Tokyo's local governments are getting rid of decades-old technology. Photo: Shutterstock
Floppy disks, once the backbone of any office in the ‘80s and ‘90s, are a relic of years past. A thin magnetic disk used to keep data, floppy disks were once the primary storage device for personal computers. But as technology advanced, the disks were replaced by CDs and flash drives. Floppies have been out of production for more than a decade.
Yet in Japan, the birthplace of these disks, government offices are just now phasing them out, an effort led by several administrative regions in the Japanese capital Tokyo including the Meguro district.Done in part to cut storage costs, the transition is also meant to help modernize Japan’s government systems. (A single stack of 3½-inch floppy disks as tall as the Eiffel Tower is just enough for a handful of 4K movies.)The COVID-19 pandemic exposed just how antiquated and lacking the country’s bureaucratic services were. Up until May last year, healthcare centers were still using fax machines to report daily COVID-19 cases to the central government. Reports transitioned to an online system only after a doctor chastised such requirements by Japan’s health ministry. Yoichi Ono, the account manager at Tokyo’s Meguro district, said his municipality had continued using the devices after they were ditched by consumers “because that’s what we’ve been using from years ago.”“We’ve never had a problem with it, so we just kept using them,” Ono told VICE World News. At Meguro district, floppies are used to store payment information for its public funds.
While a technological powerhouse, Japan’s information systems are notoriously dated. Old-school methods of processing data and concerns over cybersecurity have slowed down the country’s adoption of newer technologies. Along with fax machines, hard copies of documents remain ubiquitous in Japan. Hanko, personal seals, are required for many government documents. Last year, after receiving criticism that the practice was too outdated, the former Japanese Prime Minister urged municipalities to get rid of the tradition. The Swiss business school IMD ranks Japan 28th out of 64 nations in digital competitiveness.Upgrading Japan’s outdated methods of processing information has been a goal for over two decades. By 2026, the government aims to digitalize administrative procedures related to child care, nursing homes, and the information systems of local municipalities. The push to abandon floppy disks at Ono’s district came after Mizuho bank in April started charging the municipality 50,000 yen ($440) a month to store physical devices such as floppies. “But if we use the internet, it’d only cost us 20,000 ($176) yen a month,” Ono said. The district plans to go completely digital by March, he added. Not one for nostalgia, Ono said he feels no sadness about abandoning the sturdy floppy disks. “It’s just a question of recording payment information digitally, instead of on floppy disks. That’s the only difference,” he said. Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.