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Japan Technology

Telegram Not Dead STOP Alive, Evolving In Japan STOP 144

itwbennett writes Japan is one of the last countries in the world where telegrams are still widely used. A combination of traditional manners, market liberalization and innovation has kept alive this age-old form of messaging. Companies affiliated with the country's three mobile carriers, NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and SoftBank, offer telegrams, which are sent via modern server networks instead of the dedicated electrical wires of the past (Morse telegraphy hasn't been used since 1962), and then printed out with modern printers instead of tape glued on paper. But customers are still charged according to the length of the message, which is delivered within three hours. A basic NTT telegram up to 25 characters long can be sent for ¥440 ($4.30) when ordered online.
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Telegram Not Dead STOP Alive, Evolving In Japan STOP

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  • by Tyrannicsupremacy ( 1354431 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @08:15AM (#47669663)
    Also worth mentioning is the way employees are paid, frequently envelopes of cash, direct deposit is not very popular yet there.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Implying that cash isn't a superior method of getting paid.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Salary dates are known. It's a risk to carry that much cash. Even manually cashed checks are better since they recipient's name is written on it.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Not to mention that cash payments are ripe for tax avoidance.

          Direct deposit and cashing a check both produce a paper trail that government accountants can track. Cash payments are much easier to hide.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 14, 2014 @10:44AM (#47670445)

            If you are a paid employee in Japan, your income tax is withheld directly from your salary. You don't even need to file a tax return unless you have source of income other than your primary employer.

            Also, direct deposit is quite common at least among large organizations. Even part time workers get paid by direct deposit. I don't have experience or knowledge of smaller organizations though.

            Disclaimer: I am Japanese, but I haven't worked in the country for about 10 years now. My comment is based on my experience, so it surely is outdated. Cursory search on the web also indicates a lot of Japanese now consider cash payments largely outdated as well as security risk. That said cash payments can still be found at smaller companies and in certain industry (such as movers and construction workers).

        • We are talking about Japan here, they have practically no robberies.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Personal cheques do not exist in Japan and I'd be more afraid of getting killed by Godzilla than being mugged for my wallet.

          No one gets paid in envelopes of cash unless they work for a small family business.

          I used to get travel costs reimbursed in cash but that ended about 2 years ago.

        • Not in Japan it isn't, not even if you carry your cash in one hand in a Ziploc bag on the subway at night.

      • Wow. An "implying" post reaches +4 Insightful on Slashdot. I guess Anonymous and Anonymous Coward really are the same person.

    • by johanw ( 1001493 )

      Better than checks which appear to be still in use in the USA. At least it's anonymous.

      • by Ksevio ( 865461 )
        Why is that better? At least with a check I can deposit the money with my phone and I don't have to worry about being robbed on the way home.
        • I'm in my thirties and I haven't been paid by cheque... ever. It's always been direct deposit.

          • by Alioth ( 221270 )

            I'm in my 40s and I've never been paid by cheque, always been direct deposit (well, with the exception of cash in hand jobs done as a teenager, but they will always be cash in hand).

            • "cash in hand jobs done as a teenager"..
              Perhaps "cash-in-hand" would better explain your point. Unless you had a tough teenage job career.

              • black economy jobs ie he wasn't paying any tax
                • Kaatochacha was noting that "Cash-in-hand jobs" can't be read as "cash in hand-jobs done as a teenager", unlike the original comment.

                  [Which makes your "black economy" comment doubly unintentionally funny.]

          • I used to be paid by check years ago. The checks would be placed in a secure location and we would be required to go there to pick them up. I'd often forget to do so for a week or two. Then, I'd get the checks and would forget to deposit them for a week or two. Finally, the stubs (with some personal information such as how much I made) would sit in my work bag for months until I got rid of them.

            Nowadays, I'm paid via direct deposit and my "pay stubs" are on the company intranet site. I can print them o

    • I mean yes you do have the option of basing your claims about how paychecks work in Japan on Chobits rather than reality (where bank direct deposit is overwhelmingly the norm) but then I can't come over there and force you to stop being wrong as hard as you possibly could.

      That said, fax machines ARE very much still a thing here in Japan.

    • by putaro ( 235078 )

      Sorry, "furikome" or bank transfer is the common way to pay people. Checks don't really exist, so if someone doesn't have a bank account they would need to get paid in cash.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why would this be backward. USA still uses checks which are a rarity in Europe. And we have chip and pin which is a rarety in USA.

