• Japan Tips

Fax Machines In Japan & How To Use Them

A fax machine on a shelf in an office.

In contrast to their technologically advanced image, Japan relies heavily on fax machines (fakkusu in Japanese).

You might be thinking, “do people still use fax machines?”. Well, according to the Times, almost 100% of businesses and 45% of households in Japan still have fax machines!

Japan was one of the first countries in the world to allow facsimile transmissions over general phone lines in the 70s… and they won’t let them go!

Although modern methods of communication like email and text are quicker and easier, many Japanese people are set in their ways. They enjoy the presence and functionality of a traditional fax machine.

Moreover, Japan’s bureaucratic corporate culture relies heavily on paperwork and replacing the fax machine would mean big changes. This is one reason why moving to modern alternatives is heavily contested in Japan.

In fact, it was only the outbreak of COVID-19 that enabled health centres to move away from their trusty old fax machines. Due to the speed of reporting, health centres can now report new coronavirus cases online instead of by handwritten faxes.

If you’re considering working in Japan, you’ll probably need to know how to use a fax machine. Keep reading below to find out how to use a fax machine in Japan and more about Japan’s unusual relationship with the fax machine.


What Is A Fax Machine?

Fax is short for facsimile. Facsimile is the telephonic transmission of scanned printed material (text & Image) to a telephone number that is connected to a printer or similar output device.


How To Use A Fax Machine In Japan?

Using a fax machine in Japan is the same as using one anywhere else in the world. You just need to follow these simple steps.

  1. Obtain or create a document you want to send (often handwritten in Japan).
  2. On your fax machine, enter the fax number of the fax machine you want to send your document to.
  3. Feed your document into your fax machine. It will photocopy your document and process its contents as a single fixed graphic image by converting it into a bitmap.
  4. The converted document is then transmitted through the telephone system as audio frequency tones.
  5. The receiving fax machine interprets the tones and reconstructs the image.
  6. The receiving fax machine then prints a paper copy of the document.


Why are Fax machines so Important in Japan?

A collection of Hanko stamps.


The Hanko

A Hanko, also known as inkan, is a personal stamp that spells out a person’s name. It is commonly used as proof of authentication for Japanese documents and application forms ranging from opening bank accounts to signing for deliveries. It’s very similar to a signature.

Hanko are pervasive in almost all areas of daily life in Japan, and without paperwork, people fear the hanko would become obsolete.

Some people believe that losing the hanko would lead to an oversimplification of behaviour, which could lead to more political lies. For example, if a politician doesn’t sign a hanko on official documents and public messages, then they can more easily take back what they said and deny they said it.

However, the hanko has come under heavy scrutiny recently with the outbreak of Covid-19.

Hanko must be stamped by hand in most instances, and due to their heavy use in business culture, thousands of salarymen have had to commute into their workplaces during the pandemic, risking their safety just to sign documents.

Moreover, at the start of the pandemic, medical centres were still reporting cases by handwriting and fax. With speed being essential to handling a pandemic such as COVID-19, this was seen as a huge failure of the bureaucratic system. Fortunately, the Japanese government acknowledged this and implemented an online reporting system.

There is a chance the hanko will survive modern technology, though. Shachihata is a well-known hanko making company. They are amongst the more innovative companies in Japan that have developed a secure digital hanko. Hundreds of thousands of companies have already bought the product.


A computer screen that reads “access denied”.


Ageing Population & Reluctance to Accept new Technology

A quarter of the Japanese population is aged 65 or over, and the ageing population have a deep bond with the fax machine. They find new methods of communication confusing and frustrating. They’ve always worked with fax machines. They enjoy their presence and are comfortable using them.

Many Japanese people also feel that faxes are a much more personal form of communication than digital alternatives. They think that a hand-written fax is much warmer than a cold digital email. Handwriting is also embedded in Japanese culture, and many job applications are handwritten. This is because many employers are thought to judge people’s personalities from their writings.

Moreover, many homes lack a high-speed internet connection, which renders internet communication impractical or unachievable for them.

There is also fear in the population surrounding new technology. Many people are worried about their safety and personal information on the internet, which is why many Japanese banks still use fax.


A wall with Japanese choreography on it.


Complexity Of The Japanese Language

The Japanese written language is very complex. It contains over 2,000 symbols and characters.

Until word processors arrived in the 1980s, keyboards were simply too impractical to use.

To this day, they’re not as simple as English keyboards, and many people find it quicker and easier to handwrite instead of typing.

These are a few reasons why Japan may not move away from the fax machine until the younger generations take over more senior positions in the country.


What Are Your Thoughts On Fax Machines In Japan?

Were you surprised by how much Japan relies on fax machines? If you want to find a job in Japan, you’ll probably need to learn how to use one.