Fax to the Future

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There is no doubt that Japan can be a futuristic wonderland: networked toilets that can analyse your offerings and report anomalies to your doctor, electric charge generators used to instantly age wine and karaoke damage limitation devices that can automatically add harmonies to your crooning and, as is the case when I sing, are bold enough to take your part altogether when things get too off key.

But at the same time Japan seems to be home to some of the First World’s most outmoded contrivances. The fax machine is still very much alive in Japan. Indeed, it has an almost venerable status: many a transaction is unconcluded, no matter what was agreed in person or through email, until the fax machine’s issue is received.

On the phone to a hotel recently I was told that I would have to fax my booking to them. “But I’m speaking to you now, you have your bookings book open in front of you and can easily add me to it” I said. “Sorry” came the reply, “No fax, no booking”. “What about I send you an email?” I countered “Sorry, fax only”

This left me in an awkward situation as I don’t have any fax machine, much less one that I carry with me on the Tokyo metro. So I called a friend and asked him to send the fax for me. “You’re in luck”, he said. “I’ve just bought a fax machine as I was asked to do something similar the other day”.

His story was even more absurd. He was required to send his company’s lawyer a fax with his new address and passport details. He called the lawyer and explained that he didn’t have a fax machine and that she already had his details on computer. She informed him that a fax with his details was nonetheless essential. He bought a machine and sent his first ever fax.

Minutes later he called her. “Sorry, I made a mistake. I faxed through the wrong side of the paper, I’ll send you the correct side now”. “Ah” she replied “that’s why it was blank. But don’t bother sending another, I just need a fax from you [blank, or otherwise], which I’ve now got, and I can just look-up your details on the computer”.

Within the InsideJapan Tours offices the beeping and whining of the fax machines competes with the staccato tattoo of the dot matrix printer. Another antiquated device which was sourced from the 1970s and is the only machine capable of printing the Japan Railpass vouchers; which are needed in quadripartite copy.

Other devices living a blithe existence in Japan, unaware that elsewhere in the world their time is up:

Abacus: with the price of electronic calculators still astronomically high why not conduct transactions using the convenient and reassuringly transparent bean machine?
Name Stamp: with the Japanese literacy rate as low as 99% why wouldn’t all Japanese carry stamps to enable them to mark their name?
LaserDisc: the format DVD could have been. Production in Japan only ceased end of 2001, still in use in Japan.

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