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Japan Communications IT Technology

Analog Still Big In Japan (bbc.com) 360

An anonymous reader writes: BBC News reports that Japan, the island nation famous for robotics, 4G phones, bullet trains and corporate tech giants, is actually run by fax machines, human traffic lights, and 4.2 million small to medium-sized companies. Wary of connecting to networks for fear of data theft and hacking, Japanese office workers average just half the productivity of their American counterparts. Whether this conservativism in IT can prevent automation and robots from replacing people remains to be seen. However, the use of cassette tape recorders, hand-written data disk mailers, and 1997-era e-mail systems with near zero storage definitely hurts competitiveness in the global market.
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Analog Still Big In Japan

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  • illogical summary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @07:05PM (#50859623)

    What proof is there that this hurts global competitiveness in any way? because it sounds right?

    • Re:illogical summary (Score:5, Interesting)

      by youngone ( 975102 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @07:23PM (#50859745)
      There's no proof, and the "Global Competitiveness" crap in TFA is irrelevant to the millions of Japanese SMEs, because they are not competing globally.

      The point of Japanese business is to keep the people of Japan working, and so they employ people to do jobs that machines could do cheaper, because if you lay them all off, they will be a burden on society.

      I knew a guy who worked for his Japanese Father-in-Law's business for a couple of years, and was told on his first day to forget about doing anything smarter or better, but to make sure everyone was doing their job, because the company existed to provide jobs.

      He quite liked Japan, but his Japanese wife became homesick for New Zealand, and they had to move back.

      • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @07:59PM (#50859937)

        Funny how the economy became frozen in time when they stopped becoming more productive.

      • Re:illogical summary (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @08:07PM (#50859975)

        The point of Japanese business is to keep the people of Japan working

        The purpose of a business to generate profits for the owners. A beneficial side effect is the creation of goods an services. "Keeping people busy" is neither a purpose nor a benefit.

        they employ people to do jobs that machines could do cheaper, because if you lay them all off, they will be a burden on society.

        This is the Lump of Labor Fallacy [wikipedia.org]. There is not a fixed number of jobs in an economy, and if people are doing inefficient busy work, then they are already a burden on society. They should be doing something that actually creates value.

        A big problem in Japan, is that to open a new shop, you need to get approval from other shops nearby. The shop owners work together to veto any competition, or consolidation. So the result is a proliferation of tiny inefficient shops, millions of people employed in unproductive retail jobs, high prices for consumers, and a lot of time consuming shopping while going from store to store to find what you need.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @08:15PM (#50860021)

          "The purpose of a business to generate profits for the owners. A beneficial side effect is the creation of goods an services. "Keeping people busy" is neither a purpose nor a benefit."

          No, that is the capitalist purpose of a business. It's possible that other people have different definitions as to the purpose of a business.

        • Really? I've never worked in Japan but I have visited it extensively and there are loads and loads of super-stores that carry absolutely everything. I can see this type of protectionism happening in small towns but I would find it surprising in the larger cities.

          Also not read TFA, who does, but I wonder if this is per man hour or per employee or per $. The reason I ask is all my Japanese friends work CRAZY long hours and have crap leave entitlements.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @08:21PM (#50860083)

          You sound like a Stalinist. The purpose of an association of people is whatever they damn please, not your quasi-religious goal of "profit".

          As for the rest of your argument, a perceived inefficiency because nobody knows how to increase efficiency is practically equivalent to one deliberately introduced. As long as Japan is happy with its system, and doesn't require it to compete where relevant with external systems, there is no reason for it to change.

          It's like wandering into 1850 with a digital computer and pointing out how so many people are suddenly a burden on society. Nope - they're exactly where they were two minutes ago, contributing to society. Maybe your computer gives them a version of society they prefer, or maybe not.

        • Re:illogical summary (Score:5, Informative)

          by youngone ( 975102 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @08:26PM (#50860119)

          The purpose of a business to generate profits for the owners

          Not in Japan, not as an absolute.

