“The introduction of the telephone to Japan [in 1893] created various anxieties and perplexities. The anecdotes regarding these early encounters suggest that the Japanese at first approached the machine almost as if it were an organic entity.
“Kaneko Kentaro’s surprise at the fact that ‘it works in Japanese too’ makes the telephone out to be some kind of monolingual ‘language relay’ that hears the message and then repeats it to the person on the other end, instead of a neutral device that simply transforms sound waves into electrical signals abstracted from any possible semantic or semiotic content.
“… Telephones first began to appear in [Japanese] literary works around the turn of the century. One of the earliest documented appearances of a telephone in a literary work is found in Saito Ryokuu’s (1868-1904) Araezake (1898). At the time there were still only around 3,370 subscribers to Tokyo’s phone service.
“The first writer to own a telephone was probably Kunikida Doppo (1871-1908), who had a phone installed in his home in 1904. But the first writer to make extensive use of the telephone and write about it was, in all likelihood, Natsume Soseki. As an employee of the Asahi shimbun, Soseki had the use of a phone in his company lodgings and his diaries are filled records of phone calls made and received.
“… Public phones began appearing in telegraph offices as soon as the line between Tokyo and Yokohama was completed in 1890, and public telephone kiosks began appearing on street corners in the autumn of 1900.”
– Electrified Voices: How the Telephone, Phonograph, and Radio Shaped Modern Japan, 1868-1945, Kerim Yasar, 2018
“Away from the commercial centers of Tokyo and Osaka, telephone transactions were susceptible to all kinds of playful mischief. One particularly amusing example comes from Yamagata City, where telephone service was instituted in 1907.
“The telephone operators were taught to answer with the by-now standard opening of ‘Moshi moshi‘ [hello, hello], to which the caller would often respond, ‘Kame yo, kame yo.’ The operator would repeat, ‘Moshi moshi,’ to which the caller would again repeat, ‘Kame yo, kame yo.’ Then both operator and caller would sing together, ‘Moshi moshi kame yo,’ the opening lyrics of the popular children’s song ‘Usagi to kame’ (Rabbit and Turtle).
– Electrified Voices: How the Telephone, Phonograph, and Radio Shaped Modern Japan, 1868-1945, by Kerim Yasar, 2018