Japan Marks The End Of Pagers With A Funeral

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Remember pagers? Maybe not! If you were around in the 1990s, you might’ve carried a pager in case someone wanted to get in touch. Mainichi reports that today in Japan, service for pagers finally ended after first being introduced 50 years ago.

Tokyo Telemessage Inc., the country’s last pager service, began shutting down radio signals late yesterday with the final beeps ceasing later today.

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As Mainichi explains, pagers continued to find use in Japanese hospitals, where mobile phone connection can be spotty or where phone use has long been frown upon over concerns the signals could interfere with medical equipment.

As I wrote in my book Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential, teens in the 1990s developed their own slang for pagers so they could send each other primitive text messages. Here’s how: When calling a pager, you were supposed to enter your own phone number for a call back; however, teens entered coded messages. For example, the number “3341" meant samishii (I’m lonely). The number three (3) is san or mitsu in Japanese, four (4) is shi in Japanese, and one (1) is the Japanese character i (い).

As noted on My Game News Flash, a tongue-in-cheek funeral was held in Akihabara to mark the pager’s demise. The number on the screen 1141064, which is supposed to mean ai shiteru yo (I love you).

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Interestingly, the I-love-you code I often heard about in the early to mid-2000s was 141064 and not 1141064, as seen in these older blog posts (here, here, and here). The number one (1) looked like the English letter “i,” which sounds like the Japanese word ai (愛) meaning “love.” The number four (4) is shi in Japanese. The number ten (10) is te, the number six (6) is ru, and four (4) is yo. There were variations on the codes from friend to friend and school to school, which might explain the variation.

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Pagers are relics of a simpler time, so it’s sad to see them go. Their old-fashioned brethren fax machines will probably stick around a little longer.

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About the author

Brian Ashcraft

Originally from Texas, Ashcraft has called Osaka home since 2001. He has authored five books, including most recently, Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Desirable Spirit.