Why Do Anime Characters Send Emails Instead of Texts?

by Justin Sevakis,

Chris asks:

Why do we see email addresses exchanged instead of phone numbers in some anime and manga? Wouldn't it be more normal to text someone instead of sending an email? I know some anime like ReLIFE use “Line” or sometimes texts. I understand that because I use a few third party messaging services myself, but when I see people exchange email addresses for things other than business, it all seems very outdated to me. Do they not have unlimited call & text plans in Japan?

Unlike in the US and many other countries, messaging in Japan between cell phones is, strangely, largely serviced by good old fashioned email, with most cell phone accounts coming equipped with a paired email address. These days, smartphones with apps like Line (Japan's most popular social network), Facebook Messenger, WeChat and other apps are slowly replacing the cumbersome use of email. But SMS and MMS messaging, as is predominantly used in Western countries, simply never caught on like it did elsewhere.

Why not? Because up until fairly recently, it was kind of useless there. SMS messages could only travel between different users on the same mobile phone service -- NTT customers could only message other NTT customers; SoftBank customers could only message other SoftBank customers, and so on. Since absolutely no one in their right mind would waste their time trying to remember which of their friends had which service, it didn't get used very often.

Making SMS messages even more useless were the exorbitant fees that the service providers charged for them -- sometimes as much as ¥50 per message!! Email had no limits on length, and could be sent as internet data -- already included in most service plans. And since Japanese flip phones already came with simple email software, choosing to send an email instead was just common sense.

This ridiculousness was finally fixed in late 2011 -- SMS messages can now be sent between service providers and are now unlimited with most service plans -- but that was so late to the game that Apple was already releasing the iPhone 4S. By that time, most customers who weren't satisfied with sending emails had already migrated to third party smartphone messaging apps. Additionally, most providers still block SMS messages from overseas, since spam originating from other countries was apparently a problem.

SMS was similarly stymied by service providers in other countries -- particularly in Europe -- but Japan is the only place I know of where everyone had such immediate access to cell phone email that it became the go-to platform for messaging.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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