Japan wins 2-year “war on floppy disks,” kills regulations requiring old tech

floppy disks on white background

About two years after the country’s digital minister publicly declared a “war on floppy discs,” Japan reportedly stopped using floppy disks in governmental systems as of June 28.

Per a Reuters report on Wednesday, Japan’s government “eliminated the use of floppy disks in all its systems.” The report notes that by mid-June, Japan’s Digital Agency (a body set up during the COVID-19 pandemic and aimed at updating government technology) had “scrapped all 1,034 regulations governing their use, except for one environmental stricture related to vehicle recycling.” That suggests that there’s up to one government use that could still turn to floppy disks, though more details weren’t available.

Digital Minister Taro Kono, the politician behind the modernization of the Japanese government’s tech, has made his distaste for floppy disks and other old office tech, like fax machines, quite public. Kono, who’s reportedly considering a second presidential run, told Reuters in a statement today:

We have won the war on floppy disks on June 28!

Although Kono only announced plans to eradicate floppy disks from the government two years ago, it’s been 20 years since floppy disks were in their prime and 53 years since they debuted. It was only in January 2024 that the Japanese government stopped requiring physical media, like floppy disks and CD-ROMs, for 1,900 types of submissions to the government, such as business filings and submission forms for citizens.

The timeline may be surprising, considering that the last company to make floppy disks, Sony, stopped doing so in 2011. As a storage medium, of course, floppies can’t compete with today’s options since most floppies max out at 1.44MB (2.88MB floppies were also available). And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a modern system that can still read the disks. There are also basic concerns around the old storage format, such as Tokyo police reportedly losing a pair of floppy disks with information on dozens of public housing applicants in 2021.

But Japan isn’t the only government body with surprisingly recent ties to the technology. For example, San Francisco’s Muni Metro light rail uses a train control system that uses software that runs off floppy disks and plans to keep doing so until 2030. The US Air Force used using 8-inch floppies until 2019.

Outside of the public sector, floppy disks remain common in numerous industries, including embroidery, cargo airlines, and CNC machines. We reported on Chuck E. Cheese using floppy disks for its animatronics as recently as January 2023.

Modernization resistance

Now that the Japanese government considers its reliance on floppy disks over, eyes are on it to see what, if any, other modernization overhauls it will make.

Despite various technological achievements, the country has a reputation for holding on to dated technology. The Institute for Management Development’s (IMD) 2023 World Digital Competitiveness Ranking listed Japan as number 32 out of 64 economies. The IMD says its rankings measure the “capacity and readiness of 64 economies to adopt and explore digital technologies as a key driver for economic transformation in business, government, and wider society.”

It may be a while before the government is ready to let go of some older technologies. For example, government officials have reportedly resisted moving to the cloud for administrative systems. Kono urged government offices to quit requiring hanko personal stamps in 2020, but per The Japan Times, movement from the seal is occurring at a “glacial pace.”

Many workplaces in Japan also opt for fax machines over emails, and 2021 plans to remove fax machines from government offices have been tossed due to resistance.

Some believe Japan’s reliance on older technology stems from the comfort and efficiencies associated with analog tech as well as governmental bureaucracy.

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