(Quick note for younger readers: The fax machine scans paper to transmit messages using the telephone line. It’s like emails that are faster than mail, but sent by landline.)
Printed paper and handwritten documents are of high value here and considered the pinnacle of official records. Many government agencies depend on fax machines as a backup in case of natural disasters.
But that dependence also can lead to bureaucratic delays in essential functions, like reporting each new coronavirus infection by hand and faxing the details to the public health office. And it creates burdensome inefficiencies, like requiring job candidates to write their résumés by hand for each prospective employer.
Japanese officials recognize the need to digitize government functions. The outgoing prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, launched a new digital agency to nudge civil servants into modernization. Taro Kono, who served as administrative reform minister for Suga and is now in the running to replace him, had led a crusade against the fax machine and was met with overwhelming resistance from bureaucrats.
Many argued against Kono’s efforts by noting that the fax remains a popular choice among the public and private businesses, who do not feel comfortable communicating with government agencies via email.
And the fax remains a go-to option for those airing their grievances.
Despite the threat of a potential violence sent to officials over the weekend, no one was harmed at Tokyo vaccination sites. The 38-year-old man who allegedly faxed the death threat to Tokyo police on Sunday was arrested, and police ramped up security at vaccination sites after receiving the threat, police told local media on Wednesday. The man admitted wrongdoing, saying he sent the death threat out of frustration after losing his job in the pandemic, according to a report by Japanese news outlet Mainichi.
There was no suspicious activity reported at the sites despite other fax messages sent to the police station over the weekend, titled “Proclamation of War” and “Targeting Lives,” Mainichi reported.
It’s not the first time someone faxed a death threat to police about coronavirus vaccines.
In June, when the vaccination program expanded to include children aged 12 to 15, local government officials in the town of Ine in Kyoto prefecture were inundated by angry calls, emails and, yes, faxes. There were 97 phone threats, 36 emails and eight faxes, carrying messages such as “I’ll kill you” and accusing officials of attempted murder for immunizing children.
Despite such anti-vaxxing (but pro-faxing) sentiments, the Japanese people are getting vaccinated at a rapid clip. As of Tuesday, over 54 percent of Japanese residents had received both doses. Nearly 90 percent of the elderly — who make up 30 percent of Japan's population — have now received both doses.
After declaring a “state of emergency” status for most of 2021, the Japanese government is now considering lifting the restrictions.