Japan Finally Eliminates Floppy Disks

Japan this week eliminated all regulations requiring the use of floppy disks for administrative purposes, making up for lost time 13 years after the country's manufacturers produced their last units.

The floppy disk, invented in the 1970s, was once a ubiquitous part of computing. Since then, other forms of storage such as flash drives and Internet cloud storage have taken over. By the 1990s, it, along with the music cassette, was tossed into the dustbin of obsolete technology.

But not in Japan. While famous 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 to abandon the 1900s storage devices, plastic-coated magnetic disks, only two years ago, when Taro Kono, the country's digital technology minister, declared “war on floppy disks.”

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

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

It took a while to set up the city’s new database, but the change was inevitable and the new system is faster and more accurate, he said.

A broad spectrum of businesses (mines, oil companies, retailers, liquor stores, shopping malls) were bound by different rules that required them to submit documents to regulators on floppy disks.

According to the Ministry of Digital Affairs, even after Sony, once a major manufacturer of disks for the Japanese market, stopped producing them in 2011, more than 1,000 laws, ordinances and directives mandating the use of floppy disks remained in effect.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kono declared victory in his war. All of those regulations have been reviewed by lawmakers, submitted for public comment, voted on and rejected, he said.

The last rule in effect concerned the recycling of used vehicles and was repealed on June 28, he said.

Outside of government, some Japanese sectors are not ready to let go.

Most of the traditional textile industry in one area of ​​Kyoto, which produces items such as 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.

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

The bank has been trying to persuade customers who still use the disks to store their bank account information to switch formats, telling them it will no longer accept them in the spring, it said.

Floppy disks are still around outside of Japan. The embroidery and avionics industries use them, and until recently the U.S. nuclear arsenal did.

Inside the government, Mr. Kono’s work is not yet done. He indicated that fax machines, still widely used in Japan, are in his sights. He recommended switching to e-mail.

In Tsuwano, the city whose accounting department replaced floppy disks last year, the office fax is still often the quickest way to send information, said Mr. Koto, a city official. Officials fax names of deceased people 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 he finally got rid of the floppy disks, he still missed some things from the old system.

“There was no risk of being hacked,” he said. “Now we have to be careful about data security.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *