back to article Japan to change laws that require use of floppy disks

Japan's digital minister Taro Kono has pledged to rip up laws that require floppy disks and CD-ROMs to be used when sending data to the nation's government. The news emerged on Tuesday at Japan's 5th Digital Society Concept Conference, where a strategy for future digital government services was outlined. Japan appears set to …

  1. Totally not a Cylon Silver badge

    Do CDROMs survive being faxed? and what comes out the other end?

    1. LDS Silver badge

      My scanner can easily fax CDs - the issue is usually on the other end, when they are cut from paper and put in the CD player - if they can find one... same for floppies, though, even if you break them apart to fax the actual disk, and they are hard to be put together again, if you wish to re-use them.

      Anyway, two years ago I had to fax my telco to ask to tale over my late father telephone line... and here "certified email" exists already.

      1. gnasher729 Silver badge

        I just had to check on Amazon. 3.5” disk drive = £26, 20 disks = £22. I can remember vaguely paying less for floppy disks. I thought they would be more expensive.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      I still FAX things on occasion. Cali-F-You gummint sends me an updated payroll tax rate (a certain one changes every year), and I turn around and FAX it to the payroll service.

      And there is a FAX number in Sacramento that can be used to GRIPE ABOUT GUMMINT when need arises (I did this more than once a week during 2020 for obvious reasons, in large hulkbuster font, often with a photo of a guy fawkes mask).

      But the last few years I've done taxes they are always e-filed, and I think corporate taxes HAVE to be e-filed now. Considering the price of paper, copying (or printer ink), and postage, it's about the same to cough up $20 or so to do it vs the old school way.

      As for other things, DMV, paying use tax, etc. (even court documents in the state of Maine), it's nearly always an online form of some kind (or even e-mail, depending). So really not THAT bad.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        And there is a FAX number in Sacramento that can be used to GRIPE ABOUT GUMMINT when need arises (I did this more than once a week during 2020 for obvious reasons

        Dear Mr. Bombastic,

        Thanks for all the toilet paper.

        Yours Sincerely,

        Sacramento City Council

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Why would they print it out? We do still have a fax machine and we definitely don't let it print anything. 99.999% of it is spam anyway, and the rare useful messages are archived as pictures (or PDFs? Don''t recall).

          1. WolfFan Silver badge

            I send faxes to the county (and state) governments and to lawyers; they seem to think that email is insecure and would rather use a 19th century technology. The majority of faxes at their end are saved as PDFs, some of which are printed. Every single fax I get is saved as PDFs, and, if necessary, filled out using a PDF editor. There used to be a form from the state DMV which had to be done by hand as no PDF editor could handle the nonsense, but apparently the DMV hated it, too, as it has been replaced by a web form which is not quite as annoying.

            There’s one law office which employs a clerk who, before the end of day, goes through all the PDFs which have arrived and prints them. The output is placed in a fire-resistant, locked, file cabinet. They currently are on their third cabinet. I know their IT guy; for reasons of ‘its electronic’ faxes fall into his department, and he has the keys to the cabinets. In the five years that he's been there, the only person who has ever asked for the keys would be the clerk who files the faxes. Apparently everyone who actually needs the faxes works with the PDFs. Your guess is as good as mine as to why they print the things.

            1. ThatOne Silver badge

              Legal compliance and traceability?

              If nothing bad happens those faxes are useless, but if there is a problem the law office would need to be able to produce the full paper trail, so they have to keep them, just in case.

              As for why printing them instead of just filing the PDFs, my guess is as good as yours, but I would argue that paper has proven to be reliable and resistant to time and technological evolution. I know we here have problems reading some of our not-that-old archives because they were stored on media which are now obsolete (try finding an IDE disk interface for instance...), this couldn't happen with paper.

              1. captain veg Silver badge

                In the legal firm where my father worked they systematically photocopied all incoming faxes because they were thermally printed and faded over time.


