Going Paperless in Japan

Some hints to save your business operation costs and the planet

piles of white paper sheets

It is sometimes mind-blowing how Japan manages to represent two totally opposite tendencies. Energy crises and never switching off the lights in the business building in the middle of Tokyo or Osaka, along with air conditioners that are also working most of the time, be it summer of winter. Shortage of workforce and reluctance to do anything about. Beautiful forests and unbelievable amounts of paper that are being used daily: business cards, postcards, printed newspapers, contracts, invoices, insurances, faxes, etc.

To be fair, it is not only Japan, who is high on paper consumption. In fact, Japan has a great recycling system and quite strict rules about it. Some of the biggest corporations (for example, Nomura) have already stated their concerns about the environment and set a course to digitalization. Still, once you cut a tree, the tree does not produce oxygen anymore no matter how many times and how well you recycle the pulp.

Yet, in Japan, there are many possibilities to decrease the use of paper significantly, provided that there are appropriate means available. Luckily, some companies and startups are working hard to solve this issue. In this article, we would like to list 4 of them that make going paperless in Japan possible for both individuals and businesses.


We have talked about how Limex turns stones into paper and plastic some time before but why not use this opportunity to talk about their invention again. Limex is based on limestone, which is a wide-spread, non-precious raw material with a high recycling capability. Only in Japan there is 24 billion tons of it. Creators of Limex describe it as a “semi-permanent and nearly inexhaustible” material.

This “paper” has the same functionality as the usual one, yet it has additional properties that the pulp paper may never have. It is much harder to bend or break, which extends their durability. Moreover, Limex prevents ink smudging and can be used underwater. (You never know, right?) And Limex plastic replaces films and sheets, plus it helps to save on charges for recycling under Japan Containers and Packaging Recycling Law.


It was built with the intention to cut processing times of official documents (initially, state insurances). However, it turned out to be saving a lot of money, too. The company has digitalized the paperwork: now everything is in the cloud. You only need to fill in online forms and leave the rest to the SmartHR. The documents will be sent to the appropriate recipients, the appointments booked on your behalf.

Monthly subscription for small companies with up to 5 employees costs as little as JPY 980, or less than USD 10. Only imagine the amount of money spent on paper per month in any company or governmental institution and how it compares to SmartHR’s monthly fees. Not to mention the amount of paper that will end up in archives, or worth, thrown away.

It is good to see the tendencies and aspiration of entrepreneurs, corporations, and consumers to come up with solutions that could preserve the familiar ways of doing things while also preserving the environment.


One more cloud-based company and a must have for an environment-friendly business. MakeLeps can issue estimates, invoices, and receipts, as well as purchase orders, bills, and so on. It provides support for different document types, integration with Evernote, multiple users’ access for teams. In addition, it provides varied ways to mark and organize your documents as well as automatic creation of invoices and different presets.

Everything can be managed online. MakeLeaps, nevertheless, provides postal services. If you need to deliver documents to your customers or partners in paper, it can be done. The company will print and sent them with the Japan Post for as low as JPY 160. But one must understand that old habits die hard, and Japan has a very strong attachment to its paperwork.


Speaking of attachment to traditions, the use of Hanko and Inkan, Japanese personal stamps that act as signatures, has been challenged by two giants. In November 2015, DocuSign started cooperation with Shachihata to promote electronic sign systems that are to replace or at least significantly decrease the use of stamps. Which is very interesting and exciting since Shachihata is the major producer of Hanko and Inkan for companies in Japan.

DocuSign brings its Digital Transaction Management (DTM) platform to the table while Shachihata brings its e-Hanko service. The combination of these two will allow for digitalization of business operations that involve the use of Hanko. And that is almost each and every operation. This cooperation should increase security and compliance, and improve customer experience as stated in the press release by DocuSign. E-Hanko cannot be copied or changed thanks to security functions that track all signatures back to the place of signature and the original signers. This system is arguably more secure than a traditional paper contract with a stamp.

To Conclude

It would be too ambitious and unrealistic to say that Japan is going to abandon its traditions fast and easy in favor of the above-mentioned alternatives. However, it is good to see the tendencies and aspiration of entrepreneurs, corporations, and consumers to come up with the solutions that could preserve the familiar ways of doing things while also preserving the environment.

You can learn more about eco-friendly businesses and ideas in Japan from our other articles on this topic.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

Because there is no planet B.

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