gallery- japanese payphones currently in service 


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Digital Public Telephones

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Analog Public Telephones JPN-NTT.jpg (30672 bytes) Low-Profile Stand-Type Public TelephoneLow-Profile Cabinet-Type Public Telephone
Digital Public Telephones

Public phones are plentiful and conveniently located. Usually gray or green in color, most phones take both coins (10 and 100 yen only) and phone cards. As a rule, phone cards are usually more convenient. Cards can be purchased at kiosks at local train stations and in department stores. Phone cards are standardized nationwide and can be used for any public phone in Japan unless the phone is a rare, old model that accepts only coins

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1995- This phone resides in Yokohama and is referred to as a "green phone". The y use phone cards in 1000, 5000, or 10,000 yen denominations.

Photo by Bill Bond. with thanks to www.2600.com 
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Kaguya-hime Public Phone Public phones in bamboo-shaped booths. Kaguya-hime (kah goo yah, hee may) is sitting on the top of the booth.

Kaguya-hime is a main female character in the old tale "The Bamboo-Cutter's Tale." An old man cut a bamboo plant which was shining in the darkness, and he found a cute baby in the hollow stem. The baby was named Kaguya-hime. She grew fast and became a beautiful woman. She returned to the moon where she was born.

Do you think it's a wonderful story? I like the story. And I love this public phone booth. It's nice. Great idea, huh?

gallery- some crazy japanese phonebooths  (with thanks to Kate Laird)
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For Those Using Wheelchairs
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The number of public phones seems to have decreased in recent years due to the popularity of mobile phones, but they are still numerous. Local calls arepossible from any public phone, but international calls can only be made from certain phones. Telephone cards, which can be used to pay for calls, are sold at kiosks and vending machines.

Currently, you will find mainly three types of public telephones:

Green phones are the most common public phones. International calls are possible from some. Coins and phone cards can be used.

Grey phones are also very common. International calls are possible from most grey phones. Coins and conventional phone cards can be used.

Orange phones are the newest type of public phones and have also become quite common. International calls are possible, and coins and IC cards can be used.

In addition, you might still encounter some older types of public phones, for example, pink phones, which accept only 10 Yen coins.


In September of the thirty-third year of the Meiji Period (1900), public telephones, which had until then been set up only within telegraph branch offices and post offices, appeared for the first time in main thoroughfares, transforming the appearance of cities. First, they were set up at Ueno and Shinbashi train stations. The following month, the first outdoor public telephone box was set up near Kyobashi. In those days, they were called 'Jido Denwa', a literal translation of 'Automatic Telephone' displayed on street telephones in America. Public telephones increased and in 1901, male operators, unpopular because of their rough reception, were abolished. Since then, telephone operators became a standard job for young women.

A box-type automatic telephone was installed at the foot of Kyobashi bridge in October 1900 (Meiji 33), beginning the spread of outdoor public telephones. The name given to the telephones, "jido-denwa", was a direct translation of "automatic telephone", the name used in the United States at that time. Local call charges were an expensive 15 sen per call (5 minutes). However, usage increased dramatically when this was reduced to 5 sen per call two years later (in 1902), and the popularity of the automatic telephone spread widely.

The public telephone using the common-battery system also made its debut. Its appearance was the same as the magnetic public telephone, except that it had no handle of a dynamo to send call signals. Coins were inserted once the operator had called up the called partner like the magnetic telephone. Until 1952, it was the standard public telephone.

Red hexagonal booths that appeared at the end of the Meiji Era, were set up at two hundred locations throughout the country in 1911. The automatic telephone was vital as the telephone for ordinary people. Demand for the telephone in the private sector became stronger and buying and selling telephones became very popular, with prices reaching 400 yen at one stage.

The first public telephones were installed outside Shimbashi and Ueno stations, both in Tokyo, in September 1900 (Meiji 33) to allow people to make calls from the street. Both local calls and long distance calls costing less than 25 sen per call (within 100km) could be made. The phones were initially called automatic telephones. However, the name was changed to "public telephone" to avoid confusion when the automatic telephone exchange was adopted on October 1, 1925 (Taisho 14).

