Friday, June 8, 2012

Two Japans

An interesting article in the Washington Post today:

TOKYO — In Japan’s businesses and bureaucracies, in home offices and hulking companies, the fax machine is thriving.

Yes, the clunky device has fallen out of favor in so much of the world, a refuge for dust bunnies and stray cover sheets. But it is humming here.

Japanese still fax party invitations, bank documents and shopping orders. Business people call the fax a required communication tool, used for vital messages, often in place of e-mail. In the early hours of last year’s nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, operators informed the government of an emergency seawater injection by dialing up Tokyo and sending a fax.

Japan’s continued fax devotion may be an endearing quirk, what with the country’s reputation as a high-tech playland, all bright lights and flawless trains and chirping micro-devices. But it may also represent a deeper sign of the nation’s inability to change and to accommodate global standards, even as it cedes economic ground to Asian rivals such as China and South Korea.

“It goes back to the famous theory that there are two Japans,” said Serkan Toto, a Tokyo-based consultant for Japanese Web, mobile and social gaming companies. “One is very efficient and highly productive. The other is where things are very slow and there’s barely any innovation. Information technology is in that second basket.”

Check out the rest of the article here.

It's interesting - I think most people who have lived in Japan or spent a lot of time there would probably agree that it's a country of dichotomies, especially when it comes to technology. On one hand, Japan is renowned for its gadgets and devices, and Japanese companies are among the leaders of the automotive and video gaming industries. Virtually everyone in Japan has a cellphone. Yet at the same time, there are places without running hot water. Desktop computers and laptops are not ubiquitous as they are in the U.S. Despite sporting some of the world's most advanced toilets, many lavatories are equipped with simple holes in the ground.

I can't personally speak to the degree that people in Japan use fax machines; either because no one in the teachers' rooms at my schools used them or because I simply wasn't paying attention. But I will say that such a trend doesn't surprise me.

Though I'm no activist, I do think it is important for us to take care of our environment. After seeing the energy situation in Japan following last year's disaster and coming back home, I think that we waste a lot of electricity in the U.S. But there are things every country could be doing better. Reducing its reliance on paper would certainly make Japan a "greener" place. As would cutting back on the stupid disposable chopsticks found in nearly every restaurant in the country...

6/15/2012 Update: An interesting (indirect) counterpoint? Maybe there is something to fax, according to the Chicago Tribune.

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