Japan: Loves Robots, but Business Remains Mostly Analog

Japan is thought to be ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to technology. However, although they love robots and are at the forefront of manufacturing innovation, reality is a lot more complicated.

From the BBC:

“This is a country that uses people to do the work of traffic lights and where big-name companies running 10-year-old software is the norm”.

Furthermore, convenience stores sell cassettes and many offices still use fax machines. Even tech giants like Sony. In a country that developed the first contactless payment system, the Bullet train, and the Sony Walkman, the small and medium-sized enterprises that dominate the country’s business landscape. The country that has some of the best internet infrastructure in the world rarely uses tools like Skype or Dropbox in the office. Instead, they send their communications through the post or fax. Yoji Otokozawa, president of Tokyo-based IT consultants Interarrows says that it’s not unheard of to get hand-written faxes, meaning that the small company communicating with him doesn’t even use word-processing software.

BBC points out that it’s not just the small and medium businesses that are particularly luddite. “Even some bigger, modern global firms seem mired in digital backwardness, although finding people willing to go on the record about the phenomenon is difficult in a culture where devotion to one’s employer is the norm”.

In other words, to the outsider these large companies look like they’re on the cutting edge of technology, but their employees use outdated email servers.

Why is Japan so stubbornly analog despite their love of robots?

Corporate Japan doesn’t want robots to replace them. They seem “intent on circling the wagons against automation and using people rather than machines wherever possible. After all, those faxes don’t pick up themselves”.

It has the benefit of keeping the unemployment rate down, though it does impact productivity. Still, corporate Japan appears to be doing their best to push back the robot uprising as far into the future as they can.

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