Calling Tokyo

When I was a kid, if anyone in the family wanted to make a long distance call, we had to wait until after 5pm. Then the Sprint/MCI/AT&T wars came, raging throughout Thursday night primetime and beyond, pushing down the price of long distance.

I was curious how much long distance cost back when I was obliviously watching the Cosby Show in the mid-80s. According to the FCC, in 1986, a ten-minute coast-to-coast daytime call cost about $7.50 in today’s money. And an international call? Over $8 for three minutes.

Anyone prone to reminiscing about how cheap things were in the old days is not thinking of long distance service, although the carriers have certainly found a way to keep us sending a big check every month. (Today’s current AT&T vs Verizon commercials are basically identical to the old MCI/Sprint commercials, with less embarrassing haircuts…for now.)

Where am I going with this? Japan, of course. Last night I made a three-minute call to Tokyo, and it cost less than ten cents. I’m easily impressed by cheap phone calls. Less so by my language skills.

I was calling a Tokyo bakery to ask a couple of questions for a dessert-related article I’m working on. The conversation, translated into English, went something like this.

Me: Hello. Does anyone there speak English?

Bakery: Not really.

Me: Um. OK. I saw dessert on web site. You have, yes?

Bakery: Not right now.

Me: You have, uh, summer?

Bakery: [couldn’t understand response]

Me: I understand. Sorry to bother you. Goodbye.

This was discouraging, but it could have been worse. I think my accent was okay. Since it costs nothing to call Japan, maybe I should just call a couple of random businesses every night and ask stupid questions.

One thought on “Calling Tokyo

  1. riye

    That’s so funny. Reminds me of the time my Japanese boss wrote in a letter to a former colleague “I wish you to remember me as I was before.” (Translation: “I’d like to keep in touch.”) And the office staff was all “WTF?” so we finally had to ask. Boss: “Oh I want him to keep in touch.” Me: “Well why don’t you just write that?” Boss: “Oh! Okay.” (surprised tone of voice)

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