                1. ThatOne Silver badge

                  Uh, that was the old ones (memories...). The more recent ones are just inkjet printers with a fax interface, so their prints are pretty long-lived.

                  Thermal paper had some fun side effects, like what happens when you put your mug of blistering hot coffee on a folder which, bad luck, contained thermal paper prints...

            2. gerdesj Silver badge

              "would rather use a 19th century technology"

              Hooray for the Quick Silver Mail! I think you mean 20C.

              1. James O'Shea Silver badge

                See Apparently faxes were invented in 1846 (not, repeat NOT 1946) by a Scotsman who had too much time on his hands.

                Faxes are, indeed, 19th century tech.

                1. Anonymous Coward

                  Trust a Scotsman to make things worse. No wonder fax transmissions sound like broken bagpipes.

                  1. simonlb

                    Broken Bagpipes?

                    All bagpipes sound broken. Tell me I'm lying.

                    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

                      Re: Broken Bagpipes?

                      Some are broken and don't make a sound. Better? :)

    3. grumpyoldeyore
      IT Angle

      Faxing Floppies

      Many many years ago I was working on a legacy project which used a real time operating system, and we needed some support. The RTOS vendor did not believe that we were still using the version that we were, and asked for an image of the labels on the installation disks. This resulted in yours truly having to put the 8" (yes EIGHT) floppies onto the photo copier to get a paper image to go through the fax machine. Of course half the company passed by the copier while I was trying to get the contrast right. Cue many humerous comments.....

      (Where's the Paris angle ? )

      1. Trollslayer

        Re: Faxing Floppies


        I have used a hard disc twelve inches!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Faxing Floppies


          Mine is fourteen inches when hard!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Faxing Floppies

            Mine is just two inches - along the entire length

      2. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Faxing Floppies

        Yep, i've done this too. I confused the crap out of the helpdesk for the company who simply didn't know what the software was. It transpired that it was from their first version from when they had two staff which they'd only sold a few dozen copies of and because it was so old it wasn't listed on the company resources, and nobody other than the CEO knew how to support it.

        After sending faxes of the box, manual and floppy discs, I had an email making an offer; they'd send me an engineer to give me a free upgrade to the latest and greatest version with full licenses for everything, in exchange for the old versions floppy discs, printed manual, parallel dongle, printed box and it's license keys etc.

        Which seemed more than fair; they got rid of a practically unsolvable support problem and presumably gained the software for their companies museum display, and I couldn't complain at a free upgrade to something less problematic.

  2. james 68

    It's pervasive.

    I was standing in the smoking area of a familymart convenience store in Funabashi last week, I heard an archaic Nokia-esque alarm from the Japanese guy next to me who is furiously smoking and playing some kind of game on his smartphone. Lo and behold he pulls out a pager, reads the display and then pulls out an ancient flip phone to reply while still holding the smartphone in his other hand.

    I can only guess that the pager and flip phone were required specifically for his job.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's pervasive.

      In my experience, a work on-call phone requires the following: days of battery life, phone calls, possibly SMS, Internet tethering for the laptop, and nothing else.

      What can a work-provided crappy generic Samsung phone with a sluggish UI which eats the battery in less than a day on standby and half a day if you actually use it bring to the table?

      1. james 68

        Re: It's pervasive.

        Yup, I get the phone part (at least for those working in the boonies), but the pager........?

        And worse the combination of pager AND intellectually challenged phone? If they can contact him on the phone by voice, SMS or email then surely the pager is redundant?


        1. Duke of Source

          Re: It's pervasive.

          You get it all wrong. It was a reverse hipster, living on the cutting edge of yesteryears.

          1. Frank Bitterlich

            Re: It's pervasive.

            That's called Steampunk.

            1. Korev Silver badge

              Re: It's pervasive.

              Isn't Steampunk dead?

              1. James O'Shea Silver badge

                Re: It's pervasive.


                As to whether it's been zombiefied, however...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's pervasive.