      Several countries use telegraphs for special events. For example at the event of a birth one would send a telegraph (e.g. ordered online) with a persoaal message. Or for giving someone condolances for example. The receiver receives a card with a printed message. Way better (nicer/formal) than give one condolances in an SMS.


      • I still get some of my dividends as cheques 2 more to come this month BT.a And REL
      • by Optali ( 809880 )
        Germany used cheques for quite a while too. And just wait: With SEPA payment methods as our iDeal will become common in the rest of Europe, specially in countries like the UK with chip and pin which makes it much more reliable. Awesome, instant, no fees for customers and less for merchants plus no risk of chargebacks involved (except for non-delivery of goods).
    • by jythie ( 914043 )
      It is still pretty common in the US too. When I used to work retail I frequently had customers come in with their cash still in envelope in order to make big purchases.
    • by Optali ( 809880 )
      A few years ago (2008-2009) I was working at Bibit/ Worldpay (payment gateway of the RBS back then) and we learned that credit card payment was not very popular either, so as online shopping. I assume things should have changed a lot since then,, but it's interesting to note: They did not use credit card or ATMs but rather a sort of card with which you went to a grocery store and got cash... just as we use our debit cards to rake money out of an ATM... strange.
  • Makes sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kruach aum ( 1934852 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @08:19AM (#47669679)

    They also still use faxes for similar reasons impenetrable and unfathomable.

    • Re:Makes sense (Score:4, Informative)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@Nospam.world3.net> on Thursday August 14, 2014 @08:25AM (#47669697) Homepage Journal

      They also still use faxes for similar reasons impenetrable and unfathomable.

      It's not hard to understand. Rather than signing documents with a signature the Japanese use unique stamps, hand made so that no two are quite the same. Everyone has a stamp with their name on. Stamping documents is seen as a way to say "I have checked this" or "I endorse this", and because you can't stamp an email or text message they print, stamp and fax documents.

      In the west signatures are becoming less important as people move to use email for formal communication. We still sign letters but emails are considered equivalent for many purposes. In Japan there are now "electronic stamps" that create a "secure" (not really) PDF with an image of the user's stamp burned into it.

      As for telegrams, I think it must just be nostalgic value. In the UK if you live to 100 you get a telegram from the Queen, because that's tradition. Certain events are marked with a telegram, the same way as certain events are marked with champaign or a cake or a card.

      • by redback ( 15527 )

        The queen doesnt send telegrams anymore, you get a letter instead.

      • you can't stamp an email or text message

        You can't stamp a text, but you can stamp an e-mail. Use any OpenPGP app to create a key pair, which has the property that any message encrypted with one half can be decrypted with the other half. This one half is your private key and the other half you make public. To stamp a digital message, first take its hash value, and then encrypt that with your private key. Then anyone else can verify your stamp by decrypting it with the public key and comparing it to the hash value of the message. Japanese video gam

        • Use any OpenPGP app to create a key pair, which has the property that any message encrypted with one half can be decrypted with the other half. This one half is your private key and the other half you make public.


          There's no such thing as a single uniform federated national-level public key clearing house, in any nation. If you want this to happen for J. Random JapaneseGrandma, you'll have to install that first.

          People who think PKI infrastructure is easy don't understand PKI.

          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            There's no such thing as a single uniform federated national-level public key clearing house, in any nation.

            Even if the government of Japan isn't on board, I can't see anything that prevents a private trade association from starting an e-hanko CA that covers a whole industry.

          • I don't know much about how PGP works, but with S/MIME, you attach the certificate containing the public key to the e-mail, as well as the encrypted ("signed") hash of your email.

            The next question is how do you know the certificate is genuine? Well, that's why you pay VeriSign, DigiCert, or whatever your favorite Certificate Authority (the same people who create certificates for web servers) is, to sign your public key and issue you a certificate.

            Your statement that PKI is hard is absolutely correct.

        • Everything you wanted to know about hanko: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/ne... [japantimes.co.jp]

      • Re:Makes sense (Score:5, Informative)

        by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @09:15AM (#47669935) Homepage

        Stamping documents is seen as a way to say "I have checked this" or "I endorse this", and because you can't stamp an email or text message they print, stamp and fax documents.