The history of the public telephone in the Showa years begins with the changeover from the Meiji-style red hexagonal booth to the square, light-gray 'box' style. In March 1927, the new public phone booth is introduced at 50 locations in Tokyo. The new design features slim window lines and a fashionable modern style that enjoys wide public approval.

After the Manchurian Incident, the Sino-Japanese War, and World War II, the era of war comes to an end at last on August 15, 1945. Amid the ashes of devastated cities, the prefabricated barracks-style public telephone box appears. A number of innovative phone box styles appear on the city streets during the rebuilding period. Other developments include desks set up outdoors to function as Special Telephone Sites as people in the postwar era struggle to survive in an area of scarcity of material and food.

A shortage of coins after the war seriously hinders the rebuilding of public phone service. One development is the currency-type public telephone, which is designed to accept paper bank notes. A coin-operated model is removed and fitted with a box that has a wide slot at the top to accept paper currency, and a large notice is attached explaining that either coins or paper money may be used. Users themselves report payment of charges, so that this public telephone is also based on trust in the public to respect the 'honor system.'

The public telephone service in Tokyo slowly started to recover in 1947 (Showa 22) in the midst of the post-war reconstruction when everybody was in extreme poverty. In addition to the Tokyo traffic office's service boxes installed at major streetcar intersections (which were a combined "streetcar ticket counter, accident report office, mailbox, public telephone and advertising pillar") and the telephone boxes which survived the fire, various new public telephone boxes started to appear.

The loss of telephones destroyed in World War II combines with increasing demand as the economy turns into the recovery phase, to produce a serious shortage of telephones. One measure aimed at expanding the use of communications facilities is the provision of storefront telephones for public use, inaugurated on November 1, Showa 26. This success of this simplified concept owes much to the outstanding capabilities of the No. 4 desktop telephone. The number of such phones increases and by 1955 the telephone cafe appears on the city scene.

The loss of telephones destroyed in World War II leads to a serious shortage of telephones. One of several measures to alleviate the shortage is the 'consignment' of telephones from the telephone company to store fronts and other locations which will monitor their use as public telephones. The consignees do not function as subscribers, but as a sort of extension of the facilities of the local exchange. Combined with the new simplified public telephones, the convenience of these facilities leads to a gradual increase in numbers. By Showa 28 (1953) the design of these phones changes to a conspicuous red color, and thus begins the familiar public 'red phone' of Japan's street scene. Around the same time, the real-time telephone response replaces the postcard in the popular listener-participation Radio Quiz show.

The loss of telephones destroyed in World War II led to a serious shortage of telephones, which is alleviated in part by the introduction of simplified storefront public telephones. One such item is the simplified phone' and another is the 'consignment phone.' Both types normally use the common No. 4 automatic desktop phone set, but beginning in October 1953 the consignment public phone is changed to a conspicuous red color. This is the start of the well-known public 'red phone' of Japan's street scene.

Due to a shortage of coins after World War II, some public telephones had to accept currency to pay for calls, leading to the use of common-battery public telephones with coin boxes modified to accept paper currency. These telephones had no connecting circuits between the money box and phone line, so that it was possible to make calls free of charge. In 1952, however, 10-yen coins begin to circulate and the following year sees the introduction of the coin-operated No. 4 automatic public box telephone. This is the first of the public "blue phones," and is followed in Showa 43 (1968) by the large-size "blue phone" and hen in Showa 48 (1973) by the new-model "blue phone."

The year is 1954, and the first public phone boxes made of steel appear. The result of a nationwide prize competition to design public phone booths, the new facility features a cream-colored body with a rounded red roof and is dubbed the "red cap" style. The modern "red cap" is immediately standardized and adds color to street corners throughout Japan. At the same time, telephone poles made from logs of cryptomeria wood are gradually being replaced by concrete telephone poles as Japanese streets complete the transition to a post-war mood. It is an era of dramatic changes in the daily lives of Japanese, symbolized by the frequently-heard phrase "This is no longer the post-war era!".