          Ah, a pager! Last time I had one of those was in 1990. It worked well and I could be reached anywhere in the UK - even out in the Scottish mountains. My task then, of course, was getting to a phone box (when those were ubiquitous in all populated areas - even found on remote highland roads) to call in to find out what was needed - usually for me to phone advice one of our site inspectors.

          Mind you, nostalgia ain't what it used to be...

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's pervasive.

          Google tells me Japan were supposed to be shutting down its pagers at the end of 2019 but they still haven't so they can't let go, the NHS are supposed to be phasing out pagers now, and coastguard and maintain rescue services in the UK still use them.

          But as pagers still have the best coverage then maybe they should still be used?

        4. Spazturtle Silver badge

          Re: It's pervasive.

          Pagers are more reliable, you can set up your own transmitter pretty easily and can even use modern low orbit satellites to transmit the messages.

        5. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

          older tech is sometimes more-useful than newer tech

          During the pre-smartphone era, we had our own on-campus pager service, and techs were equipped with pagers and later, also with cellphones (not smartphones). The popularity of (and resistance to giving up) the pager service was that we could send alphanumeric pages to techs via a terminal session; the server-residentt app let us send pages by typing the tech's userid (e.g., "smithj"), or to user-defined groups. Sending SMSes to cellphones could be done only by using the cell provider's web page, which let you send SMSes to cellphone numbers only, vs by userid. So the newer tech was far-less useful than the older tech..

    2. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: It's pervasive.

      Pagers still exist and are still used widely, especially in on-call environments, although in the NHS it's the clip-phone that inevitably beeps. A friend is nuclear safety officer for a certain organisation in the country (can't go into detail for obvious reasons) and there's been the inevitable 'beep-beep' of the pager going off over an incident during dinners before...

    3. mrjohn

      Re: It's pervasive.

      The pagers and flip phones have better security, much harder for the cops to spy on.

      Did you know that everything in Funanabshi beyond the Sobu Line is reclaimed land, you used to be able to see the sea from the platform of Kaijin station.

      1. james 68

        Re: It's pervasive.

        Yup, that's why on hot days at low tide half the damn city stinks like there's a leak in a sewer.

        Currently I'm living in Sakura and travel through Funabashi every day for work, I in fact use the Toyo line which services Kaijin-eki. You got some local knowledge though, did/do you live nearby?

  3. Richard 12 Silver badge

    ... our publishing system doesn’t like invalid tags in angle brackets.

    Wait, what?

    It's 2022 and a technical rag can't easily post certain sequences of printable characters within the ASCII subset of Unicode?

    When do you plan on modernisation?

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Exactly. HTML entities exist for a reason. Instead of <blink> they just need to enter &lt;blink&gt;

      1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

        Escaping characters normally used as HTML tag identifiers is one way of doing it. Another is to use lookalike characters, such as single guillemets to stand in for the greater-than or less-than characters.

        U+2039 SINGLE LEFT-POINTING ANGLE QUOTATION MARK = left pointing single guillemet ; and

        U+203A SINGLE RIGHT-POINTING ANGLE QUOTATION MARK = right pointing single guillemet

        ‹ blink ›




        ⟨ blink ⟩


        U+2329 LEFT-POINTING ANGLE BRACKET = bra; z notation left sequence bracket ; and

        U+232A RIGHT-POINTING ANGLE BRACKET = ket; z notation right sequence bracket

        ⟨ blink ⟩

        This has the disadvantage of not working if you blindly copy and paste the 'tag' into a new document.


        1. Kubla Cant

          guillemets to stand in for the greater-than or less-than characters

          I've tried using guillemets, but they always fly away.

        2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

          Downside of Unicode

          ... is that it enables various sorts of fraudulent URLs. There's a Unicode character which "looks" like a forward-slash, but is not.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      In this particular case I'm against modernisation. If there were a petition asking if people would put up with BLINK and MARQUEE again in return for removing pervasive tracking that came after them, I'd sign in a second. It's a price worth paying.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        > I'd sign in a second.

