Sep 5, 2018

Japan loves paper

In my opinion, a big issue with sustainability in Japanese offices is the use of paper. I used to work in Japanese offices that basically printed out everything and kept big files with all the print-outs. Every e-mail that was received or sent needed to be printed out on a separate sheet of paper even if it was a one-line e-mail saying “received with thanks”. Additionally, all e-mails were all saved on a shared server.

Japan loves paper photo

The file storage room looked somewhat like this.

By doing that the files for each case grew bigger and bigger and sometimes needed to be refiled into a bigger case. By doing this you not only waste a lot of paper, in my opinion, this is also a lot of unnecessary work. When everything is saved digitally why would you need a paper copy of everything?

The answers I received when asking these questions were basically twofold.

1. What if the data suddenly disappears ?

When you have your IT set up correctly, take back-ups regularly and take security precautions that actually should not be the case.

Japan loves paper photo

When you back up regularly a crash of your computer should not be a big issue.

2. I like working with paper.

That was an answer I often received from older coworkers. It is kind of understandable that for someone who has worked with paper most of their life getting used to the digital work style is not easy but work styles are changing all the time and everyone needs to get used to new technology at some point.

Japan loves paper photo

When it comes to books I can understand the love for paper but for work e-mails I prefer the digital version.

So for me, these two arguments don’t count, however, the opinion of a single office worker is hardly heard in Japanese offices. Even though getting rid of the paper would not only be beneficial for the environment it would also save cost. Less paper would be required for printing and also less storage space would be required for the case files. They filled up about one third of the office space and in Tokyo, the rent for office space is pretty expensive. Also, of course, work efficiency would increase as the time required for printing and filing would decrease dramatically.

The weirdest thing in this office was that sometimes you had to print a text document so you could later send the scan by e-mail. When sending letters to clients they would be prepared in word and every letter needed to be hand signed by the person responsible. So, after typing the letter it would be printed out then signed and then scanned. The scanned PDF file would then be attached to an e-mail and sent to the client. This process was so inefficient I suggested improvements, like using a picture file for the sign or using digital signatures, several times but all I got as feedback was: “We always did it like this, so we will keep doing it like this.”

All of these thing ended up frustrating me so much that I changed workplaces to a company that does not print out every single e-mail and I feel a lot better now.

However, I think it will still take a long time for traditional Japanese companies to adapt to the digital work style. A friend of mine works for a Japanese law firm and they print out every e-mail they receive by default, even the spam e-mails that the spam filter didn’t catch.

Have you worked in such companies before? What was your experience?



Hi, I’m Eli. I’m from Germany and moved to Japan a few years ago. I am a typical nerd and like collecting Pokémon merchandise.Follow me on twitter (@hannari_eri) for the latest nerd News from Tokyo. I also write a blog in German over here. https://lifeinjapanisstrange.wordpress.com/

1 Comment

  • edthethe

    on Sep 6

    This bothers me about Japanese schools as well. The students' records are still filed by paper. That means each teacher has a filing cabinet each with that year's students. They also have to hand stamp them during the change over in March to April. Teachers scramble to stamp everything and physically transfer everything over on top of trying to prep for everything in a one week frame. It is ridiculous and so inefficient.