          The Lump of Labour fallacy is an unproven economics opinion. Not to be confused with a fact.

          A big problem in Japan, is that to open a new shop...

          This is not considered a problem in Japan.

        • by tsotha ( 720379 )

          The purpose of a business to generate profits for the owners. A beneficial side effect is the creation of goods an services. "Keeping people busy" is neither a purpose nor a benefit.

          That's the point of a public company, sure. But the purpose of a private company is whatever the owner wants it to be. If the owner thinks the social benefits are worth what he spends to employ extra people, then his business is serving its purpose. It should be pointed out social pressure on Japanese people in all aspects

          • A corporation, being a government-granted license to avoid personal responsibility for one's actions, is not free to do whatever it wants for some self-defined goal of endless profit. That notion started around 1970. A corp is not a castle, and its true purpose is determined by the society that granted it its privileges. That has been understood for centuries, until, as I said, around 1970.

        • Re:illogical summary (Score:4, Interesting)

          by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo AT world3 DOT net> on Wednesday November 04, 2015 @04:51AM (#50861689) Homepage

          I'm guessing you have not spent much time in Japan. The rules on opening new shops are great. They keep shopping areas from becoming clones of each other. Most UK towns are indistinguishable now, having the exact same set of shops and cafes as everywhere else. Japan has avoided that by giving local businesses a voice.

          Yeah, it's less efficient. It's also qualitatively better. It's no longer a race to the bottom to see who can provide the cheapest parking, because that's the only differentiator. Areas have character and unique shops to visit. You can get personal service and unique goods. It's so much better than the alternative it's hard for me to convey.

      • The point of Japanese business is to keep the people of Japan working, and so they employ people to do jobs that machines could do cheaper, because if you lay them all off, they will be a burden on society.

        That behavior has deeper roots buried in Japanese culture. The big boom, the bubble, that catapulted Japan into the world's second largest economy in the 60's up to the 80's was mainly due to the after war (II) boost from the West (mainly American influence). But actually Japanese like to maintain and nourish the present state. Don't look at the past, don't try to anticipate the future. A zen garden. And yes, businesses in Japan are full of faxes, obsolete and old-fashion software, grandad management strat

        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          But actually Japanese like to maintain and nourish the present state.

          Sure, they do. While things have been worse in living memory, you have to wonder how everyone takes the economic stagnation of the past 25 years and the aging of modern Japanese society? Is everyone "we didn't need that leading first world society anyway" like some of the posters on Slashdot insist or are some of them a bit concerned about the way things are heading?

          Don't look at the past, don't try to anticipate the future.

          Which is nice when anticipating the future doesn't have any value. When it matters a lot, well, you need a better approach.

      • by Z34107 ( 925136 )

        There's no proof, and the "Global Competitiveness" crap in TFA is irrelevant to the millions of Japanese SMEs, because they are not competing globally.

        Japan is on the edge of a demographics crisis. 25% of their population [worldbank.org] is over 65, compared with 59% that work. [worldbank.org] Having only ~2.36 people paying into public healthcare and social insurance for each person drawing out is not a good ratio, and with their notoriously low birth rates, is only going to worsen [du.edu] as time goes on.

        In the meanwhile, Japan's racking up shittons of debt [google.com], and has to import nearly all of their energy [worldbank.org].

        So, what does this mean? It means productivity is really fucking important. If your ag

      • so they employ people to do jobs that machines could do cheaper, because if you lay them all off, they will be a burden on society.

        Why wouldn't they be able to find new jobs? Does society really benefit when you keep employing people to dig ditches by hand when you could just use an excavator? Why focus on making jobs rather than making progress?

        Note that Japan has a _lower_ labor force participation rate (the number of employed people as a fraction of employable people) than the US (59.6% vs 62.5%). So even if Japan is not replacing people with machines in order to keep people employed, the result seems to be fewer people employed!

        Thi

    • Re:illogical summary (Score:5, Interesting)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @07:53PM (#50859911) Journal
      I read the article, and they offer no proof. It's a baseless assertion. This quote from the article made me laugh:

      This is a country ... where big-name companies running 10-year-old software is the norm.

