Strange Area


Recently I have been trying to avoid posting about very odd things or Japanese weaknesses. There is much I like about being here, and I don’t want people jumping to mistaken conclusions. It is very easy (anywhere – not just in Japan) to notice and write about things that are different. Falling into that trap gives people the idea that everything is different.

When I was in Pakistan, I could have told people that I stayed in a hotel and there were three restaurants in the mezzanine area; however, that seems mundane. People were more interested in hearing about the man laying on a truckload of bloody sides of lamb as the vehicle sped through traffic. He looked happy as a clam. Or the bridge with the VW-sized hole in the deck. There was a concrete block a little in front of the hole to warn us to drive around the hole. Or the massive numbers of Afghan refugees living in cardboard shacks (even though I was way south in Karachi). NB: this was in 1997, so please blame the Taliban, and not W.

Regardless of my desire to write the good stuff, there are also some weaknesses. One of which is the phone number area code system. Mostly it is semantic, but when I think about it, it bothers me.

All of the numbers in my prefecture start with 059, and when I moved here my number was written with the first three digits separated from the rest with a hyphen. Something like this: 059-293-1234. The last four digits are made up, but they could be someone’s number so please don’t ring them up. This number looks similar to the American/Canadian ten digit system with a three digit area code (ignoring the difference of the leading zero, which is impossible with US phones for historical reasons). So, “Looks pretty normal”, you say; why would I mention it at all.

Shortly after I moved here, someone was giving me a number to write down. It was from a neighboring town and went something like this: 0598-50-1234. In Japan we often say ‘no‘ where there is a hyphen or space in a long number, so I knew the person was telling me to break the number after the 8. I scratched the number down but, noting the length, I wrote it: 059-850-1234. All was well… until they asked me to read it back to them…

They got rather upset with me for identifying the area code as 059, when it should correctly be 0598. I tried to suggest that it was all semantic and they assured me it was not; I acquiesced and all was well.

Land line area codes can vary between two-digits and five (or six) digits, but all of the phone numbers are ten digits:

  • 03-3643-4125 Tokyo
  • 059-293-1234 Tsu
  • 0598-50-1234 Matsusaka
  • 0120-910-000 Toll-free number

I noticed that areas like Ibaraki and Aguni, which are listed as five and six digit area codes, don’t appear like that in directories. Aguni is listed as 098988, but numbers appear (thankfully) like: 098-988-1234. It would be interesting to learn how the exchanges actually functioned physically, to see if the difference was one of perception or the system.

Cell phones and IP phones have more digits than normal numbers, throwing another wrench into the works. They are usually displayed like:

  • 090-1234-5678 cell phone
  • 080-8765-4321 cell phone
  • 050-7000-7123 IP phone

Writing this made me think about the old American exchanges: TUcker5 (885), SUnset3 (783), HUnter6 (486), and so forth. 懐かしい!


One Response to “Strange Area”

  1. Sunkissd1 Says:

    My best friend’s parents are from Holland and immigrated here in the 60’s. After college graduation, she lived there for 4 years. I always find the cultural differences and oddities interesting. I don’t mistake your messages as necessarily being negative, just different than here. 🙂

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