Japan’s floppy disks: government to end obsolete technology

That age-old advice has once again become relevant as the Japanese government seeks to reform around 1,900 official procedures that still mandate the use of outdated storage media. 

Currently, public service rules require many types of business documents submitted to government agencies to be sent in on floppy disks, CD-ROMs, or even the MiniDisc, a 30-year-old alternative to digital cassette tapes that max out at around 140 megabytes of data storage. Digital minister Taro Kono tweeted on August 31 that he “declares a war on floppy disks” and will change “regulations so you can use online [methods].” Kono said at a press conference that the agency would be “reviewing these practices swiftly”, but he’s not stopping on floppy disks. 

What else is he doing? 

Kono styles himself as a reformer, targeting inefficient bureaucratic procedures, such as requirements that some 14,900 government procedures be certified with a personalized seal called a hanko. At the press conference, Bloomberg wrote, Kono said he would be going after fax machines next. “Where does one even buy a floppy disk these days?” Kono asked, adding that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had promised to support the modernization initiative. 

Analog bureaucracy

Despite being home to some of the world’s biggest electronics manufacturers, Japan is way behind on digital transformation. As of 2019, according to the Economist, just 7.5% of government procedures could be completed online, and in 2021, Japan was ranked 27 out of 63 countries in the IMD’s World Digital Competitiveness ranking. While the government established a digital agency in 2021 to lead reforms, tens of thousands of national and local rules behind the outdated administrative procedures stand in the way. 

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Japanese agencies often have piles of outdated media lying around, as illustrated in a 2021 incident where Tokyo police admitted they lost two floppy disks containing the personal information of 38 men who underwent background checks when applying for public housing.