      Better tell the author to never investigate America, he may discover that all his bank transactions go through software from the 70s.

      • I read the article, and they offer no proof. It's a baseless assertion. This quote from the article made me laugh:

        This is a country ... where big-name companies running 10-year-old software is the norm.

        Better tell the author to never investigate America, he may discover that all his bank transactions go through software from the 70s.

        Or pretty much any company. My company has software dating from the 70's/ 80's / 90's running all the production equipment (some on 80's / 90's hardware). Go into a car dealership and there's a terminal window connected to VMS or IBM/360 system. The other day I was at the customer service counter of Walmart. I could see into someone's office, and there was a green terminal window connected to a VMS or IBM/360 system. Look behind the counter when you're at the check-in, or at the gate of an airport and likew

      • by Snufu ( 1049644 )

        Newer is not always better, and quite often the reverse it true. In many cases, "They don't make 'em like they used to" is fact, not nostalgia.

    • Because... Internet! Social Media! CandyCrush! Don't be so 2014.

    • Look at a plot of GDP per capita over time for Japan. It has basically gone nowhere since 1990 (there's been some up and down but the trend is basically flat). Japan had a notably higher GDP per capita than the USA in 1990. The current situation is reversed by roughly the same amount.

      Now, is this proof that old technology is to blame for Japan's famously stagnate economy? No, but it's telling that Japan has both 1990 technology and 1990 GDP per capita. In contrast, the USA has been continuously modernizing

  • by rsborg ( 111459 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @07:10PM (#50859653) Homepage

    Does productivity count if you're offshoring and outsourcing everything and not growing your job/revenue/tax base (by also allow those offshore/inverted operations to avoid paying taxes) ?

    Sounds like eating your seed corn to me.

    • Does productivity count if you're offshoring and outsourcing everything and not growing your job/revenue/tax base (by also allow those offshore/inverted operations to avoid paying taxes) ?

      Sounds like eating your seed corn to me.

      It's the Job Creators creating Jobs.

      They just forgot to tell you where those jobs were going to be. Oopsies!

    • Yes, and when you have no opportunities or able to feed your animals, you get rid of them. In our case, young unemployed adults will be drafted and sent off to fight in WWIII.

  • by Neo-Rio-101 ( 700494 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @07:14PM (#50859681)

    Japan is also a country where the ATMs close after hours, and where cash is still used exclusively for most things.

    It's also a country where your girlfriend will get upset if you don't take her to KFC on Christmas eve, followed by a love hotel,... but I digress.

    • So, greasy chicken* + love hotel = ... Nope, I definitely don't want to go there.

      *Since it's Japan, this is probably greasy squid.

    • Cash is still used exclusively for most things? In the country where you can pay for the bus and vending machines with your cellphone?

      Fight for your bitcoins! [coinbrawl.com]

      • Actually, yes.
        I've visited twice. Stumbling on places that took a credit card was rare. Finding a place that took an American (non-chipped) card was almost impossible. Yes, large overpriced places of course take cards, but the places where the common man actually shops and eats, cash only. Compare to NYC where even the independent $1 pizza joints and $5 t-shirt shops take cards.

        Now, the best reason I can think of for this is the credit card transaction fees - there *are* electronic payment forms but the

    • by SvnLyrBrto ( 62138 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @08:02PM (#50859955)

      To be fair, though, in Japan your chances of getting mugged and your cash stolen are about as near to zero as is statistically possible. And, should you lose your wallet full of cash, the chances are about 99% that it will be turned into the police (Who operate some truly astoundingly massive lost & found warehouses.) with the cash left untouched.

      Given that the country, unlike the US, generates remarkably few thieving bastards; the motivation to adopt cash replacements is somewhat lower.

      • I don't think thievery is much of a motivation. People in the US generally carry $600 cell phones and quite possibly $5000 weddings rings on them, after all. Cards are just easier, and secondly they provide a record of purchases.