        I'm working in Japan, and while I almost never get or send a fax any more (it must be years now), it's decently common to send and receive PDF scans over email. In fact, sometimes you need to print out the scan, add your stamp, re-scan and send it back. I do - want to print a reference copy for myself anyhow - but I suspect some people simply add their stamp graphic to the document directly.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

          Indeed, fax machines are slowly dying here in Japan. Even so, if you walk into Yodobashi Camera or Labi or BIC Camera you will find many models on offer. I'm afraid one anecdote doesn't suggest a wider trend.

          • by JanneM ( 7445 )

            Of course. I don't suggest my experience is typical. But I hear the same thing from other places. My wife is a freelancer, so we have a fax machine at home, but again, it is almost never used any longer. She only has it in case some client still want to use it over email. I suspect - and this is of course just my own supposition, nothing else - that people now buy fax machines only to be covered for the rare case of doing business with a technical laggard, not as a daily office tool.

        • Here in Canada faxing is still common industries that do international business for the exact reason that emailing PDFs doesn't work. Some countries simply don't have reliable internet services. Telegram services probably still exist world wide since they are legally binding unlike email. Its one of those funny quirks about the legal system. Maybe people would have less problems cancelling with Comcast if they sent notice through telegram.
          • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

            Here in Canada faxing is still common industries that do international business for the exact reason that emailing PDFs doesn't work. Some countries simply don't have reliable internet services. Telegram services probably still exist world wide since they are legally binding unlike email. Its one of those funny quirks about the legal system. Maybe people would have less problems cancelling with Comcast if they sent notice through telegram.

            It's not really a funny quirk, when you realize that telegrams genera

      • by wirefarm ( 18470 )

        As to faxes, handwritten business communications are not at all unusual among older companies, due to the fact that typing kanji was not as straightforward process 20 years ago as it is today.

        I've sent telegrams in Japan, but only to couples who were getting married and whose wedding I couldn't attend. I've never seen them used for other things, but a wedding is likely to have a few telegrams read at the reception.

      • You already mention signatures in your post, but there is no significant difference between a unique stamp and a unique signature in relation to (physical) documents. We sign things, they stamp things. Both are taken as unique identifiers of individuals; the only difference between them is the way in which they are produced. Meanwhile, we have moved away from faxes, while they have not. It's obviously due to an aspect of their culture, but that aspect is not the fact that they use stamps instead of signatur

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

          While true, the problem is the UI. Stamps are very easy to operate, and the electronic version try to mimic them. To use a digital signature you need infrastructure and software to sign and verify. If you need to verify a signature decades later you could find it challenging.

      • Reminds me of the Mad Men episode where they had to do a campaign for the telegraph where it was getting killed by the modern phone.

        I believe the line was something about the fact that if you send a telegraph about say getting married VS phoning it in, it is something that is physical, that you can keep, and would have sentimental value.

        It may still have a niche market for that sort of thing, where you want notification faster than is possible with a letter, but you have some memorable token of the event af

    • They also still use faxes for similar reasons impenetrable and unfathomable.

      So Back to the Future Part II got one thing right [www.howi.se].

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      Fax was much more popular in Japan than it was in the west so it's no wonder that it is still in use today.
      One of the reason for the popularity of fax, in addition to writing, are maps. Japanese addresses have no street names, they use a combination of district/block/house numbers which is very effective at losing people. As a result, it is common practice to send a map to mark a meeting place.

    • They also still use faxes for similar reasons impenetrable and unfathomable.

      To someone unfamiliar with the language and culture.

      Handwritten messages have long been a necessity in Japan, where the written language is so complex, with two sets of symbols and 2,000 characters borrowed from Chinese, that keyboards remained impractical until the advent of word processors in the 1980s.

      A decade ago Yuichiro Sugahara learned the hard way about his country's deep attachment to the fax machine, which the nation popularized in the 1980s. He tried to modernize his family-run company, which delivers traditional bento lunchboxes, by taking orders online. Sales quickly plummeted.

      Today, his company, Tamagoya, is thriving with the hiss and beep of thousands of orders pouring in every morning, most by fax, many with minutely detailed handwritten requests like ''go light on the batter in the fried chicken'' or ''add an extra hard-boiled egg.''

      ''There is still something in Japanese culture that demands the warm, personal feelings that you get with a handwritten fax,'' said Mr. Sugahara, 43.