        You mean in the BLINK of an eye?

  4. Ken Y-N

    His sense of humour on English Twitter is not bad either:

    Just you wait. We are getting ready to fix the date for preparatory meeting to discuss how we are going to draw a scheme for the Most Advanced Digital Hanko System Development Schedule Planning Committee.

    C’mon, there is no analogue thing left in our remarkably advanced society.

    Oops, my fax machine is jamming!

  5. chivo243 Silver badge

    time to sell my floppy disk stock?

    When I read the headline, I thought they would continue to require floppy and CDs. There goes the retirement fund.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: time to sell my floppy disk stock?

        The 'Merkins used 8" floppy discs up until recently for their nuclear missies

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: time to sell my floppy disk stock?

          Sure I read somewhere that the Russians use type writers, so they can't get hacked!

          1. gnasher729 Silver badge

            Re: time to sell my floppy disk stock?

            Russians and typewriters - easily hacked if any microphone is nearby. (At least I wouldn’t be surprised).

  6. herman Silver badge

    #DEFINE floppy online

    Just make a new law that defines how it should be done, superseding the old methods.

    1. Astarte1

      Re: #DEFINE floppy online

      Just look at xkcd 927

    2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: #DEFINE floppy online

      This kind of stupidly and needlessly over-proscriptive thing is everywhere. I had contracts here which painfully stated that Floppy Diskettes and CD-ROMs were the acceptable method of data transfer, which meant that even a bloody CD-R was technically not valid, let alone an online service or USB storage sticks. There was never a need to be so proscriptive and it meant that all the contracts had to be edited, re-validated through lawyers and then re-signed. A total waste of time and money for everyone (except for the lawyers) and all because of stupid proscriptive content.

  7. deadlockvictim Silver badge

    Time to modernise: magneto-optical disks

    The time for magneto-optical disks is here!

    I prefer the drives with SCSI but if you want USB or FireWire, I'll learn to live with it.

    They come in sizes as small as 110MB and as large as 5.2GB.

    Who would ever need 5.2GB??

    I think that the Nihonjin will really appreciate MO-disks.

    They are pretty too.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Time to modernise: magneto-optical disks

      I bought a ZIP drive at a time it made sense. had an IDE interface. Still got 10 usable disks somewhere. 16Mb each as I recall. When the format changed to allow bigger ones, I decided re-writeable CDROM made more sense. Still have a bunch of THOSE, too... never use 'em. The burnable DVDs though, I occasionally use for backups. Got 50 or so of those left.

      1. Plest Silver badge

        Re: Time to modernise: magneto-optical disks

        *click* *click* *click*


      2. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Time to modernise: magneto-optical disks

        > ZIP drive

        I have a JAZ drive, which I used for backups and archiving, and it worked just fine until the magic smoke went out of my last computer with a SCSI interface.

        Unfortunately I haven't found any SCSI-USB (or Firewire or whatever modern) adapter, for I still have a dozen Jaz disks I can't read anymore. To think I could copy them all onto a single dirt cheap 32 GB flash drive nowadays...

        1. anothercynic Silver badge

          Re: Time to modernise: magneto-optical disks

          I think I have a SCSI interface card for the JAZ, if you should need one.

        2. deadlockvictim Silver badge

          Re: Time to modernise: magneto-optical disks

          ThatOne» I have a JAZ drive, which I used for backups and archiving, and it worked just fine until the magic smoke went out of my last computer with a SCSI interface.

          You've a couiple of options:

          • Buy an old PowerMac G4, stick in a SCSI card (Adaptec 2904, 2944 etc) and copy across the data to a USB key (or burn the files onto CD-Rs);

          • Buy an old PC with PCI slots, stick in a SCSI card and follow as above;

          • Find a hobbyist (like the one above) and get them to do it for you;

          The Jaz disks still have some value btw.