      • by tsotha ( 720379 )
        It has nothing to do with crime. The difference is if you try to use a personal check in Japan people will look at you like you've grown a third eye. It's only been in the last generation or so that employers stopped paying their employees in cash.
      • I dropped my wallet in Japan once and I did get my wallet back... but the money was stolen.

        So I guess I'm in the 1%

      • by TheSync ( 5291 )

        I dropped my (~$150) Shinkansen ticket in Tokyo Station, and someone picked it up and ran off with it...

    • Rubbish. You may find one or two atms that are in a building that closes after hours but I have been there many many times and the ATMs work fine at 2 in the morning.

    • It's also a country where your girlfriend will get upset if you don't take her to KFC on Christmas eve

      Maybe because your girlfriend was 16? But I digress..

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      The banking system is broken in Japan. This combined with low crime rates favor cash use. It isn't that bad actually. And you can now find ATMs in many convenience stores, which are open 24/7. Most accept Visa and Mastercard now.
      As for Christmas, one must understand that it is not part of the Japanese culture, it is no more important to them than Grandmother's day. Businesses like KFC took it and made it info some kind of a commercial remake of St Valentine's Day.

  • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @07:21PM (#50859729)

    who said a country needs to have x percentage of GDP be by large corporations? the one percent?

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Not just Japan. Look up mittelstand [wikipedia.org].

      Large conglomerates are mainly a US creation. A concept created by Wall Street to keep CEOs shuffling operating companies around while the financial consultants skim off exorbitant fees for financing that activity.

      • by rsborg ( 111459 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @08:48PM (#50860257) Homepage

        Not just Japan. Look up mittelstand [wikipedia.org].

        Large conglomerates are mainly a US creation. A concept created by Wall Street to keep CEOs shuffling operating companies around while the financial consultants skim off exorbitant fees for financing that activity.

        What do you think the British East India Corporation was? Where do you think Hollywood got the idea of Weyland-Yutani corporation from? The idea of a large conglomerated colonial corporation (completely outsourced ruthless governance) isn't an American creation, it's existed for centuries.

        The other day I read "The Count of Monte Cristo" - very readable even in today's standards (except the part where he goes to Rome - got lost there). It even detailed how the wealthy even relied on financial derivatives as well as orchestrating a stock trading pump & dump. That book was written in 1844.

  • by Sowelu ( 713889 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @07:25PM (#50859751)

    I'm not sure what I'd even put in the comment text, here. It seems kind of redundant.

  • How do you measure that?

    And while I am no expert, it seems to me that apart from some nuclear and banking problems, Japan is doing fine.

    • by radish ( 98371 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @07:47PM (#50859887) Homepage

      Well a lot of their biggest companies are in real trouble (ex Sony). They also have an extremely high suicide rate (double the US). I have no idea if any of this is related, but the comments I've read about people doing menial jobs which could be automated simply to keep employment up sounds like a recipe for depression, and I doubt it's sustainable. People know when their job is actually useful and feeling like you're not doing anything worth while is incredibly demotivating.

      • Suicide rates in Japan have not changed dramatically over the past 50 years. There is some linking of movements to their economic prosperity but it has always been higher than the US. I don't believe it has anything to do with make work and more to do with face saving and their perceptions of honour.

        As for other indicators, unemployment has been decreasing in Japan steadily since a peak in 2009. I'm sure that doing crappy jobs is demoralising, but I would argue doing no job and hence not being able to af

        • As for other indicators, unemployment has been decreasing in Japan steadily since a peak in 2009.

          If Japan measures unemployment the same way as the US Government does, that doesn't mean a thing. In the US, if you're not receiving unemployment benefits, you're considered to have "left the workforce" and aren't counted as unemployed. And before you start in with the partisan politics, this practice goes back at least thirty years, if not more, regardless of which party is in charge.
          • Nothing partisan.

            To go with the unemployment rate the participation rate, which is the base for the unemployment rate, has also been climbing. So a greater % of the population are seeking work and a smaller % of those people seeking work are unable to find it.

