Japan, the future of the 80’s is now!

We think of Japan as a pinnacle of technology.  They brought us the Walkman, Nintendo, Beer machines that mechanically do a perfect pour every time, and of course those toilets that make ours look like bedpans.

The reality is once you step outside the bright lights of Tokyo, it feels like the last piece of technology you encounter from this millennium is the Shinkansen.  Sure, my view is tainted from extended periods in ski towns which are largely rural, but I won’t let that get in the way of a good story.

When trying to book accommodation in Japan, you may be surprised by the lack of affordable traditional options.  It is not that they don’t exist, it is just that they don’t exist online.  The number of small businesses in Japan that do not have a website or even an email address is either significant, or the hotel and real estate industries are grossly over-represented in this statistic.  I better brush up my Japanese phone skills if I want to do business here!

The next major indication that things here do not run quite the same as other western ski destinations is the cash economy.  You can leave your credit card at home, it won’t be accepted in provincial Japan.  Sure, some large supermarkets and train stations will take them begrudgingly, but don’t expect to get far without a wallet fat with cash.  I am not sure how the locals deal with this, as ATM’s are few and far between.  Finding an ATM that accepts international cards narrows the list further, lucky I never need an excuse to visit a 7-11.

Next time you are in your favourite konbini to grab some cash, somewhere near the ATM you will spot another large machine.  If it is a weekday, there is a good chance a few businessmen will be hanging around.  What is this device offering that a modern business in 2020 could require?  Well sure it does printing and photocopy, but the real trick here is the fax.  Are you even old enough to remember those?

On a recent trip to Japan I had a few leads for potential property purchases.  Unfortunately, the only contact details for several business was phone or fax.  My rudimentary Japanese is not up to the task of holding a successful phone call beyond making a dinner reservation, so that left the written option.  How hard could it be to send a fax?

It turns out there are services online to send faxes, unfortunately my investigation led me to websites that required an ongoing subscription, or a significant first deposit for pay as you go faxing.  Neither of these were suitable for a what is hopefully only a short-term requirement in my life, so I happily made my way down to my nearest 7-11.

The first 7-11 I visited had a small queue of men politely holding their briefcases at the fax machine, something I had never noticed before but was amused to be a part of.  I carried on to the next 7-11 as they are never far apart, where the fax was also in use but no queue this time.  A few minutes later I was ready to send my first fax in 30+ years.

The actual sending of the fax was uneventful, but there are a few things to be aware of if you ever find yourself in this position.  I cannot think of how that could possibly happen however, unless you too are trying to do business in rural Japan.  First, you need to have the fax printed.  You can only send a fax via the scanner, not your phone.  Fortunately, you can print from your phone, there is an English menu for this and it is only ¥10 per page.  Unfortunately, the menu for sending a fax is only in Japanese at 7-11.  Keep Google translate handy, otherwise take a chance at Lawson which I understand has an English option, however it is apparently prone to errors.

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