October 31, 2013

Phone cards

Found in the same cabinet from last week, pretty phone cards! Phone cards? Who doesn't have a cell phone these days? But back in the day, NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation), the Ma Bell of Japan, charged many hundreds of dollars to install a land line.

Not to physically string the actual copper. Just to give you a number and a dial tone.

More photos of Hasagi (はさ木) in Niigata Prefecture.

So for the college student, the short-term resident, or anybody without $600 (!) to spare, phone cards (or a pocket full of change) and public payphones were the only alternative.

Back in the late 1970s, every room in the BYU dorms had a landline. The only telephone landline you're likely to find in a Japanese dorm is a payphone, still using those phone cards or even coins. They are conveniently color-coded.

Photo by Gabriel Pliska.

Old school dial payphones that accept 10 yen coins are pink.

Photo by Tom & Lily.

In 1999, NTT (the largest telecommunications company in the world) was split into three regional carriers and had to lease unused fiber to third parties. So now a dial tone will only cost you $350! The last time I got a landline here in Utah, it cost me about twenty bucks.

Wireless telephony took off in Japan before the bureaucrats could get around to monopolizing it, so the cell phone (keitai) market is truly competitive and quite reasonably priced.

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