Tokyo FinTech
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Tokyo FinTech

A short history of the fax machine in Japan

The Japan that was, and the Japan that is could not be any more different. Amazingly, the history of the fax machine in Japan is one of innovation and a world-leading first-to-market approach.

“Through a slew of initiatives, government stimulated early demand for new products, helping to foster the competitiveness of some industries. In fax machines, for example, NTT, then the government telephone company, heavily promoted the use of fax technology for the office. In the early 1970s, Japan was one of the first countries to allow facsimile transmission over general phone lines. In 1976, NTT began giving ‘type approvals’ (blanket approvals for facsimile machine models that met NTT standards) for individual models. Previously, approvals had been required for each individual facsimile installation, and many countries banned facsimile hookups altogether. NTT also invested heavily in marketing facsimile machines and dedicated facsimile lines. Government agencies such as the Self-Defense Forces, the police, the Japanese National Railroad, and the Weather Service were early adopters. The government and the private sector quickly agreed to global G3 fax standards to ensure that all fax machines could communicate with one another.

In 1977, MITI reduced the depreciable life for fax machines from ten years to five years, thereby encouraging users to buy more expensive, higher value-added models. The Japanese government also encouraged facsimile use by accepting documents sent by facsimile. In 1985, for example, the Patent Office approved faxed applications as legal documents. In contrast, the US Patent and Trademark Office treated facsimiles as documents that lacked a signature and did not file them. Although the Japanese government did not give legal standing to every document sent by facsimile, its policies lent credibility to the emerging communications medium. Cumulatively, these practices helped to create an early market for facsimile; this, in turn, sparked demand for more sophisticated versions, which spurred Japanese companies to invest in the industry and to improve their products.”

Quoted from: “Can Japan Complete” by Porter/Takeuchi/Sakakibara

If you enjoy some Western humor, then the following articles in “The Rising Wasabi” will lighten your mood:

Japan Launches Hands-Free Fax Machine

Japan Drone Successfully Delivers First Fax Machine

Whatever has been put in place 40 years for fax machines, let us hope we will see the same push for digital signatures and documents — the challenge, of course, for Japanese industry is that we are now talking software instead of hardware, with the former traditionally a weak sector in Japan outside of gaming.

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Norbert Gehrke

Passionate about strategy & innovation across Asia. At home in Japan. Connector of people & ideas.