      Faxes continue to appeal to older Japanese, who often feel uncomfortable with keyboards. Demographics have left Japan dominated by older generations who are still more likely to have a fax number than an e-mail address.

      In Japan, with the exception of the savviest Internet start-ups or internationally minded manufacturers, the fax remains an essential tool for doing business. Many companies say they still rely on faxes to create a paper trail of orders and shipments not left by ephemeral e-mail. Banks rely on faxes because customers are worried about the safety of their personal information on the Internet.

      Even Japan's largest yakuza crime syndicate, the Kobe-based Yamaguchi-gumi, has used faxes to send notifications of expulsion to members, police say.

      In High-Tech Japan, the Fax Machines Roll On [nytimes.com]

  • by Dins ( 2538550 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @08:23AM (#47669689)
    You've probably never heard of it.
  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @08:26AM (#47669711)
    Upcoming Slashdot maintenance STOP Aug 15 5 to 6 PM Eastern STOP beta.slashdot.org still useless during that time STOP
  • by fuzznutz ( 789413 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @08:31AM (#47669731)
    $4.30 for 25 characters? That makes text messaging seem cheap here.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's about the rate for Hallmark greeting cards here. I imagine the telegram in Japan has similar cultural significance.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      25 Japanese characters. Which still isn't a lot, but assuming this includes kanji it might be enough to get a point across.

    • If I had to guess it is a quasi-legal thing. People probably want some type of assurance that their message had been delivered.

      I worked in a US Bank and we were still sending out telegrams in 2002. The telegram served kind of the same function as certified mail. We could confirm that the message had been received on the other end. We were conducting "urgent" business (generally business that needed a turnaround time of 1 to 3 business day) with older cliental (e-mail was not assured).

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

      They said that it was delivered within 3 hours, which presumably means by courier. Dispatching a courier isn't cheap - certainly it is far more expensive than just mailing a letter.

  • They should have limited it to 17 characters. Since in Japanese each character of the two phonetic alphabets corresponds to a syllable, it would have been perfect for Haikus!
  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @08:55AM (#47669819)

    Quite aside from tradition, which is great, there are situations where you need to send a message to a physical address. Maybe the occupant doesn't have a phone or email, or you don't know their contact details, or whether they even have a phone or email. If that message has to get there within three hours rather than overnight, then the $4.30 rate is pretty competitive with getting an express courier to carry a post-it note.

    • It's an interesting distinction which we weren't able to make a couple of decades ago. When I was a kid, telephones were associated with a location rather than a person. When mobile phones became mainstream in the 1990s, a lot of the old folks regarded them as just fancy toys. To me, a mobile phone just made so much sense, because you usually need to call a person, not a place. OTOH, in many (business) settings it does make sense to call a place rather than a person. It's great to have such choice.

  • Character set?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 14, 2014 @09:05AM (#47669869)

    When I was married, we received a handful of telegrams from friends and colleagues.

    All were delivered as exquisite display pieces, with the message in a frame and everything. Very moving. This is what 'Telegrams' are for, special or official things. I will never forget it either.

  • by Nahooda ( 906991 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @09:08AM (#47669879) Homepage

    Black Adder:
    To Mr. Charlie Chaplin, Sennet Studios, Hollywood, California. Congrats stop. Have found only person in world less funny than you stop. Name Baldrick stop. Signed E. Blackadder stop. Oh, and put a P.S.: please, please, please stop

    Chaplin's answer at end of episode:
    Twice nightly filming of my films in trenches: excellent idea stop. But must insist that E. Blackadder be projectionist stop. P.S. Don't let him ever... stop

  • by Truth_Quark ( 219407 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @09:10AM (#47669895) Journal
    That when he heard his brother and wife had had their fifth child he sent a telegram that went: Congratulations Stop
  • by JigJag ( 2046772 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @09:16AM (#47669943)

    Hey Slashdot, does anyone knows why telegrams are peppered with the word 'STOP'? Was there no punctuation mark to use a period?

    • Hey Slashdot, does anyone knows why telegrams are peppered with the word 'STOP'? Was there no punctuation mark to use a period?

      Apparently, when telegrams were in widespread use, four letter words were free but punctuation cost extra [theguardian.com].

    • http://www.theguardian.com/med... [theguardian.com]

      Using the word "STOP" instead of a full stop saved money because four-letter words were free and punctuation cost extra.

