Japan Finally Phases Out Floppy Disks

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Japan scrapped every regulation requiring the use of floppy disks for administrative purposes this week, catching up with the times 13 years after the country’s producers manufactured their last units.

The floppy disk, invented in the 1970s, was once a ubiquitous part of computing. Other forms of memory like flash drives and internet cloud storage have since taken over. In the 1990s, along with the cassette tape, it was inching toward the dustbin of outdated tech.

But not in Japan. While renowned for its consumer electronics giants, robots and some of the world’s fastest broadband networks, the country has also been wedded to floppy disks and other old technologies like fax machines and cash.

Japan began moving away from the 1900s storage devices, magnetic disks encased in plastic, just two years ago, when Taro Kono, the country’s digital minister, declared a “war on floppy disks.”

When he encountered an image of a highway billboard for an American cancer clinic that read, “If you know what a floppy disk is it may be time for your cancer screening,” Mr. Kono responded on social media: “No, not necessarily in Japan.”

In the southern town of Tsuwano, officials in the accounting department replaced its stack of floppy disks only in April 2023, according to Nobuyuki Koto, one of the officials.

The town’s new database took some time to set up, but the switch was inevitable and the new system is speedier and more accurate, he said.

A wide spectrum of businesses — mines, oil companies, retailers, liquor shops, shopping centers — was bound by different rules requiring them to submit documents to regulators on floppy disks.

Even after Sony, once a major manufacturer of the disks for the Japanese market, stopped producing them in 2011, more than 1,000 floppy-mandating laws, ordinances and directives stayed on the books, according to the Digital Ministry.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kono declared victory in his war. All those regulations have been reviewed by lawmakers, undergone public comment, been voted on and struck down, he said.

The last rule standing was related to the recycling of used vehicles and was repealed on June 28, he said.

Outside the government, some Japanese sectors aren’t ready to let go.

Most of the traditional textile industry in a section of Kyoto, which makes items like kimonos, has not updated its technology since adopting floppy disks in the 1980s, said Motoshi Honda, an analyst at the Kyoto Municipal Industrial Technology Research Institute.

Each day, Higo Bank, a regional financial institution on the island of Kyushu, processes nearly 300 floppy disks, which weigh in at almost 10 pounds, according to Yusuke Murayama, a spokesman for the bank.

The bank has tried to persuade the clients still using the disks to store their bank account information to switch formats, telling them it would stop accepting them in the spring, he said.

Floppy disks are still around outside Japan, too. The embroidery and avionics industries use them, and until recently the United States’ nuclear arsenal did, too.

Within the government, Mr. Kono’s work is not done. He has indicated that fax machines, still widely used in Japan, are in his sights. He recommended switching to email.

In Tsuwano, the town whose accounting department upgraded from floppy disks last year, the office fax machine is still often the fastest way to send information, Mr. Koto, the town official, said. Officials fax the names of people who have died to newspaper obituary departments and use the machines to correspond with local businesses.

“Sometimes, people don’t notice emails,” Mr. Koto said.

But even after finally getting rid of the floppy disks, he missed some things about the old system.

“There wasn’t any risk of getting hacked,” he said. “Now we have to be careful about data security.”

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