Japan's Technology Culture: A Glimpse Between Old and New Technology Used

Japan’s Technology Culture: A Glimpse Between Old and New Technology Used

Old Computers sold in Akihabara computer shops in 2016. And yes, this is not a drill. Photo by A. Tokunaga

Many years, we thought that Japan was one of the countries with the best technology in the world. But in reality, it doesn’t seem that way. Ideally, we were thinking about robotics and many things that keeps people in convenience. That is much true. Except that there are things we have to face such as… Japan’s Government Offices are still using old computers that are dated way back where the Windows 3.11 Operating System was ever released.

There area reasons for that. When it comes to upgrading things, people are willing to spend. In this case, it’s about compatibility and reliabilility. Remember when that back in 2015, where Microsoft offered to many Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 users that Windows 10 will be free of charge and throw in whatever came with it? That happened with a mere problem. The problem is that most computer owners who had those legacy OSes, had big issues. Such as having Blue Screens of Deaths, incompatible drivers, and apps that were entirely removed from their systems due to Windows 10’s incompatibility. And the reason for that incompatibility is because of the security that’s embedded in Windows 10. And if we look back onto this, you would want to think twice before accepting a free upgrade.

Old Tech In Use

So, coming back to where Japan still uses old technology… The reason is quite similar. Not all of Japan’s top-notch computers are old but there are also newer ones. But these newer computers are now smaller than you can ever think of. Eventually, it will evolve as days go by. So, adding the reason to the use of Old Computers can also mean the use of old programs. Most Japanese people who are computer illiterate are only taught the fundamentals of using the software that they will use for the company. Such as Word Processor and business-related programs that are no longer in development (yet still in use today). Other than that, budget talks too. One computer in Japan for just the basic uses like surfing the internet, word processing, e-mails, and business-related work will cost from JPY 45,000 to JPY 65,000. And sometimes, this can also be the price of a very well-used computer. You can still buy a computer for the cheaps but you will end up with the price tag of at least… JPY 5,000 with specs that were from 1995 or 1999. Most offices and businesses in Japan still use fax machines and diskettes (although Government Offices has discontinued it early this year (2017)). Because, the offices and businesses in Japan, regardless whether they’re big or small, depends on them. It’s still a common thing to hand-write letters. So, if you are working in Japan in a corporate office, you will still hear the question from clients; “What is your fax number?”. And that is a common question in the industry. And also, some Japanese households still use fax machines at home as well. Pagers/Beepers on the other hand, are also still in use. If we have to talk about the Gaming PC industry, it’s very slow in sales. Because, not everyone can afford a gaming computer. A gaming computer would cost from JPY 150,000 to JPY 250,000. And for this price, most Japanese gamers would better be off buying videogame consoles like the PlayStation and Nintendo hardware. Because, they’re twice cheaper than a regular gaming desktop. Although games are pretty much a different story. If you go around Akihabara in Tokyo, you will find shops selling old and new computers. Some broken. Some working. Well, the broken ones are usually the used ones. They even sell mobile phones that both working and non-working as well. But, I believe that there are uses for these particular machines. Maybe can be used for parts or maybe used for collection for cosplay purposes (And yes, there are cosplayers who buys broken mobile phones to match up something for the photography props). How about the old computers that they’re selling? One Japanese man told me that there are people who are buying old computers for hobby purposes. Similar to the Amiga scene, they take the old iBooks and install MorphOS. And if one is selling an old iBook that actually works, one would buy it for MorphOS. Old computers still has something for the future. But buying replacement parts would be pretty scarce. Just like how people buy vintage cars from around the world in its rarity.

Exporting and Buying from Japan

Japanese Car Auctions. Where cars get sold every 1 to 3 minutes. Photo from www.j-spec.com.au

Speaking of cars, the car culture in Japan is pretty fast-growing. It grows in a way that you would be able to buy a car that looks so brand new but in reality, it’s actually over some years old in its age. When it comes to cars, everyone from all over  the world, would locate cars in Japan that are vintage to the tuner type. Like the tuner cars that are used in drift car events are most likely the kinds of cars that most car drifters would go after as well as people who are interested from outside of Japan. Cars are often imported to Japan and more exported out from Japan. The usual exports of cars are the ones sold from Japan’s Car Auction houses. Most foreigners also prefer buying used cars from Japan due to the way the Japanese people. Especially if they’re engineers in the race car industry, they eventually purchase and import car parts from there. The people who usually import are not just Americans alone. There’s also Australians, British, and other nationalities who import nice Japanese cars. Despite the right-hand drive, it’s still acceptable in some countries. While some don’t. Regarding cars, there are also abandoned cars in Japan especially the expensive looking ones. Japanese people do not bother getting these cars because they believe the owner would come by and get it back. Even if it is left out in the cold for more than 50 years, left to rust.


For appliances and electronics, that’s another subject. Appliances are seldom purchased by foreigners. The usual foreigner who buys appliances are usually Chinese people. The Chinese people who take tours to Japan usually goes after Tokyo, in where you can buy appliances for the cheaps as well as, something to use when they get back. The usual purchases is the heated toilet seats with unique and distinctive features. Other than Chinese people buying the electronics and appliances that they can carry to the plane, there’s also Americans buying useful things as well (best part, Japan uses 110V AC and USA uses 110V as well. So, go figure what would Americans buy). But sometimes, they only buy the used ones as they say they are “better” to get.

I also found out that some countries in South East Asia like Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand… Import used electronics and appliances to sell. Such as old TVs, Media players (VHS, VCRs, VCDs, DVDs, etc), radios, mobile phones (yes. they sell that), computers (they do), and also.. white wares (we’re talking about like blenders, refrigerators, food processors, etc). And here’s the kicker on how they acquire these things: They acquire it from the recycling centers found in Tokyo. Some recycling centers often sell it to make profits at a very low price to people who can afford such things for a little amount of money. You can find almost anything that is collected by the Recyclers in Japan. And if you need like for example, basic things since you moved for the first time to Japan (where ever it is) like a table, a chair, and some winter clothes… The recycling center is a good place to check.

The aftermath

Recycling is good. And Japan knows when to stop using a piece of gadget. Usually, if a gadget stops working… They either throw it away to the recycling center so it gets sorted. Japanese people will still keep using the old things they have like from the 1980s until there will be such time that it’s about time to replace. Like televisions, only a few households replaced them with better ones due to the fact that they save more electricity on the LCD types. While the cathode-ray tube ones go straight to the recycling center or the junkyard.

Speaking of recycling, some do not recycle. Some just abandon things. Like houses for example. But there is a good reason behind it. The reason is that the habitat of living in that area doesn’t seem to suit well enough for staying long. There are even more abandoned houses in Japan as well as properties. But for abandoned properties, there’s always a story behind it and the most common story is always about financial aids or competition. Like Nara Dreamland, it’s fully abandoned but there are people who come by to take photos of it just to see. Although now, it’s in demolition process for a land housing development in Nara.

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