Talking on the Phone

Young Woman On Phone
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Even when you start to understand a language better, it is still difficult to use when talking on the phone. You can't use gestures, which can be helpful at times. Also, you can't see the other person's facial expressions or reactions to what you are saying. All of your effort must be spent listening very carefully to what the other person is saying. Talking on the phone in Japanese might actually be harder than in other languages; since there are some formal phrases used specifically for phone conversations.

The Japanese normally talk very politely on the phone unless speaking casually with a friend. Let's learn some common expressions used on the phone. Don't be intimidated by phone calls. Practice makes perfect!

Phone Calls in Japan

Most public phones (koushuu denwa) take coins (at least a 10 yen coin) and telephone cards. Only specially designated pay phones allow international calls (kokusai denwa). All calls are charged by the minute. Telephone cards can be purchased in almost all convenience stores, kiosks at train stations and vending machines. The cards are sold in 500 yen and 1000 yen units. Telephone cards can be customized. Occasionally companies even them as marketing tools. Some cards are very valuable, and cost a fortune. Many people collect telephone cards in the same way postage stamps are collected.

Telephone Number

A telephone number consists of the three parts. For example: (03) 2815-1311.

The first part is the area code (03 is Tokyo's), and the second and last part are the user's number. Each number is usually read separately and the parts are linked with the particle, "no." To reduce confusion in telephone numbers, 0 is often pronounced as "zero", 4 as "yon", 7 as "nana" and 9 as "kyuu".

This is because 0, 4, 7 and 9 each have two different pronunciations. If you are not familiar with Japanese numbers, click here to learn them. The number for directory enquiries (bangou annai) is 104.

The most essential telephone phrase is, "moshi moshi." It is used when you receive a call and pick up the phone. It is also used when one can't hear the other person well, or to confirm if the other person is still on the line. Although some people say, "moshi moshi" to answer the phone, "hai" is used more often in business.

If the other person speaks too fast, or you couldn't catch what he/she said, say, "Yukkuri onegaishimasu (Please speak slowly)" or "Mou ichido onegaishimasu (Please say it again)". "Onegaishimasu" is a useful phrase to use when making a request.

At the Office

Business phone conversations are extremely polite.

  • Yamada-san (o) onegaishimasu. 山田さんをお願いします。
    Could I speak to Mr. Yamada?
  • Moushiwake arimasen ga, tadaima gaishutsu shiteorimasu. 申し訳ありませんが、ただいま外出しております。
    I'm sorry, but he's not here at the moment.
  • Shou shou omachi kudasai. 少々お待ちください。
    Just a moment, please.
  • Shitsurei desu ga, dochira sama desu ka. 失礼ですが、どちらさまですか。
    Who's calling, please?
  • Nanji goro omodori desu ka. 何時ごろお戻りですか。
    Do you know what time he/she will be back?
  • Chotto wakarimasen.  ちょっと分かりません。
    I'm not sure.
  • Mousugu modoru to omoimasu. もうすぐ戻ると思います。
    He/she should be back soon.
  • Yuugata made modorimasen. 夕方まで戻りません。
    He/she won't be back till this evening.
  • Nanika otsutae shimashou ka. 何かお伝えしましょうか。
    Can I take a message?
  • Onegaishimasu. お願いします。
    Yes, please.
  • Iie, kekkou desu. いいえ、結構です。
    No, it's O.K.
  • O-denwa kudasai to otsutae negaemasu ka. お電話くださいとお伝え願えますか。
    Could you please ask him/her to call me?
  • Mata denwa shimasu to otsutae kudasai. また電話しますとお伝えください。
    Could you please tell him/her I'll call back later?

To Somebody's Home

  • Tanaka-san no otaku desu ka. 田中さんのお宅ですか。
    Is that Mrs. Tanaka's residence?
  • Hai, sou desu. はい、そうです。
    Yes, it is.
  • Ono desu ga, Yuki-san (wa) irasshaimasu ka. 小野ですが、ゆきさんはいらっしゃいますか。
    This is Ono. Is Yuki there?
  • Yabun osokuni sumimasen. 夜分遅くにすみません。
    I'm sorry for calling so late.
  • Dengon o onegaishimasu. 伝言をお願いします。
    Can I leave a message?
  • Mata atode denwa shimasu. また後で電話します。
    I'll call back later.

How to Deal With Wrong Number

  • Iie chigaimasu. いいえ、違います。
    No, you have called the wrong number.
  • Sumimasen. Machigaemashita. すみません。 間違えました。
    I'm sorry. I have misdialed.