The first line of telegraphs in this country may be said to have been experimental; it was only 840 yards in length, and was opened for government business in 1869. During the following year Tōkyō and Yokohama, and Ōsaka and Kōbe, respectively, were connected by wire, and a general telegraphic system for the empire was decided on; but the necessary material and a staff of officers did not reach Japan until the end of 1871. The line from Tōkyō to Kōbe was completed and opened for traffic in the year 1872, and extended to Nagasaki in 1873.
On the introduction of telegraphy into Japan, a code was devised on the basis of the well-known "Morse code," which admitted of internal telegrams being written and transmitted in the vernacular. In that respect, as in so many others, Japan is unique among Eastern countries. In India and China, for instance, telegrams can be transmitted only when written in Roman letters or in Arabic figures. The new means of communication being thus placed within reach of the bulk of the people, it soon became familiar and popular. Telephone exchanges, too, have now been introduced in 24 of the larger towns. In Tōkyō there are upwards of 11,600 subscribers.
The first telegraph lines were surveyed, built, and worked under foreign superintendence, with fittings principally of English manufacture. But the rapid progress made by the Japanese in technical matters has enabled them to dispense with foreign experts. With the exception of submarine cables, iron and covered wires, and the most delicate measuring apparatus, all kinds of material and instruments are turned out of the Japanese workshops, while executively the system has been maintained solely by the native Staff for several years past. Submarine cables connect all the principal islands of the empire, even recently acquired Formosa. Duplicate cables, belonging to the Great Northern Telegraph Company, connect Japan with Shanghai on the one hand, and with Vladivostock on the other. There is also one to Fusan in Korea, worked by the Japanese Government. The tariff for native messages, which was framed on a very low basis, has met with excellent results. Though afterwards raised, it is still probably under that of any other country in the world. The rate for a single message of fifteen Kana characters to any part of the empire is 20 sen (fivepence), with 5 sen (a penny farthing) for every following five Kana; for city local traffic it is only 10 sen, or twopence halfpenny, with 3 sen for every following five Kana. The name and address of the receiver go free. Telegrams in foreign languages within the empire are charged at the rate of 5 sen per word, with a minimum charge of 25 sen (sixpence farthing) for the first five words or fraction of five words; but addresses count. For city local traffic it is only 3 sen per word, with a minimum charge of 15 sen.
The number of offices open for public business at the end of 1902 was 2,201. The length of wire open at the same date was 18,565 miles. The number of messages conveyed during that year was over eighteen millions, the overwhelming majority of them being in the native tongue. This, too, in a land where, but a generation ago, the hatred of foreigners and all their works was still so intense, especially in the South, that linemen had to be kept constantly busy repairing the hacked poles! In fact, many Japanese would not willingly pass under the wires, and if compelled to do so, would screen their heads with open fans to avert the diabolical influence.