We track down an ultra-rare Duet Phone and try it out.

Public pay phones of any type have become pretty rare in Japan, but the rarest of all is the Duet Phone. Honestly, that name is a little misleading, since while a duet is a song sung by two people, the Duet Phone is a pay phone designed so that three people can share a conversation.

However, even though the Duet Phone is designed for three-person conversations, it doesn’t allow for three-way calling. You can still only dial one number from it, but two people use the phone simultaneously, because it has two receivers!

We’d heard about the Duet Phone a while back, and recently decided to go see one for ourselves. The closest one we could find to SoraNews24 headquarters is located in Kawasaki, Tokyo’s neighbor to the south, near the Nakahara Ward Office.

We thought we might have a little trouble pinpointing it, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy. Right in front of the main entrance to the ward office is a small plaza/park, and it turns out the weird pay phone has a unique phone booth, one called the Fureai no Ki, or “Tree of Community,”

Sure enough, inside the whimsical alcove was a Duet Phone. If you just take a passing glance at it, you might notice it’s any different from the green pay phones that used to be an ubiquitous part of Japanese cityscapes, but this one really does have two receivers.

According to an explanation card posted above the phone, for two people to share the phone you’re supposed to pick up the right receiver, then the left, and then insert your coins/card and dial the number you’re calling.

Our reporter Masanuki Sunakooma was on his own, but he couldn’t resist the urge to try out this unusual system. So he grabbed a receiver in each hand and placed a call to his own cell phone, which let him confirm that as funky as it looks, the Duet Phone is in perfect working order, as he could talk and hear with either receiver.

But the big question here, of course, is “Why?” How often have you been out and about with a friend or family member and run into a situation where you both need to talk directly with the same person, right away, on the phone?

It’s a scenario we have a hard time imagining, and it turns out the designers of the Duet Phone probably did too. That’s because the machine wasn’t designed as a reaction to outspoken demand from people in Japan, but as part of Japanese telecommunications provider NTT’s celebration for the 100th anniversary of its entry into the telephone business, which took place in 1990. The Duet Phone’s primary purpose was an exuberant display of Bubble Economy-era engineering innovation, but also the answer to a question that nobody asked, which is why they never really caught on and are so rare today,

▼ The phone booth even has a relief saying “NTT celebrating 100 years in the telephone industry.”

But even tough the Duet Phone doesn’t get much use, the property managers still maintain it, and they currently have no plans to uninstall. By this point, it’s become a local landmark and sort of a symbol of the neighborhood itself.

Still, with the Japanese thinking of getting rid of even more pay phones, and also planning to provide senior citizens with their own smartphones, the Duet Phone won’t be around forever, so if you want to try it out before its swan song, doing so sooner would be better than later.

Location information
Nakahara Ward Office / 中原区役所
Address: Kanagawa-ken, Kawasaki-shi, Kosugicho 3-245

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]