The Japanese government is finally letting go of floppy disks and CD-ROMs. It recently announced amendments to laws requiring the use of the physical media formats for submissions to the government for things like alcohol business, mining, and aircraft regulation.
Japan’s minister for Digital Transformation, Taro Kono, announced the “war on floppy discs” in August 2022. Before the recent law changes, about 1,900 government procedures required the use of obsolete disk formats, including floppy disks, CDs, and MiniDiscs, for submissions from citizens and businesses.
Kono announced intentions to amend regulations to support online submissions and cloud data storage, changing requirements that go back several decades, as noted recently by Japanese news site SoraNews24.
On January 22, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced that it changed 34 ordinances to eradicate the requirements of floppy disks. As per a Google translation of a January 23 article from the Japanese tech website PC Watch, the ministry has deleted requirements of floppy disks and CD-ROMs for various ordinances, including some pertaining to quarrying, energy, and weapons manufacturing regulations.
METI’s announcement, as per a Google translation, highlighted the Japanese government’s “many provisions stipulating the use of specific recording media such as floppy disks regarding application and notification methods,” as well as “situations that are hindering the online implementation of procedures.”
Floppy disks first became commercially available in 1971 through IBM. They evolved through the decades, including with the release of the 3.5-inch floppy in 1983 via Sony. With usage growing and peaking in the ’80s and ’90s, the floppy disk couldn’t compete with the likes of CD-ROMs, USB thumb drives, and other more advanced forms of storage made available by the late ’90s. Sony, the last floppy disk manufacturer standing, stopped making floppies in 2011.
Floppy disks aren’t equipped for many of today’s technological needs, with storage capacity maxing at 1.44MB. Still, government bodies in Japan have been using them regularly, leading, at times, to complications. For example, in 2021, it was reported that Tokyo police lost a pair of floppy disks that had information about 38 public housing applicants.
Japan’s reliance on dated tech is something METI is tackling, but reports have noted resistance from some government bodies. This includes local governments and the Ministry of Justice resisting moving to cloud-based admin systems, per the Japan News newspaper. Japan is ranked number 32 out of 64 economies in the Institute for Management Development’s (IMD’s) 2023 World Digital Competitiveness Ranking, which the IMD says “measures 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.
Some have attributed Japan’s sluggish movement from older technologies to its success in establishing efficiencies with analog tech. Governmental bureaucracy has also been listed as a factor.
Japan isn’t the only entity holding on to the floppy, though. Despite a single photo these days being enough to overfill a floppy disk, various industries—like embroidery, medical devices, avionics, and plastic molding—still rely on them. Even the US Air Force stopped using 8-inch floppy disks in its missile launch control system in 2019. And last year, we reported on an Illinois Chuck E. Cheese using a 3.5-inch floppy for its animatronics system.
US-based Floppydisk.com told The Register that Japan’s rule changes shouldn’t endanger the business. Its Japanese customers are “mostly hobbyists and private parties that have machines or musical equipment that continue to use floppy disks,” Tom Persky, who runs the site, said. Floppydisk.com also sells data-transfer services but told The Register in 2022 that the bulk of revenue is from blank floppy disk sales. At the time, Persky said he expected the company to last until at least 2026.