    • I believe that telegrams were originally set up with X number of letters free, but punctuation cost extra. So often it made more sense to use to use 5 letters to add " STOP", rather than "."
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Hey Slashdot, does anyone knows why telegrams are peppered with the word 'STOP'? Was there no punctuation mark to use a period?

      The reason was so that the naughty telegrams were more comical.

      my dearest Lucy, I press your bosom into my member STOP these sins of the flesh will damn us both STOP don't stop STOP

    • by Anonymous Coward

      STOP is short for "STOP IT AND TIDY UP", and comes from a (very) old British Army meme amongst telegram operators who had to quickly pack away their station and make sure no equipment was left for exploitation by the enemy. At first it was used abruptly at the end of communication, soon becoming shortened to "STOP". When the first international Q code was put into operation, "STOP" no longer carried this meaning, and seasoned operators decided to use the word more generally as a sentence terminator.

      As comme

    • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @10:14AM (#47670281)

      Morse code did not originally have punctuation. A period is also referred to as a "stop" or "full stop", so they would just use S-T-O-P in the place of a period.

    • Telegraphs were sent by Morse code. It is a period, but it is a said and printed STOP

      Morse is not used anymore, last commercial use was at KPH, in Point Reyes California.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K... [wikipedia.org]

      Worth a trip to see the site, selected by Marconi himself.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    And here am I thinking that India was the last place sending telegrams and that they'd already pulled the plug. http://m.slashdot.org/story/187523

  • It's been a while since we received a telegram in Japan, but the last one we got came with a WInnie the Pooh stuffed animal. The message was in the honey pot.

  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @10:37AM (#47670407) Homepage Journal

    The non-wireless Morse telegraph using only 19th-century technology (plus modern conveniences like plastic-insulated wires) is a fun educational tool for places like museums that reflect the era when telegraphy was widely used.

    It's also a fun educational tool for children's camps which specialize in either the history of that era or which specialize in STEM and which have a historical component.

    The same can be said for semaphore signaling, "hand-crank" telephones, and even "tin can and a string" telephones.

    Wireless telegraphy is still used by amateur radio operators and other hobbyists, alongside more modern "digital modes" like packet radio. Because of its very low bandwidth, Morse Code, particularly the computer-controlled "slow code" that is used on very-narrow-bandwidth transmissions in the sub-600KHz bands can typically get a message through in high-noise or low-effective-transmitting-power situations where other methods, such as "phone" (i.e. voice communication) or other digital modes can't.

  • My understanding, based on living there for a year back in the 80's, is that the service was more like our old TWX or Telex service, with many business having a small dedicated keyboard/printer to send and receive messages. Personal delivery was rarely used.
  • This BBC article [bbc.co.uk] is four years old now (I remember submitting it to Slashdot at the time, but it wasn't greenlit). However, it's probably still quite informative about aspects of Japan that aren't quite as high-tech as the stereotypical image would suggest:-

    Police stations without computers, 30-year-old "on hold" tapes grinding out tinny renditions of Greensleeves, ATMs that close when the bank does, suspect car engineering, and kerosene heaters but no central heating.
    Despite the country's showy internet speeds and some of the cheapest broadband around many Japanese are happier doing things the old way.
    Considering Japan's top heavy society of over 50s, many of whom have not got to grips with the internet, and who make up 30% of the population and that figure begins to make sense. [..] "The easiest way to tell is whether they have an e-mail address on the all-important name card. If they're over 50 and don't have an e-mail address, it's a dead giveaway that you either use the phone or forget about contacting them." [..] Some say this technophobic demographic helps explain why many of Japan's industries do not benefit from IT.

  • by McFly777 ( 23881 ) on Friday August 15, 2014 @03:19PM (#47680409) Homepage

    If you really want to send a "telegram", but don't need reliable (i.e. guaranteed) delivery. You can still have your message sent by Morse Code, internationally, and it is free!

    You just have to find your friendly neighborhood Amateur Radio operator. The main Ham radio organization in the US is called the ARRL, Amateur Radio Relay League, because they do exactly that, relay telegram style messages around the country and world, just for the fun of it.

    OK, the ARRL does a bit more than that. They also lobby congress, manage the exams, etc., but that is the basis of their name.

Yes, we will be going to OSI, Mars, and Pluto, but not necessarily in that order. -- Jeffrey Honig