In May 1955, design and development work begins on a new type of public telephone. Until now, users have paid after the call is anwered, but the new model will require payment before dialing. Problems with the old system include cutting off the recipient leaving only a one-way connection if the caller is late in depositing coins, and the fact that the exchange register counts such calls as connected. By December, the No. 5 Automatic Desktop Public Telephone Set using the pay-before-calling system and No. 5 Automatic Booth-Type Public Telephone Set are introduced. The new type of phone is designed with a coin return linked to the receiver hook mechanism to return coins in case of busy signals or unanswered calls. From this point on, all public telephones will be of the pay-before-calling type. By Showa 57 (1982), the concept of the cashless era will lead to the introduction of the telephone card, which requires no coins.

October 1, 1957 marks the first on-board public train telephone service, introduced by Kinki Railways. This service is later added to Japan National Railways trains beginning August 20, 1960, on eight 'Kodama' and 'Tsubame' limited express trains making daily runs between Tokyo and Osaka on the Tokaido Main line with calling service limited to "red phones" within the Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka metropoitan subscriber areas. Telephone service from the high-speed Shinkansen trains is introduced in 1965.

In 1959 the public "red phone" and "blue phone" are joined by a new service, the 'Special Simplified Public Telephone.' Nicknamed the "pink phone," these new public phones enable ordinary subscriber lines to be used as public telephones, and are installed as a service to customers in high-traffic areas such as apartment buildings, hospitals and coffee shops. Not purely public telephones, the "pink phones" can be placed inside buildings in any location the subscriber desires.

A public telephone service on Japan National Railways trains was temporarily postponed on September 30, 1964 (Showa 39), the day before the Tokaido Shinkansen started operation. However, the service was reintroduced on all Shinkansen trains on June 1, 1965 (Showa 40). Yokohama and Kyoto were added to the original participating exchanges (Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka) when the service restarted.

As direct intercity dialing becomes more widespread and more areas can be accessed by area codes beginning with "0" demand grows for a new type of public telephone that will allow nationwide direct dialing. A prototype large-size red telephone with these capabilities is installed in Tokyo Station in 1965, and becomes fully operational in June 1966. The new telephone set has a lower profile than the previous public "red phone" and has a gold band with the label "For Direct Long-Distance Calls."

Following the introduction of the large public "red phone," public enthusiasm for the convenience of direct-dial intercity calling leads to demand for booth-style public phones with this service. In 1968 a larger "blue phone" with the same functions as the large red phone is introduced for commercial testing in Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo and other cities, and the service becomes fully operational the same December. Large numbers of large "blue phones" are placed in booths (some in pole-type installations) on street corners and near train stations, for convenience at any time of the day or night.

First introduced at selected sites at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the prefabricated phone booth with glass on all four sides is adopted on a nationwide basis in 1969. Simple to set up and take down, the new booth helps reduce theft and vandalism. One major feature is the center-fold push-in door. Strong enough to withstand wind but easy to open or close with one hand, the doors are designed to naturally slow as they close.

The practice of "3-minute cutoff" of local calls from public telephones is systematically introduced beginning in January 30, 1970. The purpose is to prevent excessively long calls from public phones. The cutoff is automatic, but is preceded thirty seconds before by two warning chimes no notify the caller that the call is about to end.

Smaller than the large-size "red phone," a newly redesigned red telephone is introduced in November 1971. The receiver hook on top of the phone is 5 centimeters lower than on its larger predecessor, making the new model easier to install in storefront locations. Obstructions created by improper insertion of coins and foreign objects can also be cleared easily by pressing the hook button. By notifying the store owner, callers can also access special service numbers 110, 119, 104, 105 and 100.

Ever since 1959, the public "pink phone" has been installed in restaurants, apartment buildings and other public places. Now, a new larger model offers the same direct-dial intercity calling capacity as the red and blue models. With the introduction of "wide area time-based calling" on November 12, 1972, the system of calling charges is changed to calculated units of calling time. The larger "pink phone" now provides a function that accepts 10 yen every three minutes for local calls.

