While the typing difficulties also apply to China, the country never got stuck in the fax stage, tech experts say.
Another factor in Japan: The government’s long-standing monopoly on phone lines kept high-speed digital Internet rates relatively high — particularly compared with South Korea, where the government promoted cheap broadband use.
Largely because of these hurdles, the Japanese developed a preference for surfing the Web on their mobile phones .
“A lot of homes just are not connected to the Internet,” said Andrew Horvat, a communications expert and the director of the Stanford overseas study program in Kyoto. “They all have phones, however, so that also makes faxing easier and cheaper than online communication.”
Even Japan, of course, is weaning itself off fax machines. Mobile giant SoftBank went “paperless” last month, both for environmental reasons and to save printing costs. Other companies say they don’t dare banish faxes — too many clients insist on them — but they would like to soon.
For now, many firms that offer services to consumers say that fax remains their preferred mode of communication. Even NHK, the national broadcaster, relies on faxes, as in a fee-based service offered to viewers of a weekly program, “Tameshite Gatten,” or “Try and Understand,” whose stories on health-related topics often feature healthful recipes.
The fax offer began in January 2011, and in that first year, 491,000 Japanese used the service, NHK spokeswoman Reiko Saisho said. Unlike with e-mail, those recipes came out warm, on standard A4 paper, and were perfect for filing away.
Special correspondent Yuki Oda contributed to this report.