Japan's continuing love with the fax machine

by Mike Evans

Back in the days of mechanical typewriters, handwriting held out against the odds in countries such as Japan and China because of the vast number of characters and the difficulty of designing an effective mechanical means of writing.

As a result, the fax machine was an instant success in Asia because it enabled handwritten documents to be transmitted easily. There should no longer be such considerations now that computers have enabled Japanese, Chinese and other languages such as Korean to be typed quickly and efficiently. Even the iPhone sails through Mandarin quicker than we can tap out our western words.

For some reason, though, the fax is still loved in Japan when it is rapidly becoming a curiosity in the rest of the world. The reason for this lies not in an aversion to technology but in a simple love of handwriting.

This BBC story outline’s Japan’s love affair with the fax machine and explains why handwriting is still a necessity, even in business: 

the culture of handwriting is firmly rooted here. For example, the majority of resumes are still handwritten because Japanese employers are said to judge people’s personalities from their writings.

Here in the west with our measly but convenient 24 or 26 characters, which promoted the early adoption of the typewriter, we are rapidly losing the art of handwriting. I know from my own experience. I was once proud of my calligraphic skills. But now I write so seldom by hand that I’m losing the ability to write fluently and neatly. Once I loved fountain pens; now I avoid handwriting because I find it a strain. My collection of Mont Blancs and Pelikans lies neglected. I just don’t get enough practice. 

In this, I believe, the Japanese have the right idea. We shoul return to the undoubted art of handwriting whenever possible.