveyed by the Internet Fax Research Institute say that a fax machine is a crucial business tool.

And Suzuki's preference reflects aspects of Japanese culture which still embrace fax machines, despite their disappearance from parts of the developed world.

Firstly, the culture of handwriting is firmly rooted here. For example, the majority of resumes are still handwritten because Japanese employers are said to judge people's personalities from their writings.

For season's greetings cards, don't dare think of sending computer generated messages, says Midori's "how to write a letter" website.

"New Year's cards without handwritten messages come across as businesslike and automatic," it says.

Yutaro Suzuki Emails lack warmth, says Suzuki

Not surprisingly, people aspire to have good handwriting. Calligraphy remains one of the most popular lessons that parents send their children to and many adults take private lessons to improve their writings, too.

Secondly, Japan is obsessed with hard copies. People like to hold actual documents, not just to receive soft copies.

"You may miss an email but if you fax a document, it's physically there so you cannot miss it," says Setsuko Tsushima who runs a real estate agency.

"Even if I am not in the office, other staff would notice that an urgent document has come through," she adds.

For any official documents including housing contracts, they also require seals instead of signatures in Japan.

The majority of the population has a seal called jitsuin which is officially registered as theirs through a government office.

Unless original documents must be submitted in person, fax machines again come in handy because documents stamped with seals can be sent.

There is another reason Japan continues to use fax machines in the email era.

Japan is a country known to be high-tech but not everyone is. More than a fifth of the population is aged over 65.

The older generation who cannot keep up with emails still prefer to use fax machines.

That is why Supermarket Aeon has decided to take orders by fax and phone, not just on their website.

"We started taking orders online in 2008 but received quite a few requests from customers, especially in rural areas, that they prefer to order by phone or fax," says Hideo Binnaka who heads the online sales team.

"They are mainly our older customers so we also offer to check up on them if we don't receive any orders for a month to make sure that they are ok."

Japanese calligraphy Calligraphy is highly valued

There are two types of Japanese consumers: those who are very high-tech and others who are still wedded to traditional forms.

The majority of Japanese households - 58.6% of them according to the government - still owns a fax machine, which also functions as a phone.

They are not necessarily clunky and old, however, because the manufacturers continue to release new models which have the latest technology including online faxing. It allows users to fax a document by using the internet.

The Internet Fax Research Institute says that more Japanese companies are keen to use e-fax (a fax sent using the internet) due to advantages such as cost reduction, business efficiency and environmental friendliness.

But for Suzuki, nothing beats handwriting.

"I draw maps, too," he says.

And there it is, on his summer party invitation, a map to the venue with every detail that partygoers need.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Personally I haven't used a fax machine in 20 years; it's old technology. But, and I speak as a lawyer, that in the "good old days" a letter would be "in the post" and a reply expected within a week; now, it's you haven;t replied within 5 minutes. Good, but sometimes a response does need to be considered

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    It's nice to see somewhere where the art of caligraphy is valued

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Hey - wait a minute! As an expatriate Brit in the US, I must point out that I am continually surprised at the continuing reliance on fax machines in the US. Not through choice but through a generally unsophisticated level of IT infrastructure in offices. How ironic! The country of Silicon Valley & Microsoft is, on a day-to-day basis, rather retarded and old-fashioned, technologically speaking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Interesting. I moved to Hong Kong recently to work in in one of the hospitals. All official documents for work were via fax. I had t explain to my solicitor that they want fax, So many bemused looks. I didn't even know what a machine looked like. It's all fax out there. Mobile shops want fax, doctors want fax even orders from Ikea need damn fax.I hated but got used to it

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Moved here about 8 years ago, and went to buy a telephone at the electric store, they didn't have any, just fax/tel. There are some very fancy ones with remote receivers and digital touch screens and all kind of menu options, we use it every day...
    This is still a very traditional culture in many ways. But, more importantly, it is a very adaptable culture and they don't mind using things that work

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    ...and what about Fax to email? You send a fax from a machine to a number that converts it to a PDF and then delivers it to the owner of the number by email attachment...loads of companies provide this service which can be free, one I know of is eFax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    I'm not going to digitally post a reply here I'm warming the old fax machine up instead...

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    I am sure i heard some real news come through all the chatter of the London games
    Abu Hamza has lost his appeal and will be deported
    it may be a dream as i am hallucinating with Olympic overdose

    oh and faxes are so 1980's

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Wow! The HYS page and has only gone and bin refreshed - there's a different olympic photo now.
    I'm off to fax all my japanese friends the big news!

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Perhaps the Japanese enthusiasm for the fax is due, in some part at least, to nostalgia. You only have to watch of few of the "quaint" documentaries on the NHK World channel to appreciate their love of tradition and the "good old days"
    Fax took off big time in booming Eighties Japan. To many older users that must now seem like a lost golden age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    I'm Deaf but in the UK, I rely on a fax machine to communicate with the outside world because in the 20 years I've had ZERO textphone calls and plenty of faxes. I really wish hearing people knew how to use a textphone!!! These days it takes at least two weeks or months to get a reply to a posted letter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    33. Ken Ilworth

    but it's all right for you to do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Personally I don't give a fax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Looks like this topics as popular as a non-Japanese fax machine!

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Very interesting, because I still use a chalk board in my kitchen as a reminder for the groceries I need next week! I've even heard papyrus is making a comeback too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    I think that hand written messages are so much more intimate than text/email/twitter etc I find electronic communication cold, dead and often misinterperated by the recipiant
    How sad it is to hear people say that they've almost forgotten how to write. How long will it be before they say Ive forgotten how to read as there is no need to know how to as my i-pad/pc/tablet reads for me?

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    hi, nowadays we talk about monopoly not only commercially but also culturally around the world where global retail chains have conquered every corner of the world. on the other hand, i quite respect the practice of the jspanese people because they cherish how they live and their way of life, by the way isn't that what cultural diversity based on? so, way to go japanese people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    The fax machen at my work just sites there and dose nothing as well. No one will remove it just in case it's needed. The only annoying thing is we get loads of junk faxes come through.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    The weakness of faxing is that people have to able to write,spell and be literate in the first place. Emails are for the Illiterati.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Today we send and recieve faxes via email. Incoming faxes are digitally signed and secure, no more paper blockages or wasted toner. Outbound faxes can be scanned and sent via email as attachments.. technology moves with the times, it's the users that get left behind!


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