Why Japan has ‘declared war’ on floppy disks (What’s that?)

Japan’s government has “declared a war on floppy disks”. Decades after the unwieldy magnetic storage disks became obsolete and were phased out globally, Japan’s digital ministry has announced that it will finally do away with floppy disks and other outdated technology in a bid to modernise its bureaucracy.

In a press conference this week, Japan’s digital minister Taro Kono said he was working towards moving administrative procedures online. “Digital Minister declares a war on floppy discs,” he tweeted in English earlier this week. “Digital Agency is to change those regulations so you can use online.”

Japan may be home to some of the world’s leading tech giants, but the Japanese have always had an affinity for older technology. According to a BBC report, cassettes were still widely used in 2015. Meanwhile, in 2019, the country’s cyber security minister publicly admitted that he had never used a computer in his life.

But first, what are floppy disks?

Popularly used between the 1970s and 1990s, a floppy disk is a removable disk storage device used to save computer data and programmes. If you haven’t used one, you most certainly have seen one on the top left corner of an MS Word document, where a small animated floppy disk acts as the save button.

The disk, first developed by IBM, is only able to store about 800 KB of data, which is about 0.0008 GB. To put that in perspective, today you can find hard drives with storage up to 20 TB (20,000 GB).

Since 2021, when Kono was administrative reform minister, he has been vocal about his disdain for the old-fashioned fax machine, a fixture in many Japanese government offices, and the hanko seal — an official seal that is used to sign contracts and documents. He directed government ministries to discontinue hanko requirements for several documents, including year-end tax adjustments and tax…