For a short time, relatively speaking, I collected Japanese Telephone cards. Like most of my hobbies, I really shouldn’t use the past tense. Most everything is just on hiatus (like a TV show that nobody has the guts to cancel) I am not actively collecting them anymore. Of course, with the extreme popularity of cell phones in Japan, is highly unlikely that anyone is–no, I take that back. In Japan,. somewhere, there is probably a dedicated group of telephone otaku who still actively acquire and trade these cards. If I search the internet, I am bound to find this group. It is highly unlikely that I will ever do that, but it is still comforting to know they are out there…….somewhere.
This collection is probably more a reflection of my Japan obsession than my collecting obsession. I don’t really have an attachment to the cards, but I have an attachment to the time they represent. I lived in Japan PI and PC (Pre-Internet, Pre-cell phone) Actually, that is not completely true, or at best, a small misrepresentation (at worst it is a completely bald faced lie–but let’s try to be optimistic here) The internet existed when I was in Japan, it just wasn’t user friendly, wasn’t even remotely ubiquitous, and Al Gore hadn’t made any claims to its origins. Cell phones existed, and while not huge brick like contraptions, were still less common and horrendously more expensive than these days.
When one needed to make a telephone call out and about you could either fumble with change, or use a phone card. Most everybody had one because no one had change. The sold them everywhere (even in the famous Japanese vending machines, often next to the bank of phones)
Rather than plaster the phone company logo on the cards (as was done in Canada, and probably made the cards less interesting, and ultimately less successful) various images were placed on the cards.
|culture old and new|
Japanese telephone cards represented a good blend of commercial advertising and local heritage promotion. Some cards were cool, some interesting, and some very strange. I got them from students as souvenirs and I bought a bunch of them so my girlfriend could call me from the hospital. I got some of them because I mentioned I liked them, and people started giving me their used ones.
I remember poking around Hankyu Department store in Umeda, Osaka and coming across people trading these phone cards (so I know they must still exist somewhere). It was quite a site to see people bargaining over the price of “rare” phone cards.
|and who could forget advertising|
When I look back at them now, I am reminded of my life in Japan. I am reminded of those late night calls (that were early morning calls here), those conversations that spanned blocks as well as continents, plans made, people met, experiences shared and of those bright green phones.
Having seen them on my last vacation in Japan, I know they are still there, but there are not nearly as many of them. Come to think of it, it must have made a lasting impression on me because I even built a model of that telephone booth