          You might get £100 for the dozen you have if you're lucky.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Time to modernise: magneto-optical disks

            Thanks but that's all a little too time (& money) consuming. After all I had backed up those backups, so there isn't anything really important on those disks.

            I could also put the reader (mint condition) and the discs (backups, so rarely used) on ebay (or whatever), but I'd need to be able to securely erase them first... So we're back to going through a whole lot of fuss for a rather small (if any) benefit.

      3. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Time to modernise: magneto-optical disks

        I was one of the (few?) people to buy an LS-120 ( or some such unhelpful combination of letters and numbers) Superfloppy disc drive. Which was obsolete even before DVD-RW came along. The name didn't help take up, I'm sure. But the main problem was that the media were prohibitively expensive. The makers clearly wanted to make their money on disc sales ( in the razor blade business model), but got greedy and over-confident. IOW no one bought the bloody things, they costed an arm and a leg, so you weren't likely to buy more than you absolutely needed- probably one or two.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Time to modernise: magneto-optical disks

          Me too!!

          They weren't as backward compatible with the 1.44MB 3.5" floppies as they claimed. Yes, you could read and write, but you couldn't boot off a 1.44MB floppy to install the OS - had to use a proper floppy drive

          (At the time, my PC couldn't boot off the CD - for whatever reason)

      4. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: Time to modernise: magneto-optical disks

        No, @bombastic, the ZIP disks were 100MB and 250MB (depending on the edition). The 16MB disks were for the Bernoulli drive, a predecessor of the ZIP, by the same company (Iomega). The Jaz drive on the other hand was 1GB.

        Zip was available in PP or IDE, Jaz on PP or SCSI.

  8. drand

    Arf, Arf!

    ... in 2021 former prime minister Yoshihide Suga promised to reduce reliance on the use of seals and fax machines...

    What, are they now on to penguins with pagers?

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      I see

      I'm not alone in wondering how Pinniped Post would word.

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: I see

        Pingus dad of course

  9. Auntie Dix Bronze badge

    The Wisdom of Requiring the Fax and Floppy

    That reckless pol must be stopped.

    Think about it: What happens when storage is increased?

    Answer: Data grow to fill it.

    By keeping the data limit to that which fits on a floppy or fax, government is forced to keep forms simple and collect only the modicum of information that it really needs.

    Remember what trusted Detective Joe Friday wisely required: "Just the fax, ma'am."

  10. Binraider Silver badge

    Japan is amongst the largest consumers of removable media; CD, DVD and BD writers remain very popular. So much so that getting some of the more exotic BD-writable formats usually means a Japan import.

    But yeah, Floppy? It's impressive that the authors are even familiar with a Floppy beyond it being the save icon.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Oooh, look! I found a sculpture of the save icon!

  11. ColinPa Silver badge

    parchment last longer than paper

    I remember hearing about a legal case where the guy was released due to important information was faxed somewhere. When they came to use the fax - it was blank because the (?thermal) paper had faded.

    Compare this with documents written by monks hundreds of years ago - and are still legible to day - even if it took days to write the first "illuminated" letter of the chapter.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: parchment last longer than paper is an instructive tome on the subject of writing and inks; well worth a read.

      Somewhere in there is the point that US goverment documents were becoming unreadable only a few years after their being written.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: parchment last longer than paper

        > Somewhere in there is the point that US goverment documents were becoming unreadable only a few years after their being written.

        Standard operating procedure for all potentially incriminating documents. You don't want those skeletons to remain too long in your cupboard.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: parchment last longer than paper

      Actually, we see today only those documents that were good enough (or lucky enough) to survive. We don't know how many have been lost because they could not stand time. Leonardo himself made painting that started to decay far too soon - he sometimes tried "techniques that weren't good enough (es, the Anghiari Battle, but the Last Supper as well)

  12. Dinanziame Silver badge

    Obsolete regulations are best regulations

    I once saw a requirement that data had to be sent as CSV file — in two separate copies.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Obsolete regulations are best regulations

      at the very LEAST, tab delimited, not CSV

      (copy/pasta a libre office spreadsheet selection into a plain text editor gets you tab delimited - actual CSV takes way too much effort)

      1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

        Re: Obsolete regulations are best regulations

        I feel several opportunities have been missed in not standardising on the ASCII control codes for Unit Separator (character 31, Hex 1F) and Record Separator (character 30, Hex 1E) in file formats used for data exchange.

