But the truth is, many things are still being done in painfully old-fashioned ways, a phrase which here means "by hand and on paper." Actually, having seen the amount of paper a typical Japanese office goes through, I feel safe in assuming that the entire country has declared a shadow war on both the information age and trees.
How can this be? Well, Japan is still mainly in the hands of the older generation: Over a fourth of the population is over 60, and they're in no particular hurry to adopt new technology (particularly not Apple products, because as far as Japan is concerned, Steve Jobs can go fuck himself). Institutions like banks, the postal service and government offices still keep all of their records on paper, maintained and filed by superfluous personnel who could easily be replaced by an old Soviet computer (which incidentally is more or less what a friend of mine at a Yokohama municipal office was using at his workstation as recently as 2010).
Many businesses still don't even accept credit cards. A Japanese airline can get you to any corner of the globe without a hassle, so long as you're paying in cash, even if the tickets come up to a few thousand dollars each (and I wish I wasn't speaking from experience). This is made even more difficult by the fact that I don't think I've ever seen a 24-hour ATM anywhere in Japan.
Koichi Kamoshida / Getty
"We're proud to announce the launch of a new debit card, usable only in this room and only for the next 11 minutes."
That's right; most banks in Japan keep their ATMs indoors, which means that once the banks close (typically around 6 p.m.), so do the machines, utterly defeating their entire purpose for existing. It's another extension of that technological resistance -- pretty much anywhere outside of Tokyo harbors a deep generational resentment for automation. They don't want the ATMs operational while there aren't any bank employees around to help in case something goes wrong (although outside of users being clubbed with a thermos and robbed, the list of possible mishaps is embarrassingly short). You can always try an ATM at a convenience store (the number of which currently exceeds the national population), if you don't mind the variable transaction fees that seemingly change at random. And that's only if your ATM card will even work in machines outside of your bank, which it almost certainly won't.
The damn thing even looks like a 1980s fever dream of the future.