The song “Kyoto” by Phoebe Bridgers contains the following lyrics:
You called me from a payphone
They still got pay phones
It cost a dollar a minute
As a Japanese, I am surprised that Americans are surprised that there are pay phones.
She talked about this lines in an interview with Rolling Stone:
I totally made that up, I’ve never even Googled it.
However, it is true that in 2023, there are still many pay phones in Japan.
For example, from my home in the suburbs, I can see a pay phone.
But I have never used it nor do I remember seeing anyone using it.
Why do we still have pay phones in Japan?
There was an incident a few years ago when the glass of the phone booth was broken, but that pay phone has since been properly repaired. Even though no one uses it.
According to my research, there will be about 146,000 public telephones in Japan by 2021. Although there are elderly people who use pay phones, the usage rate is low, and of course, the phones are losing money. Nevertheless, they are maintained because of such laws and because they are useful in times of disaster. In fact, during the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, there were many cases where public phones were useful because cell phones were not available.
Still, I think it is strange that many high-cost public phones are still maintained. This may be due to the national character of the country, especially the elderly, who do not want to see any major changes.
Incidentally, the cost of a pay phone call ranges from 80 seconds to 560 seconds for 100 yen, depending on the distance. “A dollar a minute” is reasonable for long-distance calls.