            • Thank you. I'd added the bit about getting partisan to avoid having this devolve into a flame-fest with people blaming whichever party they think is evil.
              • All good. I'm not American so I don't get the whole Democrat vs Republican crazy thing. I just like to sit back and eat my popcorn.

                I have to say though, from the outside looking in, American politics is fucking insane!

                • Well, just assume that you have one major left-wing party, one major right-wing party and any other parties you have are two small to get enough members elected to your legislature to make a big difference, or as head of state. And, right now, we're in the middle of one of our bouts of dirty politics so that what a candidate stands for is less important than how badly they can smear their opponents.
                  • Oh I get that part of it. But even your left wing party is more right than the right wing party here. It also appears that wedge issues like guns and abortions make up a crazy amount of the political discourse and then you throw in the tea party which just makes my head hurt.

                    I like visiting the US but every time I do I come back a little more left wing then when I went there. There are some truly amazing opportunities there but the number of people that just seem discarded by US society is scary. I thin

            • To go with the unemployment rate the participation rate, which is the base for the unemployment rate, has also been climbing.

              Sorry, no. The labor participation rate has been in a steady decline [bls.gov] since 2008. Almost like we're in a depression or something.

      • Japan actually has a history of embracing death and suicide in its culture. It's a bit wacky, but sometimes you're supposed to kill yourself if you're a good traditional japanese (and I have references [wikipedia.org]!)

        Read the book Shogun by James Clavell for an interesting perspective on it. It really shines a light on a non-western perspective, where death is something to be embraced at the right time (and that it's important to die a good death), as opposed to something that should be avoided at all costs.

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @07:27PM (#50859767)

    Still need to work on their Godzilla preparation, though

    • Still need to work on their Godzilla preparation, though

      Put Gojira back to being a man in a rubber suit would be a good start.

  • by PPH ( 736903 )

    In Japan? I don't think so. Most of the pictures I've seen from there have some pretty distinct pixels.

  • My Trip to Japan (Score:5, Interesting)

    by labnet ( 457441 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @07:53PM (#50859909)

    My first overseas trip was to Japan some 25 years ago. The (business) trip was organised in a hurry, so I only had a Visa card and $50. I thought since I was going to one of the most advanced industrialised countries in the world, this wouldn't be a problem.
    Well, arriving in Nagoya, was like arriving in to a 1960's hospital ward. The only way of changing my money was lining up for the government money changers, and there were no facilities for getting cash out with my Visa card. So I changed my paltry $50 into Yen.
    I thought, how am I going to get to my hotel? Well there was this huge ticket machine for the train. It must of had 300 buttons; all in Japanese. I flagged down a pilot and asked him to get a ticket for me, which he did; but then I thought; if I get this wrong I could end up in the middle of nowhere.
    I had one contact number for the guy I was to meet up with. I found a public phone booth, and coins from the vending machine, but no idea which coins to put in to the phone to make a call or even what part of the international phone number to dial. I had to flag down a Japanese lady, held out my hand with the coins, showed her my number, and thankfully she was able to dial the right number though to an English speaking concierge. Thankfully my contact was in his room and through his optimistic sweedish/english told me to just catch a cab and he would meet me and pay for the cab.
    Well the cab line was something to behold. Hundreds of early 80's Toyota crowns; all the drivers wore white gloves, the seats had whitelinen cloths on them. What suprised me though, was the trunk and passenger door were controlled by levers by the driver! I hoped in a cab, and said the hotel name MiyakoNagoya and I get a grunt back Miagonagooya Hi. I repeated it to make sure, and off we go. The speed limit is only an advisory to the driver. I'm watching the taxi meter click over the total value of Yen in my hands, and started wondering what a Japanese jail cell might look like.

    I had many many other adventures on that working week in Japan. It is a great country, but back then its banking system was fairly backwards.

