How are you supposed to type a message without a keyboard or touch screen?

Japanese toilets, deservedly, get a lot of credit for all their cool features, like their backside-washing bidets and poop sound-masking “sound princess” audio action. Heck, even the doors on public restrooms in Japan show an advanced design sensibility.

But right now it’s Japanese payphones’ moment in the spotlight, because thanks to some recent online buzz, we just found out something most people had no idea about: you can send email to mobile phones from them, and what’s more, they’ve had this capability for years.

Previously, you could use a payphone to send email to users of phones with service providers Docomo, au, or SoftBank. While the latter two have since dropped this feature, Docomo still supports it, and our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa thought a payphone-sent email would be just the sort of surprise to brighten up the morning of his coworker Mr. Sato.

So Seiji dropped a 100-yen (US$0.93) coin into the slot of the payphone he’d be using and got to work.

The procedure to send your email is:

1. After inserting your coin, dial 090-310-1655
2. Dial the phone number of the person you want to send the email to
3. After you hear a voice say “Messeji wo irete kudasai” (“Please input your message”), type your message.
4. When you’re finished, press the pound (#) key twice.
5. Hang up the phone.

But wait, how are you supposed to type the message without a keyboard or touchscreen? The solution to that has actually been around for almost 30 years: You type your message out like people used to when they sent text messages to pagers. In case the 1990s are ancient history to you, here’s a handy chart.

▼ Each character corresponds to a two-digit code, with the first digit on the left and the second at the top. For example, to type S you’d dial 49 (88 is to leave a blank space).

As you can see, you can send messages in both the Latin alphabet or Japanese text. For Japanese text you’re locked in to using phonetic katakana characters, not hiragana or kanji, but that still lets you write intelligible sentences.

Sending the message is essentially free, but you’re instead charged for the time you spend inputting it, at the same rate that you would be for a to-smartphone phone call. Because of that, you’ll want to plan out your message ahead of time, and thanks to a little prep work Seiji was able to complete his message in the amount of time his 100-yen coin had bought him.

And sure enough, shortly after he hung up the phone, Mr. Sato’s phone buzzed to life with a message notification for him, with the sender displayed as “PublicPhone.”

▼ Seiji’s message: “Good morning. -Nakazawa.”

As mentioned above, two of Japan’s three major mobile phone service providers have already dropped their networks’ ability to receive from-payphone emails, but for the time being Docomo is sticking with it, which is good news for all the people in Japan who were still using pagers until the technology was officially discontinued last month.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]