Japanese government finally bids sayonara to the 3.5" floppy disk

Businesses can at long last submit digital docs to government agencies

Japan is saying sayonara to the floppy disk, which until now was a required medium for submitting some 1,900 official documents to the government.

The announcement (Japanese, machine translated) last week from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry brings decades of physical media submission requirements in Japan to an end. Japanese minister for digital transformation Taro Kono first confirmed plans to revise the law in 2022, describing his campaign to eliminate physical media as "a war" on floppy disks that would shift submissions to the cloud. 

"Under the current law, there are many provisions stipulating the use of specific recording media such as floppy disks regarding application and notification methods," the ministry said last week.

According to Japanese outlet PC Watch, the rules have now been amended to delete mention of physical media like floppy disks and CD-ROMs (which were also permitted, because things aren't totally antiquated over there), as well as more abstract categories like "electronic recording media" that could leave the rules open to physical media interpretation.

Chop the flop? Not everyone's on board

The ministry's decision to finally kill the floppy disk is sure to be a welcome relief to Japanese businesses needing to submit forms pertaining to things like alcohol business laws, mining and quarrying regulations, and energy generation rules. Let's not jump to conclusions about the death of the floppy disk, though.

As we've noted before, there's at least one business out there in the United States that makes its money off of supplying 3.5" floppy disks to industries and hobbyists that use them despite the last manufacturer of the things – Sony – ceasing production in 2011.

Floppydisk.com, run by Tom Persky, has been selling the physical media along with providing data transfer services from even older media (e.g. 5.25" and 8" floppy disks) to modern USB drives for decades. With no new media available to keep stock levels up, Persky relies on discoveries of mass quantities of floppy disks by individuals and businesses as a source of wipeable and resellable media, including several million purchased when Sony stopped production, and existing supplies of disks that have never been used.

"We continue to recycle and resell disks, but the majority of our business is acquiring and selling 'old new stock,'" Persky said. "There are an unbelievable number of warehouses across the world with a pallet of floppy disks lost in the back."

Persky told us that, while he expects use of physical media to keep declining, he doesn't see Japan's end to government filings on physical media as a threat to his business.

"It is a big world out there," Persky told us in an emailed comment. "There are a significant number of hobbyists and industrial users that will continue to use floppy disks over the next years."

Industries still using floppy disks include the aerospace world, older airplanes which still require physical media for avionics, older medical equipment, and computerized embroidery machines that use disks for loading design files.

Persky said he has sold some disks to Japanese customers, but not for business uses, as far as he can tell. "Our Japanese buyers are mostly hobbyists and private parties that have machines or musical equipment that continue to use floppy disks," he said.

An IBM floppy disk

512 disk drives later, Floppotron computer hardware orchestra hits v3.0


Despite being a world leader in cutting-edge technology, Japan has an odd relationship with legacy tech. It's still a land of cash-only payments and fax machines that has moved slowly to embrace the modern digital economy.

Not everyone in Japan is keen to embrace the modern digital-first world, however. Japanese news sources have described pushback from local governments and agencies to Kono's modernization efforts.

"[Kono's] Digital Agency is shouldering the entire burden of [Japan's government bureaucracy], which has slacked off on digitization," an unnamed official told Japan News, citing staff shortages and a massive workload faced by Kono's army of modernizers. ®

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