Sunday, March 4, 2018

1990 Sumo Wrestling NTT Telephone Cards

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Japan went through an extremely widespread and popular telephone card collecting boom.  Any and every subject was printed on telephone cards.  There were collecting magazines, collecting groups, and even investors who snagged up the plethora of cards that hit the market during this ~10-year timeframe.  The phone function behind these 2 1/8" x 3 3/8" flimsy plastic cards, beyond the collecting aspect, is simple.  Buy a card for a set price and you would be able to carry it around with you and make calls from any NTT telephone across the country.  This precluded you from having to carry any cash.  Once purchased these cards would be inserted into the public phone to activate the phone.  Simply make your call and when you are done, the phone would punch a little hole on the card to let you know how many credits you had left.  Once people started buying them to collect, rather than to be used, the phone companies pumped out the cards by the millions.  It was a almost like free money because a "punched" card was worth a lot less than an unused card.  People would buy them and store them away never intending to ever use them.  During this time, hundreds of different cards with sumo wrestlers were also produced.  Cataloguing them, however, is proving to be a little difficult.  At some point in 1991, NTT switched over from a standard back (shown below) to one with a barcode.  The pre-barcode cards actually had individual card numbers on the back.  Once they switched to the bar code, the barcode number stayed the same no matter what the subject was on the front.

It has taken me sometime to start working on cataloguing telephone cards.  Simply because they usually run around $10US per card...there still is a healthy market for the cards surprisingly.  Now that the number of new sumo wrestling menko and bromide cards being discovered is decreasing, I can focus more of my efforts to these modern collectibles.  I plan on cataloguing these telephone cards with the "CT" (Card, Telephone) prefix in the 5th Edition of my book.  Why the CT, and not just T or C?  Well during this time as well, Japan Railways issued similarly looking cards called Orange Cards, that could be used to pay for train travel.  I plan on cataloguing those as "CR" (Card, Railway).  

This set is from 1990 and is significant since it captures four of the modern day Yokozuna as well as Konishiki, a popular, but controversial wrestler from Hawaii.  This is the first CT set I've catalogued and it will be forever known as the [CT901/1990 NTT Facsimile Signature Set] in my book.

Here is the checklist:
110-47552: Yokozuna Chiyonofuji
110-47553: Yokozuna Onokuni
110-47554: Yokozuna Hokutoumi
110-47555: Ozeki Hokutenyu
110-47556: Ozeki Konishiki
110-47557: Ozeki Asahifuji

 Thanks for stopping by.


  1. Wow. Didn't realize the phone card boom took place so early. I think it really blew up in the States more towards the mid 90's (well... at least in regards to collecting them as a hobby).

    These are pretty awesome. Love the simple design.

    1. My understanding is they were popular in most developed countries at various points in the 1980s and 1990s. I guess there still is a pretty strong collector base in the UK. You have any of the cards from the US?

    2. Yeah... I have some of the Classic Assets phone cards from the mid 90's. I'm actually in the process of building 2 of the 1995 sets. Down to only needing 4 phone cards.