    • by bahstid ( 927038 )
      Actually you could almost exactly be describing a trip this year rather than 25 years ago. The only change is that you *might* be able to get money using an overseas Visa Card at a 7eleven now, but that only started in the last 2 years.... Funny thing is you'd actually be at an advantage over someone with a local bank account - after 7pm my card is useless! Then again, we can put coins in our ATMs!
    • Re:My Trip to Japan (Score:4, Informative)

      by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @08:35PM (#50860187)

      Japan has changed dramatically over the last 10 years (the gap between my first and most recent trips there) and they are hugely more accommodating of foreigners then they used to be. Back 10 years ago there were signs in Kyoto saying "No Gaijin" on restaurants. Now the buses around Kyoto have english commentary as you come up to each stop.

      The same changes have occured to their banking system. 10 years ago 7-11s were the only place in Kyoto that would accept non Japanese bank cards. Now everywhere does.

      Also if you live there you tend to sign up for things like pasmo and have an app on your phone. Pasmo is like an oyster travel card but it works in loads of places from vending machines to restaurants. That is kind like the future, tap your phone on the reader and away you go.

    • Well the cab line was something to behold. Hundreds of early 80's Toyota crowns

      The taxis are like London cabs, new cars but of a classic design.
      The older boxy shape is a lot more practical than modern raked pillars that prevent ease of access.

  • Sony wished they had of stayed with writing things on paper and faxing them.

  • by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @08:11PM (#50859999)

    Having someone direct traffic isn't such a bad idea. Yes it's expensive and sucks for the person when the weather is bad. But they can respond better to the traffic to keep it flowing better. How often are you stuck at a red light and there's no traffic in the other direction? Around here they use police officers when the lights go out or there's an accident. If they did the same thing it would create a big positive police presence. The officers would be out of their cars and in the community interacting with the people.

    I'm not saying that we should do it, just that it may not be as daft as it first sounds.

  • by spauldo ( 118058 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2015 @10:14PM (#50860657)

    Japanese business culture is weird.

    I didn't have to deal with it a whole lot myself, but I have had some dealings with it, and know people who have had more.

    First, there's the whole sempai/kohai system. Basically, that guy that was hired five minutes before you? Yeah, you're his bitch. But that's OK, 'cause the guy we hired five minutes after you is your bitch. Shit rolls downhill. You try to make it up the ladder so you're the one doing the shitting rather than getting shit on.

    Then there's appearances to consider. The guy that finished all his work for the week and went home at the end of the day? Bad employee. The guy that spent all day playing minesweeper and put in overtime (to play more minesweeper)? Good employee. Results? Who cares?

    And when the end of the day (and overtime) is over, time to go home, right? Nope, now it's time to "bond." Which means it's time to go to the bar with the coworkers and get drunk. Oh, and the sempai/kohai thing is still in effect. You're allowed to loosen your tie. Maybe.

    I'm sure not all businesses in Japan are like this, but I've seen some that are, and I've heard of more.

  • In order to get the latest news from Japan, several stations in the U.S. were carrying live video feeds from Japan. I was expecting awesome interactive 3D computer graphics using green screens to create a pseudo-holographic experience. Instead the weather report was a cloth map of Japan with felt cutouts of clouds, the sun, and numbers for the temperature velcro'ed on. The weatherman (woman) pointed to these using a pointing stick (hadn't seen one of those since the 1990s when they started being replaced
  • "However, the use of cassette tape recorders, hand-written data disk mailers, and 1997-era e-mail systems with near zero storage definitely hurts competitiveness in the global market."

    As others have said, prove it. Japan is a technologically advanced, developed nation with an extremeluy high standard of living. It's people are well educated, well behaved and live long and happy lives.

    Just because they haven't drunk every last drop of KoolAid a lot of other nations have drunk, how does is equivalent to an

  • The Japanese economy does have some significant problems, but it's driven by broader structural challenges versus their decision to use fax machines instead of email. Their economy has stalled for about twenty years, effectively shrinking over time. While unemployment has been kept low, it's come at the expense of economic growth and stagnant wages, leading to shrinking household buying power as inflation grows faster than incomes. Meanwhile, the global marketplace has become more and more competitive, mak

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