Tokyo: Old phones provide talking points for older users

The Yomiuri Shimbun
NTT Docomo History Square Director Yasuo Ayatsuka holds Japan’s first mobile phone model in front of a display of cellular phones and other items from past generations at the museum.

The NTT Docomo History Square in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, is home to about 250 mobile phones, ranging from first generation models to the latest smartphones now on the market.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The country’s first cell phone, launched in 1987

Mobile phone services began with ships, aboard which telephones that could contact landlines were introduced in August 1953. Pay phones were later introduced in other places, with Shinkansen trains getting their first pay phones in 1965. Phones for cars were introduced in 1979, and the current mobile phone network began to emerge in 1987. These days, cell phones have become part of daily life.

The museum allows visitors to learn about the history of mobile phones while observing actual products up close. I picked up the nation’s first cell phone model, which was named “keitai” (portable) because it could be carried in one hand despite being heavy. The phone weighs about 900 grams and is 18 centimeters long, 4.2 centimeters wide and 12 centimeters thick.

“There was an impression that car phones were used by company presidents,” said the museum’s director Yasuo Ayatsuka. “I was hoping that one day I might be able to own one of these phones. I borrowed one from the company and excitedly called my parents’ house.”

A pager model, called a “pocket bell” in Japan, is also on display.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A visitor holds a pager.

“It was so named as it was small enough to fit in a shirt pocket,” a museum staffer said.

I suppose many people in the younger generations likely have never seen one before.

A pager beeps when a person calls the number of the receiver. Pagers were first released in 1968 and were mainly used by company employees. In the 1990s they became a favorite of high school girls, among others. NTT Docomo Inc. had as many as 6.5 million pager subscriptions.

Visitors can touch the pagers and listen to their beeping sound. Pagers are a familiar item for older people and a curiosity for the young.

Many cell phones from various eras can be seen. I heard that many visitors relive old memories after spotting the same phone they used to own way back in the past.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Automobile phones, radios and other equipment that were installed in cars

The Yomiuri Shimbun

NTT Docomo History Square

Opened in 2004. Special phones, such as satellite phones used in places where radio waves cannot easily reach, are also on display.

Address: NTT Docomo Sumida Bldg. 1F, 1-9-2, Yokoami, Sumida Ward, Tokyo

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Sundays, Mondays, national holidays, year-end and New Year holidays.

Admission: Free. Advance reservations are required for groups of 10 or more.