        Wikipedia:Field Separators


      2. Colin Bull 1

        Re: Obsolete regulations are best regulations

        You obviously missed the recent article 'AWK gets Unicode support'. CSV not naturally supported (yet) but hardly difficult

    2. Binraider Silver badge

      Re: Obsolete regulations are best regulations

      Flat text file has a lot of plusses. No nasty macros or formulae!

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Obsolete regulations are best regulations

        And if a flat file DB works, why not use it!

        Because people do .

        But they call them Excel spreadsheets, and they use them because they don't know how to use the bloody complicated relational database s/w and can fire up Excel and stick stuff into cells quite easily.

  13. Howard Sway Silver badge

    a strategy for future digital government services was outlined

    * Develop new VFD file format (virtual floppy disk) and add to cloud servers.

    * All citizens to download new virtual floppy drive, and install on their PCs

    * Programmers to develop software add on that plays clicks and whirrs when saving files to VFD. Transfer speeds to be limited to 5 KB/s

    * All electronic government forms to be filled in to be saved to VFD

    * VFD file to be saved to real floppy disk, then mailed to government office

    * disk to be inserted into cloud server on receipt and VFD files copied to "C:/New Folder"

    * Docker / Kubernetes microservice to automatically transfer new files from C:/New Folder to printer, print out to be delivered by post to correct office for processing.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In the 1990s I was testing software releases for a manufacturer of (amongst other things), minicomputers. By scavenging other departments' throw-outs, I had built a test system capable of being configured as many different models of that range.

    Came the day when a government-mandated change meant that, for the first time, a Very Important Customer's systems, in use for many years, needed a software update. I was briefly popular when it transpired that I was the only person that could be found with a working system capable of writing to 8 inch floppy disks.

  15. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Good god! That IRS system had the date fields correctly ordered!

    1. badflorist Bronze badge

      *IF* the IRS accepts paper documents, the system is how it has to be.

      The article is _VERY_ misleading with "... staff opening envelopes and typing in details by hand from the submitted forms rather than using automation and OCR". While technically true, in the late 1990's IRS "Service Centers" tried to have employees use OCR on small business documents and most individual forms, it was catastrophic. The results were that it took longer to align and fix OCR mistakes than it did to input these forms by hand on custom made keyboards (about 3x longer). Those were primarily business forms processed at service centers and the individual forms are essentially impossible to OCR if filled by hand so, sometimes 3x longer turned into 3 whole shifts longer (1 full day).

      The IRS does/did have a large OCR process that utilizes primarily a custom C backend with embedded CSQL Although this system was/is being phased out for a system I do not know, it was the system used during the highest volume (80's to early 2000's).

      When you have ~350 _MILLION_ people who basically file their taxes and can do so with paper, you're going to have to deal with MASSIVE amounts of paper with erratic pen/pencil/crayon/shit marks all over them. OCR will never speed up work but, stopping paper submissions would (doubt that will ever happen).

      BTW, it's legal to pay your taxes in pennies, so the IRS also has a system in place to count say $100,000 worth of pennies (it's large sliding trays... but systems like these exists).

      1. WoefulMinion

        The IRS also had a plan to allow everyone to e-file for free, but the tax preparers lobbied against it. So now you have to go through a tax preparation service and they get to decide who gets to file for free.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Yoshihide Suga promised to reduce reliance on the use of seals and fax machines."

    Seals? RFC 1149 was updated for Pinnipeds? I missed that one.

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