In order to promote direct-dial long distance calling, public phones which accept 100-yen coins are introduced on a test basis in parts of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya in September 1971. Favorable comments such as "it takes less trouble to feed in coins," and "you don't have to listen the (payment) chimes" lead to full-scale adoption by December 1972. The new phone has slots for both 10-yen and 100-yen coins, and initially looks the same as the large size "blue phone." With full-scale service, the color is changed to the now-familiar yellow.

Previously, green telephones were installed in telephone boxes in locations such as streets or parks. However, with the worsening of road traffic, it became more and more difficult to find space for telephone boxes. Also, in practice, most red telephones were locked away in shops at night. The new green telephone was introduced to solve this problem in 1973 (Showa 48). The new green telephone was an outdoor commission-type public telephone that could be used day and night.

The rotary dial on the 100-yen type public telephone is replaced by a touch-tone panel in the first button-operated public telephone, introduced in September 1975. This model is designed to use components of the previous 100-yen public telephone, and retains the same shape, size and color.

A new type of public telephone appears, beginning in December 1982. This phone allows the use of a "telephone card" , a magnetized card of the same size as the automated teller cards issued by banks. The user simply inserts the card into the phone to call. No coins are needed, nor is it necessary to continually feed change into the phone for long distance calls. By 1984, phones are introduced that operate exclusively on calling cards.

The pink telephone, which has only accepted 10-yen coins, is redesigned in 1985 to accept 100-yen coins in order to facilitate long-distance and extended calls. Other changes include an emergency call button that can be pressed to allow '110' and '119' calls, a bell volume control function, and toll-free calling capability. The new pink and black two-tone body is well received. By January 1989 new models will be introduced in light black and pale beige colors

On May 6, 1986 air passengers wishing to place telephone calls while in flight are provided with a new public telephone service that operates from aircraft. The new public phones installed in jet airliners on domestic routes operate exclusively on telephone cards. Passengers 5,000 meters or more above Japan can now call anywhere in the country. The service is for outgoing calls only, and enables direct-dialed calls to any subscriber phone, mobile phone or marine phone, including collect calls

On November 19, 1988 the 'Auto-Dial' phone card goes on sale. This new type of telephone card is designed to automatically dial a designated phone number whenever it is inserted into a public telephone. At first, use is restricted to certain types of public phones, but is later expanded to card-type phones of all types. These popular cards will find a wide variety of uses, including business calling, taxi, hotel and restaurant reservations, presents to boy/girl friends, etc.

The growing popularity of card-based calling leads to demand for card-style public "pink phones." Card-style pink phones are introduced in 1989. These two-tone pink-and-black phone card-style push-button phones also feature emergency call buttons, volume adjustment switches and card return chime volume adjustment switches

In March 1990 the public telephone adds a new, highly versatile function, with the development and introduction to service of an ISDN-compatible "digital public phone." These phones are able to handle data communication when connected to terminals such as personal computers, and also offer operating help and a time-remaining display as well as on-hook dialing, toll-free and collect calling on telephone cards and cashless calling functions. The result is a major advance in the development of the public telephone

In 1992, following an outbreak of incidents involving wholesale counterfeiting of phone cards, the company is forced to remove cards in denominations of 3,000 and 5,000 yen from the market as a preventive measure. Cards already issued may be exchanged for and equivalent amount of 1,000-yen cards. Acceptance of the 3,000 and 5,000-yen cards as payment for direct-dialing charges is also discontinued.

Our of recognition of the indispensable role of the public telephone as a common resource in the life of Japan's citizens, and the need for further improvements in service to meet the requirements of users as well as for high performance and versatility in communications services, NTT decides that it is necessary to provide separate accountability and stability for its public telephone business. On October 1, 1993, permission is obtained from the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications to revise calling charges for public telephones. This is followed by detailed announcements of plans for service improvements and rationalization